The worst online marketing disasters of the last ten years

Jul 23, 2021 by
The worst online marketing disasters of the last ten years

Digital marketing is never easy. You’re always walking that fine line between showing off a little of your brand humour or crossing the line into bad taste. You’re also expected to be on top of every new trend and fold those trends into your own work effortlessly and organically without breaking a sweat. It is, quite frankly, a tall order.

But don’t feel too bad about your marketing mishaps as chances are some have gone much further and missed much bigger targets. Such is the case with our assorted examples here: A few whopping digital marketing disasters to keep you entertained in your lunch break and give you some food for thought so that you never make the same mistakes.

The force-fed U2 album

If you had an iPhone in 2014 then you owned a copy of the U2 album “Songs of Innocence.” Whether you wanted it or not. What was presumably dreamt up as a harmless way to promote iTunes and the Irish dad-rock band was certainly not received that way by the public at large.

It was seen as an invasive and patronising move to force-feed us music that many of us didn’t want and while a “delete U2” site was set up in the days following the disaster, the damage has already been done. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I deleted it. And I still stand by “Achtung Baby” as a great album.

McDonald’s grief porn

There’s nothing wrong with telling a story and tugging at heartstrings to sell a product. John Lewis does it every Christmas and nobody bats an eyelid. However, it’s arguable that McDonald’s went a little too far with this one.

The campaign in question centred around a conversation a young boy was having with his mother about his dead father and connecting posthumously over a shared love of greasy fast food. It’s not a scenario that sat well with the masses when it first aired in the UK and the campaign was shelved as a result.

The Boston Marathon blunder

The great tragedy of the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion is one that will echo throughout US sporting history. It’s also a historical event that one marketer who worked for Adidas in 2017 will probably never forget.

After the 2017 marathon, a sponsored email was sent out to all marathon runners now congratulating them on finishing the race but on “surviving” it. It might have been an accident but if it isn’t then it’s perhaps one example of dark humour being used at the least appropriate time.

Bic’s tone-deaf social media campaign

We live in a more enlightened age now, where people are not openly mocked and ridiculed for their beliefs or how they want to live their lives. Or at least we do sometimes. Then there are digital marketing campaigns like the Bic Facebook debacle that ran under the headline “look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.”

It’s honestly the kind of empty and patronising slogan that I assumed would have died out in the 1980s and underlines all of the mistakes made above. In fact, let’s reinforce what to do, shall we:
Research trends before trying to associate with them.
Understand that messages can be misconstrued.
Don’t use human tragedy as a marketing tactic.
Re-read everything before you post. And I mean EVERYTHING.