As brands rush to put out sharable content across social, PR slipups are inevitable, but even in the biggest disasters, there’s often a lesson to be learned. We gathered our ClickZ experts to rank the biggest fails of 2014.
Fresh off a scandal involving selling horsemeat disguised as beef, British supermarket chain Tesco found itself in trouble again after tweeting that employees were “off to hit the hay.” According to Roger Juntilla, vice president of business development for Qualia, the tweet was ill-advised, but far from disastrous. “It’s gross that they are serving horsemeat, but I think I’m more disappointed that they are overusing Twitter, by tweeting about such a non-event,” Juntilla says.
9. Victoria’s Secret
When Victoria’s Secret launched a holiday campaign that implied their models had perfect bodies, thousands of angry women launched their own Twitter campaign called #IAmPerfect. According to Russ Fradin, chief executive (CEO) and co- founder of Dynamic Signal, the mistake was in trying to control the definition of “Perfect.” According to Fradin, “Had [Victoria’s Secret] used brand advocates to create content around the theme this might have produced a much different result.”
8. New England Patriots
To celebrate becoming the first NFL team to reach 1 million Twitter followers, the New England Patriots set up an automated system to thank its fans and emblazon the back of a Patriots’ jersey with the fans’ Twitter handles. Unfortunately, there were no filters on the system, and the Patriots accidently tweeted out a handle with a racial slur. Benjamin Spiegel, managing director of strategy at Group M, says that lack of foresight was at the heart of this fiasco. “Brands need to start building out processes and guidelines that could avoid a lot of these fails,” he says.
After horrific videos surfaced of NFL star Ray Rice physically abusing his wife, many women chose to tweet their own stories with the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Unfortunately, DiGiorno misunderstood the hashtag and used it to sell frozen pizza. Marketing strategist Krista Neher says this mistake could have been avoided by using simple common sense. “Never use words when you don’t know what they mean. This isn’t even social media advice. This life advice,” says Neher.
6. US Airways
In April, US Airways accidentally responded to an angry customer with a very NSFW photograph. The company says that the photograph had been tweeted at them earlier that day, and in attempting to flag the picture as inappropriate, accidentally copied and pasted the lewd photo onto another tweet. Marketing consultant Jeanne Jennings says that the company shouldn’t have taken social media so lightly. “Just because it’s easy to post on social media doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be quality control,” she says.
The Federal Student Aid organization was aiming to lightheartedly encourage students to fill out aid forms by tweeting a picture of Kristin Wigg from the movie Bridesmaids with the caption “Help me. I’m poor.” Instead, thousands of offended students took to social media to decry the agency’s callousness. Andrew Edwards, managing director at Society Consulting, can’t believe such a mean-spirited tweet ever got approved. “The insensitivity charge is well deserved,” Edwards says. “I cannot imagine how this could ever have been deemed appropriate.”
4. Home Depot
In a tweet about College Game Day, the home improvement retailer tweeted out a picture of two African-American men drumming alongside another man in an ape costume with the caption, “Which drummer is not like the others?” Home Depot blamed the agency that sent the tweet from the account, which resulted in even more criticism for attempting to pass the blame. Jennings finds the incident as baffling as it was offensive. “Did they really not think through the racial implications? The response compounded the problem – a brand needs to take responsibility for things done on their behalf by the people they pay to execute,” she says.
3. Twitter’s Accidental Tweet
Twitter’s chief finical officer (CFO) Anthony Noto raised a lot of eyebrows when he misused his own product and accidentally tweeted about an upcoming buyout. “It’s a bit hard to believe an executive wouldn’t properly know how to use his own product,” says Fradin. “Really goes to show you the value of making it simple for the employee and having proper training and guidelines in place for all employees on social media.”
2. Redskins Pride
In May, racial tensions over the team’s name came to a head when owners attempted to rally fans by asking them to tweet at Senator Harry Reid — an outspoken opponent of the name — using the hashtag #RedSkinsPride. Instead, activists took control of the hashtag, using it to tweet pictures of neo-Nazi groups and historical phots of whites killing Native Americans. Jennings says this error was inexcusable. “This is an example of the brand not knowing their audience and not thinking through the potential malicious reaction. I can’t think of anything they could have said to smooth this over,” she says.
The New York Police Department’s attempt to revamp its image by inviting Twitter photos featuring the NYPD quickly backfired when hundreds of users posted shocking images of police brutality under the hashtag. Edwards says the NYPD should have seen the controversy coming. “What did they expect? No one feels fuzzy and warm about the cops,” Edwards says. “This was an especially tone-deaf effort considering recent police brutality memes.”
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