What We Learned From 2016’s Biggest Social Media Marketing Fails
Navigating properly through social media marketing can sometimes be a delicate task. However, this is nothing new. In fact, over the last few decades as the advertising industry has boomed we’ve seen our fair share of flops but to this day it fails to deter companies everywhere from making detrimental mistakes. With today’s modern technology it’s only easier to mess up and it’s only harder to make your mistakes go away. This year has been no exception with major muck-ups from massive corporations like Coca-Cola and government organizations like The United States Justice Department.
If you want to see success for your business and benefit from social media marketing, it would be wise to pay close attention to the circumstances of each significant failure in 2016 and take away some knowledge as you continue your endeavors. Essentially today you get to learn what not to do and why you shouldn’t do it.
MTV Australia makes a joke that stirs many
Hispanic-American actresses America Ferrera and Eva Longoria apparently confused an employee running the Twitter feed for MTV Australia with their gorgeous accents when they took to the stage at the Golden Globes leading to this ridiculous tweet that was immediately met with outrage. What they were thinking when they sent this one out may not ever quite be understood but even after multiple apologies many people still struggled to forgive and let go of the public humiliation.
Here's a helpful hint: do not mock people with accents. Learning more than one language is no simple task and mastering more than one can sometimes take a lifetime. Having an accent can be as simple as living in different parts of the world. For example: most Americans and most Australians both speak English but not only do they sound vastly different from each other but they often have different slang and a wide variety of small cultural quirks.
Coca-Cola struggles with geography and manages to infuriate both the Russians and the Ukrainians.
The annexation of Crimea from Russia happened back in 2014 leaving a huge level of controversy regarding Russian territory and therefore the way a Russian map should be depicted but apparently, that didn’t stop Coca-Cola from launching their holiday campaign with a snow-covered map of Russia this year. Along with excluding Crimea, Coca-Cola neglected to include the Kuril Islands and Kaliningrad which have both been recognized as a part of Russia on a worldwide scale since all the way back to 1945.
So, what happened? Well, Internet users in Russia went absolutely berserk, attacking the company for their lack of geographical competency and knowledge. Not wanting to upset their Russian customers, Coca-Cola reissued the advertisement with an updated version of the map including the Kuril Islands and Kaliningrad… oh and Crimea. It should have come as no surprise that Ukrainians went up in arms over that and called for a complete ban of the beverage. Meanwhile, thanks to this change, authorities and persuasive Russian officials began proudly posting about “global American companies” being accepting of the annexation of Crimea. This became an issue due to the fairly clear stance of both American and European governments.
Eventually, all maps were removed from social media, a plethora of officials had to issue public apologies and basically, nobody ended up happy. While I’m sure Coca-Cola didn’t think that a seemingly innocent snow-covered map could cause such outrage as well as I’m sure they didn’t think that trying to respond “appropriately” to the initial outrage would backfire so significantly, it goes to show that ignorance is not an excuse. When you’re advertising anywhere it pays to understand the local and global conflict in order to avoid embarrassing yourself and your brand.
Retail Giant Vera Bradley launches a campaign that left women everywhere wondering what decade we are in
Fashion brand Vera Bradley desired to launch a campaign titled, “Why It’s Good to be a Girl,” and asked customers to share what they liked about being a girl. In theory, this idea alone had a lot of potential to go well for Vera Bradley but that would require a pretty wide spectrum in such a modern age. Today, women can do anything but the responses Vera Bradley decided to market with seemed to imply they were stuck back in the 1950’s. While there’s nothing wrong with young women who enjoy accessorizing, singing, and “gentlemen” making them feel ladylike, not everyone appreciated the common theme that the fashion giant seemed to stick with. Stereotyping young women can often seem like you’re putting them in a box and that you don’t appreciate their individuality or that they are capable of so much more.
While Vera Bradley’s target audience may have been fashion-forward girly-girls, their brand could have benefited more from not stereotyping young women and turning towards an opportunity to incorporate some empowering messages as well. It would seem the lesson here is that when you’re targeting an entire demographic, do not box them up.
The US State Department inappropriately attempted humor and it did not go as planned
American citizens may tend to gush over Michelle Obama’s fashion choices (she’s fabulous, by the way,) but one would hope that the State Department’s Bureau of Counselor affairs wouldn’t be concerned with anyone’s… least of all yours. Well, that is only if you’re ugly.
On March 30th, a full series of tweets offered some unsavory advice for those who may not quite live up to the American standards of beauty and it can be completely summed up along these lines: if you’re not getting the love here in America then you shouldn’t be getting the love abroad and if you are those are massive warning signs you’re in trouble. That stranger hitting on you is just planning to rob you (of your kidney, or wallet, we’re not sure.)
The poorly done attempt at using humor to urge caution to traveling Americans was absolutely not met well and later a series of apologies were issued shortly after they deleted the offensive tweets. Something we can all take away from this is that no one is immune to social media mistakes, least of all the American government. Also, it would be wise not to insult the looks of people and their intelligence all at once.
The US Justice Department learns a lesson in access when they accidentally weigh in on a very public matter
Politics and controversy go hand in hand and this year’s whopper of an election was no exception. Plenty of drama unfolded following the accusations that Melania Trump plagiarized parts of her speech at the Republican National Convention from a previous speech by First Lady Michelle Obama. While some drama in general is expected, no one expected it from the United States Justice Department.
The Justice Department quickly jumped into action, removing the post and issuing a statement, “a staffer in the public affairs office erroneously used the official Department of Justice Twitter handle to post a tweet that was intended for a personal account.” The staffer’s access to the account was revoked and we walked away with some profound lessons.
It’s a good idea to maintain a tight ship regarding who has access to your social media accounts, when they have them, and on what devices they use them. Personal opinions don’t mix with your business any more than they do with government officials and this is a shining example of what can go wrong when your employees are more focused on drama than their jobs.
A Texas-based mattress company tries to use a national tragedy to boost sales in a very tasteless commercial
It’s amazing that this even needs to be addressed but after “Miracle Mattress,” a San Antonio based mattress company posted a video to Facebook advertising their “Twin Towers Sale,” I guess we need to discuss how inappropriate it is to use September 11th and any national tragedy wherever you live in the world to bring in business.
In the tacky video, store manager Cherice Bonanno encourages potential customers to, “remember 9/11,” and “get any size mattress for a twin price.” It didn’t stop there, in fact, it actually got a lot worse. At the end of the commercial, multiple store employees scream before falling backward into two stacks of mattresses (intended to symbolize the now fallen North and South towers of the World Trade Center.) Before the commercial is finally over, Bonanno turns to the camera and says, “We’ll never forget.”
The video sparked outrage that spread like a wildfire on a national level. In the only smart move they made surrounding the debacle, Miracle Mattress removed the post and owner Mike Bonanno issued an apology letter which included informing people that the video was created without his knowledge and a bold-faced statement, “the video is tasteless and an affront to the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11.”
Not only is it tacky to try and financially benefit from a national tragedy, or any tragedy for that matter, but it is insensitive. Even so much as bragging about what your company has done to help victims of tragedies comes across tacky. There is no positive way to use a tragedy to your business’s advantage so do not attempt it.
Grocery Giant ALDI forgets that the Internet is a dark place
In the past Internet trolls have usurped corporate attempts to let consumers name products. 4Chan overran Doritos and Mountain Dew in the past. This year Microsoft tried to release an AI Bot on Twitter and users immediately turned it into a vapid, racist jerk. Yet companies continue to reach out to the Internet in an ill-advised attempt to let their consumers do the marketing for them. This is always an area to tread lightly.
This year it was ALDI who launched a Twitter campaign: “Fill in the blank: I became an ALDI lover when I tasted _____ for the first time!” The social media reaction was completely predictable and Internet users went crazy issuing crude, raunchy, and deplorable tweets. Most of which were quickly deleted and the campaign quickly terminated. I’m sure ALDI had nothing but good intentions but we can walk away from this example and compile it together with other corporate giants who have made similar lapses in judgment and say pretty profoundly that putting your brand in the hands of people who don’t care about it is a bad idea. Before launching any marketing campaign, think about how it can hurt you or how someone who dislikes you or doesn’t care about you (and your company and your brand) can use it against you because if they can, then they will.
Most importantly remember this: The Internet is a dark, twisted space that does not always work to your advantage. Especially when given the opportunity not to.
The Melbourne Cup learns about animal ethics and morals
As previously addressed, the Internet can be a dark place when issued an opportunity to do so but that’s not all your company needs to think about. Plenty of large corporations and controversial companies have experienced a significant backlash when attempting to reach out and connect with their online audience and followers. While social media engagement can often be beneficial and is often encouraged in marketing techniques, some things need to be taken into consideration. When Melbourne Cup’s owner Tom Waterhouse and Sporting Bet attempted to connect and socialize with their online community, it backfired in a major way.
Responses included point blank “Animal Abuse” and mostly stuck with that theme. When you represent, sell, or market any controversial brand, you must anticipate potential backlash. Ask yourself this simple question, “How could this backfire?” Lay it out and discuss it thoroughly because most of the time potential backfire becomes a lesson learned. If you sell fur coats, you think about PETA. If you sell cigarettes, you pretty much give up on advertising, and if your game is horse races, don’t invite opportunities for people to throw in your face what they really think of you.
At the end of the day…
Be mindful. Think about your followers, your target audience, and those who would disagree with you and find enjoyment in your downfall. Think about those you may hurt as much as those you may help. Before you launch new marketing campaigns do research, and target your campaigns according to your audience.