The 10 most cringeworthy social fails of 2015

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For the second year, ClickZ ranks the top 10 social media fails from brands like Starbucks and Tinder, which range from embarrassing to egregiously offensive.

Remember when US Airways tweeted a pornographic image involving a model plane? Doesn’t it feel like forever ago? It was only last year, but maybe it just seems longer because in the year since, brands have found so many new and exciting ways to screw up on social media.

From ill-advised campaigns attempting to prompt racial discussions at Starbucks to e-commerce sites equating their Black Friday sales with rape (protip: don’t ever do that) here are our top 10 social media fails from 2015.

10. The d’oh!: Blackberry

Blackberry may hold the distinction for being the first brand to commit a social media faux pas this year. On January 13, Blackberry tweeted a picture. It was a good picture, too. The smartphone looked sleek and the background pattern complemented it nicely.

But if you look at the Tweet’s timestamp, you could see that it was sent from an iPhone. Blackberry deleted the tweet quickly, but not before some eagle-eyed tech reporters caught the slip.

As far as fails go, this one is pretty tame. The struggling brand didn’t make itself look crazy or offend large portions of the population, but man, how embarrassing.

9. The dud: Twizzlers

Last summer, the Ice Bucket Challenge took the Internet by storm, ultimately fundraising $115 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurological condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Twizzlers tried to ride that wave in March, intending to raise money for autism with its own branded challenge.

The challenge entailed two people eating a Twizzler from opposite sides a la Lady and the Tramp. There was no obvious connection between Twizzlers and autism, no novelty factor like the Ice Bucket Challenge, and ultimately no buzz. The overwhelming majority of Twizzler Challenges seemed to have taken place on talk show sets.

There was a lot of speculation about whether or not the Twizzler Challenge would be the next Ice Bucket Challenge. The fact that you can’t Google how much money was raised demonstrated how much it was not the next Ice Bucket Challenge.

8. The repeat offender: Bic

To celebrate National Women’s Day in August, Bic South Africa posted an ad on Facebook inviting consumers to look like girls, act like ladies, think like men, and work like bosses. People were obviously offended on a few different levels. “Work like a boss” was the only line that didn’t generate international scorn.

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Bic took down the ad explaining that the quote was lifted from a businesswoman blog. That didn’t go over well, so the brand reapologized by promising something like this would never happen again. Ironically, it already has.

7. The fall from grace: The Fat Jew

We’ve established that social media influencers are brands in their own right and few are better-known than Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky. His funny, irreverent Instagram posts got him more than 7 million followers. But over the summer, his star started to fade after an open letter from comedian Davon Magwood went viral.

Magwood called Ostrovsky out for plagiarizing his content, a claim backed up by other comedians.

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Ostrovsky, who has worked with brands like Burger King and Bud Light, sort of apologized and promised not to do it again, but it was too late. As a result of the backlash, Comedy Central canceled Ostrovksy’s planned pilot, and Seamless ended its relationship with him, as well.

6. The meltdown: Tinder

An August Vanity Fair article called Tinder a big factor in the “dating apocalypse.” What happened next was basically the polar opposite of Starbucks’ recent red cup controversy.

Some people invariably agreed with the Vanity Fair article. Others may have been inclined to point out their own success stories. But nobody got the chance to come to Tinder’s defense because the dating app took up its own cause on Twitter.

A series of tweets ranged from disappointed…

…to desperate…

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…to downright insane.

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The company Tweeted again the next day to apologize for overreacting. Maybe count to 10 first next time?

5. The costly mistake: NASDAQ

In April, Selerity, a service that scours the Internet for investment information, leaked the company’s quarterly earnings. The numbers weren’t good, far lower than both Twitter’s own projections and analysts’ expectations.

As a result, so many people sold their shares that Twitter was down $8 billion in about an hour. Twitter’s shares fell 18 percent, making April 28 the company’s second-worst day ever.

When something like this happens, people are quick to talk about hacks and insider trading. Selerity was merely the messenger, passing the blame onto a press release on Shareholder.com, which is hosted by The NASDAQ Stock Market. The next day, NASDAQ was like, “Oops.”

4. The oversight: Coca-Cola

As part of its “Make It Happy” Super Bowl campaign, Coca-Cola urged consumers to tag negative Tweets with #MakeItHappy. The beverage giant created a Tweet generator that turned those sentiments into happy ones, making them into cartoon pictures with ASCII code. In response to Coke’s perceived hypocrisy, Gawker created a bot that tweeted passages from Mein Kampf. You know, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography.

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Coca-Cola didn’t actually do anything. In this case, Gawker was being awful. But the whole incident is a strike against the brand due to the poor judgment involved in letting anyone tweet anything and having that attached to its name.

The oversight was exceptionally bad because just three months earlier, the New England Patriots did something similar, allowing people to customize digital jerseys with their Twitter handles. Naturally, racial slurs were involved. C’mon, Coke, what did you think was going to happen? You know the Internet can’t be trusted.

3. The cringeworthy conversation: Starbucks

We commend Starbucks for its perfect handling of the accusations of hating God and Christmas. Perhaps the coffee giant learned its lesson from the Race Together debacle.

Because race was a hot button issue this year, Starbucks chief executive (CEO) Howard Schultz said that, “We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America.” Schultz’s solution was to have baristas across the country write “Race Together” on cups. To inspire people to have discussions about racial issues. At Starbucks.

Some people found the concept offensive, given how strongly Starbucks is associated with gentrification, while others found it out of touch, superficial and nonsensical. Either way, #RaceTogether sparked a lot of conversation on social media, 60 percent of which was negative and more than one-third of which was categorized as “hate.” The campaign was gone a week later.

2. The absurd apology: SuperGurl

On Black Friday, Singapore e-commerce site SuperGurl changed the “Shop Now” button on its homepage to “Rape Us Now.” That, coupled with the model’s expression, is more of a general life fail than a social media-specific one, but the brand brought the misstep onto Facebook the following Monday.

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The creative director apologized for not checking the graphic designer’s work, an excuse so weak and inexcusable that SuperGurl would have been better off pretending its site was hacked or something. To make matters worse, the people who did comment on the apology, whether they appreciated it or denounced it, all received variations of same canned, generic reply.

Some people think “Rape Me Now” was a publicity stunt. But if you’re an e-commerce site whose goal is presumably to make sales to female consumers, offending them in a shocking way is probably not the best strategy.

1. The failure to read the room: SeaWorld

Last year, ClickZ deemed the NYPD to have the biggest social media fail, with the #myNYPD hashtag quickly becoming a collection of photos depicting police brutality. Once again, a hashtag gone wrong takes the cake.

Blackfish, a 2013 documentary that focused on orcas in captivity, and its subsequent press did SeaWorld no favors. As a result, the park attempted to restore its image with #AskSeaWorld, a hashtag campaign where the brand expected people to ask about whale care. Which they did, just not in the way SeaWorld anticipated.

Failure to read the room would be enough to earn the brand a spot on this list. Before executing a hashtag campaign like that, you should always consider the potential negative responses. But SeaWorld shot to the top by snarkily dismissing the detractors as bots and trolls and making a bad situation worse.

The incident had a negative effect on SeaWorld’s stock prices, attendance and revenue, something from which the brand has not recovered.

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