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Learning from Epic Social Media Marketing Fails of 2018

There is no escaping the observant eyes of your digital audience; do your social media marketing right, they praise you; do it wrong, you get the undesirable chatter. Others are made in bad taste; and others are pretty (but sadly) unintentional (think Dove 2017’s “racist” ad and how it quickly tarnished the company’s long standing positive body image campaign).

While unfortunate, everyone can use previous fails to learn a thing or two about the commandments of social media marketing. Here’s a recap of some cringe-worthy social media marketing fails of 2018 that we wish you would never have to commit, as well as lessons we can learn from them.


Snapchat’s Tasteless Rihanna Ad and its $800 Million Backlash

Some fails cost you a few negative reactions online that usually die down after a few days or so—others, a whopping $800 million. That’s exactly what happened with Snapchat in March after they posted an offensive “Would You Rather” game ad that asked users to choose between “slapping Rihanna” or “punching Chris Brown”. The ad was a direct jab at the domestic violence issue between the past lovers and as expected, it enraged people—especially Rihanna.

While the company admitted that the content was provided by a third-party service provider, it didn’t take the heat away from their review team. After publicly protesting the tasteless ad, Rihanna and thousands of users deleted the app on their phones. This immediately headlined the critical plunge in Snapchat’s stock shares. (Yikes!)

Lesson: Never poke fun at traumatic events

While we don’t discourage the use of third-party content providers, you have to be vigilant about what content makes it out of the decision room and into your social media assets. For instance, making fun of other people’s trauma is never appropriate, especially when you have a corporate reputation to uphold. Riding on other people’s misery does not, in any way, perpetuate healthy online conversations. If you are ever unsure whether your post is purely humorous or downright insensitive, as a rule of thumb, never inject humour into events where sensitive issues such as physical violence, terrorism, or death were involved.


Starbucks and the Blonde Espresso Fiasco

When not being called out for its racist undertones, Starbucks’ newly unveiled Blonde Espresso and the accompanying copy on its website has people baffled. The caption did not make sense to a lot of people and has been deemed a “weak piece of copywriting”.

Aside from the copy, people also lifted their eyebrows at the campaign’s tagline that read “Blonde breaks rules”. People accused the tagline of perpetuating the age-old stereotype that blonde women “have more fun” than non-blondes.

Lesson: Practice good copywriting AND avoid perpetuating stereotypes

Two points to unpack here, so we’ll divide the lesson into two parts.

Lesson 1: Always, always, proofread. Re-reading a whole content to spot inconsistencies in grammar, spelling mistakes, tense changes, etc., is no small feat, but doing all these clearly separates a good campaign from a bad one. Test the copy and overall messaging by calling someone with a fresh eye to read it. Make sure that your main message is clear and could easily be understood by your target audience. Stick to certain commandments of copywriting that help produce copy that attract and convert your audience and visitors to leads.

Lesson 2: It’s so easy to incorporate stereotypes in social media content because it’s familiar; it’s engraved in people’s psyches and we usually respond to known stimulus. But in actuality, it’s lazy. As brands, remember that influencing people’s thoughts and decisions is not only a privilege but more so a responsibility. Actively steer clear from biases and stereotypes that does nothing but propagate prejudice, hate, and insecurity among people.


Chick-fil-A and the Inaccurate Tweet on Alaska

Playing by the rules of effective social media listening, which includes engaging with buyers to connect, Chick-fil-A’s social media team promptly responded to a question in Twitter in May. It was good, until people pointed out that the food chain forgot one thing—that Alaska is actually a part of North America. They immediately took down the response, but not before people took a screenshot of it.


Lesson: Always check and revise for accuracy

While it’s easy to forgive some brands for honest failures, it’s harder to excuse them for getting simple information wrong. Remember to not only be prompt in your responses but also (and more so) accurate. Your audience expects not only a quick response, but something that actually answers their questions right. Having another person to proof-read your responses is a good way to minimise careless mistakes or loopholes you may have missed.



As the digital landscape expands, the social media marketing mistakes also pile up every year. But so are the effective ways of doing it.


To avoid falling trap into these same embarrassing fails, remember:


  • Screen the abilities not only of your team, but especially of third-party partners. Remember, the fact that you did not conceptualise about the end product or campaign doesn’t save you from the blame. Lastly, have a clear workflow that allows editors or managers to oversee the output of associates.
  • Revise. Edit messaging for clarity. The time you spend thinking about something may sometimes make you blind to possible loopholes. Invite other people in your team to look at the documents over. Take a break from the grind for a while and re-adjust necessary edits after you’ve rested.
  • Yes, emotional triggers can make people respond to certain call-to-actions, that’s why we’ve seen a rise on content that specifically targets the sentiment. But remember, uplifting the spirits of your cohort does not have to be at the detriment of another. Sensitivity, concern, and care for cause can get you a loyal audience. That’s more than enough to compensate for important aspects of your business than playing dirty on social.
  • Social media marketers do a lot to engage people on the digital, and they usually do it fast. But remember, accurate responses are more appealing than quick ones. The internet is teeming with all sorts of information, so make sure to double-check your facts before hitting that publish button. There is no harm in making sure that you get your information right, even on things that you think you already know the answers to.


Properly gauge your own social media marketing campaigns. Give our team a call today!

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