As 2017 draws to a close, we look at some of the biggest marketing blunders of the year. From Kendall Jenner’s derided Pepsi ad to London Dungeon’s Twitter horror story, there were plenty of mistakes from companies that should know better. Read on, learn from the mistakes and hope your team doesn’t make the list in 2018…
In October, Mark Zuckerberg apologised after taking part in a controversial Facebook Live video discussing his company’s efforts to aid Puerto Rico’s recovery from hurricane Maria. This week, Zuckerberg used the company’s VR app Spaces to tour through an NPR-produced 360 video of Puerto Rico. The Facebook founder’s cartoon avatar directed attention towards various features of Puerto Rico’s destruction while another Facebook executive remarked “it’s crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it.” At one point, Zuckerberg virtually high-fives the avatar of a Facebook staffer while ‘standing’ in front of a flooded home.
Pepsi withdrew its big budget video ad in April, featuring reality TV star Kendall Jenner using a can of Pepsi to soothe tension between protesters and police, sparking accusations that it exploits the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Reports in October revealed that Uber made a secret payment of $100,000 to hackers who stole users’ information. The revelation that 57 million customers’ and drivers’ data was stolen by hackers and covered up by Uber raises questions about the company’s ethics. Uber announced that it had got rid of its chief security officer as it confirmed his team had not informed victims but instead paid off hackers who breached the company’s systems in October 2016.
Back in February Samsung confirmed that its smart TV sets were listening to customers’ every word, and the company warned customers not to speak about personal information while near the TV sets.The company revealed that the voice activation feature on its smart TVs captured all nearby conversations. The TV sets can share the information, including sensitive data, with Samsung as well as third-party services.
Right: 1984 pic.twitter.com/osywjYKV3W
— Parker Higgins, 1337 |-| (@xor) February 8, 2015
The London Dungeon issued an apology after the tourist attraction’s PR team posted “offensive” Valentine’s Day jokes about fat women, sexually transmitted disease and dead prostitutes on its official social media accounts. Merlin Entertainment, owner of the spooky London attraction, said it was “very sorry” for the campaign and has deleted the tweets. One ‘joke’ read: “Jack the Ripper just messaged. He wants to Netflix and kill”
— EastEndWomen'sMuseum (@EEWomensMuseum) February 15, 2017
In September, Amazon sent out some very confusing emails, telling a large number of customers that someone had bought an item off their baby registry. Many of the recipients did not have a baby registry, let alone a baby gestating or any plans to have or adopt a baby. “A gift is on the way” read the email, which was impersonally addressed to “Amazon Customer.”
The National Lottery issued an apology after a social media stunt on Twitter backfired in embarrassing fashion, resulting in the charity’s official account inadvertently tweeting offensive messages. As part of The National Lottery’s sponsorship of the World Athletics Championships in London, the company ran a social media campaign whereby users that retweeted certain messages would be greeted by one of Team GB’s athletes holding signs thanking them for their support. However, users of the social network were baffled as British athletes such as Tom Bosworth and Sophie Hitchon were pictured holding signs bearing slogans including “Bolt’s a roid head”. Much of the content is too offensive to display in this article.
Burger King upset some real life royalty in May, when an online promotion in Belgium invited people to choose between the country’s King Philippe and the company’s mascot. Belgium’s royal family has contacted the fast food chain Burger King over the ad that, on whoistheking.be, created to mark the launch of Burger king in Belgium. The ad asks ‘who is the king’ and offers viewers a choice between the two kings. Those who select Philippe are met with the message: “Are you sure? He won’t be the one to cook your fries.” When users choose King Philippe again they can not click on the ‘Yes’ button because it moves around the screen.
Walkers Crisps pulled an interactive video ad after it allowed the faces of mass murderers and child abusers submitted by internet pranksters. The faces of Rolf Harris, Fred West and Jimmy Savile and were inadvertently featured in an animation voiced by Gary Lineker after Walkers Crisps encouraged Twitter users to send in selfies.
"Are you sure automated tweets are the way to go?"
"yes, people are sensible and will definitely not abuse it" pic.twitter.com/bZt9mDwZxi
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) May 25, 2017
In March 2017 United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was named U.S. Communicator of the Year by the magazine PR Week. Just one month later, his company’s poor response to a customer incident has turned into a PR disaster, caused its stock to dramatically drop $1bn in value and has placed the entire airline industry under the microscope. The situation escalated as the power of social media turned an isolated incident into a global PR disaster overnight.
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
A new email-based ransomware virus has locked up hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries hitting factories, hospitals, shops and schools worldwide during May. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was the highest profile victim of the “WannaCrypt” attack, hitting hospitals around the country causing operations, x-rays and appointmentts to be cancelled. In all NHS trusts were hit, leading to criticism of the UK governemnt for failing to patch outdated software, making the health service more vulnerable to these kind of attacks. Organisations targeted worldwide included Germany’s rail network Deutsche Bahn, Spanish telecommunications operator Telefonica, US logistics giant FedEx and Russia’s interior ministry.
McDonald’s withdrew a controversial video ad after a huge social media backlash, with one charity accusing it of exploiting child bereavement. The advert went live on May 12 across social media and on UK TV, depicting a boy talking with his mother about his dead father and wondering what they had in common. He is then shown sitting in one of the fast-food giant’s restaurants with his mother, where she reveals they shared a love of the same burger, a Filet-o-Fish, with the mother saying: “That was your dad’s favourite too.” However, the ad received a massive backlash on social media with people accusing the chain of exploiting the emotions of children who’ve lost parents.