Lessons to Learn from the Biggest Social Media Marketing Mishaps

Social media marketing has provided brands and companies a platform with potential for exponential reach, when done correctly. But this marketing gift is also a double-edged sword, having the capability to spread a good message be just as easy as making the biggest marketing mistake.

Even the biggest brands aren’t spared from social media marketing mishaps. But if there’s something positive to come out from their mistakes, it’s that we can all learn from them.

DiGiorno’s #HasteTag

Real time marketing can make your brand feel more personal to your audience. But you also need to take the time to understand what’s going on in real time to save yourself from a marketing faux pas, as DiGiorno learned the hard way when it scrimped on the attention span and used the hashtag #WhyIStayed without understanding what its context was.

After a video of former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée spread online, netizens used the hashtag #WhyIStayed to discuss their traumatic experiences in abusive relationships.

The hashtag was a response to the victim-blaming backlash Rice’s fiancée received for still deciding to marry a man who knocked her unconscious.

Carelessly jumping on the bandwagon, DiGiorno tweeted, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” — an insensitive, yet totally unintentional foolish mistake.

While DiGiorno managed to come out of the unfortunate situation intact by personally responding to almost every single one of the Twitter users offended by their tweet.

Lesson: While real-time marketing is beneficial, checking the trending hashtags before involving your brand into it is a key to save yourself from days of writing apologies.

Seoul Secret’s ‘Just being white, you will win’ Video

Certain Southeast Asian countries have a prevalent obsession with having fair skin, resulting in an affinity for whitening products — a concept of beauty inspired by the West. And while in most parts of the globe, there may be hints of racism attached to such a preference, generally speaking, that is not the case in that part of Asia.

That may have been the mindset of Thai beauty company Seoul Secret, when they produced an ad that received backlash for what was perceived as “perpetuating damaging, racist ideas.”

In the short spot, a pale-skinned actress was shown with her smile waning as her skin turned darker, while saying “the whiteness I have invested in will just vanish,” suggesting that the whitening product called Snowz, “will help you not return to being dark.”

Of course, in 2017’s age of social warriors, such a message could not possibly pass, as netizens expressing repulsion at the ad’s racist undertones came out in droves.

Seoul Secret quickly pulled the ad and issued an apology, saying that it wasn’t the company’s intention to convey “discriminatory or racist messages.”

Lesson: While a particular message may be targeted to a particular demographic, to avoid any sort of social backlash, you should tread by the current social standards of what is right. While your audience may be targeted to a specific demographic, NEVER FORGET that social media and the internet is GLOBAL.

Microsoft’s Tay: The Naughty Chatbot

Last year, Microsoft released a Twitter chatbot called “Tay” — a program described as an experiment in “conversational understanding,” which is their way of saying that the more people chat with Tay, the smarter it gets, picking up on the things people say to “her.”

Now, while Tay may have started out as the tech giant’s attempt at improving customer service on their voice recognition software, it also opened up the bot to assimilate the Twitterverse’s worst tendencies. Less than 24 hours after Tay went live, the bot began sending out tweets peppered with misogyny, racism, and even incestuous overtones, prompting Microsoft to pull the plug on the short-lived experiment.

As noted by The Verge, it is shocking how Microsoft failed to expect a bot built by using “relevant public data” not to incorporate the worst of humanity, and perhaps even worse, neglected to install a failsafe should such an occurrence realize.

Lesson: Being pessimistic can have its pros, especially in social media where trolls are everywhere. Visualize the worst thing that could happen when launching a campaign, and be prepared to safeguard against it. And at the very least, a well-thought out Plan B should always be in place.

Lord & Taylor’s FTC Conflict

The world of social media is ruled by a throng of influencers — a fact that brands and companies have long used to their advantage. And while the line between material relationships between brands and influencers can easily be both blurred and defined, there are clear guidelines in digital advertising designed to promote authenticity and credibility in the dynamic between influencers and audiences.

Take the case of the campaign clothing retailer Lord & Taylor, where they paid 50 fashion bloggers to post photos of themselves wearing the same paisley dress in a strategy to introduce their new collection. It was an effective strategy, to say the least, as apart from the engagement the posts elicited, the dress quickly sold out. BUT, the concern lies in how the bloggers failed to disclose that they had been paid by Lord & Taylor.

As pointed out by social media marketing news portal Marketing Land, the practice was a clear violation of U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for digital advertising, which state that when people are paid to post, they must disclose that fact in a “clear and conspicuous way.”

The “oversight” was inexcusable, as the FTC guidelines accept something as simple as writing “#ad,” or the words “sponsored by” as acceptable disclosures. Thus, some of the photos uploaded were edited to include disclosures, as can be noticed in the photo featured in this section.

As noted by IZEA CEO Ted Murphy, a company that serves as a middleman between brands and social media influencers — disclosures don’t make campaigns any less successful, pointing out that they’ve seen just as high a level of engagement on sponsored content that is clearly disclosed.

Lesson: Influencer Marketing is a great strategy but you HAVE to use it wisely and within the line. It wouldn’t hurt to follow the written rules, wouldn’t it?

Miracle Mattress’ Twin Towers Ad

As a general rule, NEVER try to capitalize on any kind of disaster for your social media campaigns. Just don’t. There is just absolutely no amount of wit that can save your brand from the backlash stemming from the insensitivity.

Case in point: This unbelievable mattress ad from Miracle Mattress for an absurd “Twin Towers” sale to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

While a few (or this ad’s creators) may think this ad could be considered ‘timely’ for the 9/11 anniversary, there are no words to describe how much it’s destined to fail. The Twin Towers ad, for example, resulted to 4.6K One Star Review on their facebook page with hate messages and to the store owner deciding to close Miracle Mattress ‘indefinitely’.

Surprisingly, Miracle Mattress is just one example out of thousands of insensitive social media marketing posts or campaigns by various brand. Just try checking out this or this, to name a few.

Lesson: Thinking of how you can promote your brand amidst a disaster? Again, just DON’T. Never ever try to capitalize from disasters with insensitivity. EVER.


Having a sense of self-awareness is important when it comes to a social media campaign, where a lack of understanding of how people think about your brand can immediately backfire straight to your face.

Such was the case for JP Morgan’s #askJPM digital karma, which overestimated netizens’ ADHD by seemingly forgetting that people still despised big banks for their role in the financial collapse of 2008.

Instead of getting rudimentary fiscal inquiries, the Twitter Q&A prompted a 24,000-tweet firestorm that included gems like: “Quick! You’re locked in a room with no key, a chair and two paper clips, and a lightbulb. How do you defraud investors? #AskJPM,” “#AskJPM Is it true that while you don’t always spit on poor people, when you do, you have perfect aim?” and “When you collapsed the global economy did it interfere with your vacation in the Hamptons? #AskJPM”

So much has the backfire flooded #AskJPM that six hours after the original tweet was posted, the bank called off the Q&A.

Although #AskJPM was a complete failure, they achieved one thing: ranking on the top trends and exposure with the media — just not in the way they wanted it to be.

Lesson: Know what the people are thinking about you before launching a campaign that requires their participation. You cannot control how people will respond to you. Ask yourself what the how the Twitterverse will react before launching a twitter campaign.


Leaving your social media completely in the hands of entry-level hires is a far too common mistake, and one that can have very dire consequences, as retail store HMV found out.

In 2013, HMV employees live tweeted the mass layoffs undergone by the struggling retail company, which eventually led to the tweets going viral and the development making headlines in most major news outlets.

While these tweets may be entertaining for some audiences, this can be destructive to the social media brand HMV was trying to build for years.

As pointed out by social media management system company HootSuite, even some of the largest enterprises are guilty of providing employees complete access to their social media accounts.

And while you may not find yourself in a similar situation as HMV did, there are still real risks brought about by giving out all-access passes to your social media.

Lesson: There are social media management tools that allow you to designate limited access to junior employees, requiring drafts to pass through approval of senior management before posting. You’d be wise to see how these can help you social media marketing efforts.

American Apparel’s Ignorance on Display

As we’ve found so far, it doesn’t take much Google neglect for even some of the biggest brands to incur social media mishaps.

And American Apparel caps off this list for its re-blogging on Tumblr of a photo of the Challenger space shuttle disaster of 1986, with the “hilarious if it weren’t so ignorant and insensitive” caption “#Smoke #Clouds.”

ICYMI, the Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after takeoff, killing all seven astronauts onboard.

American Apparel quickly issued the apology, blaming the incident on an “international employee” who was not yet born when the tragedy occurred.

Lesson: Don’t be ignorant- it’s as simple as that.


With social media’s scope of reach and how easily an online faux pas can go viral, you have to be very careful with everything you do on your social media, as the companies mentioned above have found out.

While social media gives you an excellent platform to transmit your marketing messages, making a mistake on that same stage can be a total PR disaster that you may not be able to recover from.

As you’ve seen from the above examples, most of the mistakes could’ve been easily avoided if these simple notes were kept in mind:

  1. Google is here and it’s here for a reason.
  2. It doesn’t cost much to fact check and have a second look at your post before you click.
  3. Practice sensitivity.
  4. Know the current events.
  5. Learn the useful tools for security.
  6. Prepare yourselves from the inevitability of being trolled.

Nobody can play the social media marketing game perfectly, but most of the time, you can avoid complete disasters by taking these lessons from the mistakes of others into action.

Follow Avenew Media on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to find out how we can help boost your brand today!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Molecule Group

Borderless digital agency. We specialising in digital strategies, communities, content production and beyond.