Digital Marketing News – Top 10 #SocialMediaFails of 2012


2012 saw many brands engaging with their audiences using social media for the first time. And, as with most communication channels, there are risks as well as opportunities which need to be kept in mind if you are to avoid some of the pitfalls experienced by this bunch. I’ve pulled together my favourite #socialmediafails from 2012, from the tactless to the downright idiotic. It just goes to show that big PR budgets and years of experience don’t always give you an advantage.


McDonalds comes out top of this year’s fails after it attempted to alter the perception of its brand by encouraging customers to share their stories using the hashtag #McDStories. No prizes for guessing how it went so wrong for them. Unfortunately for McDonalds, not enough thought went into this campaign before it launched, a little more and they quickly would have realised this hashtag would be immediately hijacked by the brand’s critics (of which there are many).

And that’s exactly what happened. From slamming individual outlets, the quality of the service and health implications of their products to the controversial environmental impact of their production process, McDonalds came under fire for all of it. If there were any positive stories generated from the campaign they were lost amongst the onslaught of negative public option. Once the stories died down, the hashtag is still going strong, although now it features in numerous links to articles discussing the disastrous campaign.

Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 09.35.42


Earlier this year FemFresh launched a campaign which got them into trouble with not only women but health experts the world over. The campaign asked individuals to come up with a fun euphemism for their vaginas and sported the strapline for its feminine hygiene product ‘A woo-hoo for your froo-froo’. Needless to say it didn’t go down well.


At a time where feminist issues are at their height of awareness, anyone with access to google would have spotted this as a dangerous approach. However FemFresh compounded the issue and secured their rightful place in the top ten #socialmediafails by completely ignoring the backlash they received. Instead they decided the best thing to do would be to suspend their Facebook account and pretend nothing was happening. Obviously this did nothing to quiet the mob and they are still taking a beating.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters has a reputation for being a bit controversial in their campaigns, but many felt they had gone too far when they tweeted during hurricane Sandy ‘This storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t)!’ Using natural disasters as a marketing tool is very risky and while UO weren’t the only ones, this was certainly one of the most tasteless.



You have to feel a bit sorry for KitchenAid for this one as many have fallen foul of posting tweets to the wrong account. For most, the offending item usually turns out to be something innocuous and is quickly deleted  before anyone notices. However, every now and then a little gem turns up and for KitchenAid it couldn’t have been worse. During the presidential debate in October, Barack Obama made reference to his Grandmother who had passed away a few days before. Immediately after this, the following tweet went out from KitchenAid’s official Twitter account.


Not only did the tweet go out to all of KitchenAids’ substantial following, but the hashtag also made it part of NBC’s online conversation which is seen by millions. While it was deleted almost immediately, the damage was already done and a formal apology was issued by KitchenAid. The apology claimed the tweet was ‘carelessly sent in error by a member of our Twitter team who, needless to say, won’t be tweeting for us anymore.’ Someone is in trouble.


Ryanair’s approach to customer service has provided much amusement over the past few years so when a disgruntled customer took to social media in disgust following an encounter with the budget airline, the response was only ever going to go one way.

Suzy McLeod was a Ryanair passenger earlier this year and, upon arriving at the airport to board her flight, she realised she had forgotten to print off her family’s boarding passes as per the instructions. She mistakenly believed they would be printed off for her by a kind member of the team and so she was very surprised to be charged €300 by Ryanair  for duplicates to be provided.

While it’s always a gamble to complain about a company enforcing rules they had previously made you aware of, many expect a level of customer service slightly above Ryanair’s base level offering. Mistakenly so in this case however as Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary responded to the complaint in his usual unapologetic style.

Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 09.48.29

This, I feel, was a fail for Suzy McLeod rather than Ryanair.

Celeb Boutique

Sometimes the little gems just come out of nowhere and Celeb Boutique gave us all that little cringy feeling when they unwittingly stumbled into a PR nightmare.

Following the Aurora cinema massacre in the US, UK based fashion site Celeb Boutique saw the term trending and mistakenly assumed it was down to an article they had posted referring to Kim Kardashian wearing an ‘Aurora inspired dress’.


The response was inevitable and Celeb Boutique were forced to issue an official apology stating it ‘was not aware of the situation in the USA at the time’. However, if anyone at the company had bothered to undertake even the most basic of search they would have found they were not the reason it was was trending and saved themselves a lot of aggravation and the widespread offense their tweet quite rightly caused.

Susan Boyle

This one is just borderline ridiculous and it’s still unclear as to whether this was a deliberate attempt to increase popularity but even if this is the case it’s worth a mention for entertainment value. To celebrate Susan Boyle’s new album, the management company used the following hashtag.

susan album party

Yes it is juvenile and immature but still funny.


I know i’ve mentioned it before but Volkswagon  must go down in history for the longest running #socialmediafail! What started out as an unwise New Year message to their followers on Facebook quickly turned into a hammering for the car giant’s lack of environmental consideration. And a quick check has shown that it is still going. After more than 12 months and over 2,200 comments, VW have still yet to respond.

Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 09.46.36


I’ve included Waitrose as they have taken a bit of a beating from industry critics about their campaign earlier this year which asked customers to say why they like the store using the hashtag #waitrosereasons. However I don’t believe this one belongs in the hall of shame, and in fact I think the comments made by those who hijacked the campaign only served to reinforce the brand identity. Among the more comic #waitrosereasons were the stocking of unicorn food, and a dislike of being surrounded by poor people.

But can a high end brand ever be damaged by an onslaught of comments pertaining to its extreme ‘poshness’? Waitrose didn’t seem to think so and appeared very relaxed about the whole thing.


We can be very quick to judge the success of a campaign based on its assumed aims, but just because they didn’t get what they set out to doesn’t mean it wasn’t a massive success.


At the time of writing, this campaign is actually in the process of being hijacked. XBox have been asking people to describe their favourite experiences on gaming using the hashtag #xboxmoments. Given the gaming industry’s reputation for being misogynistic and hostile toward women (not all but enough to make it an issue), its no surprise that this is playing out in the responses.

Women are highlighting insults hurled at them for being female and are receiving non too flattering responses. Added to the usual trash talk you’d expect to go along with such a competitive world, i’m not sure what this camapign is doing for the reputation of XBox. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one over the next few hours but it could well find its way into the #socialmediafails hall of shame 2013!

Written by Felice Ayling

Interested in Digital Marketing Elearning - Start Free 30 Day Trial >