Social Media Scares: What campaigns went disastrously wrong? 

We can learn a lot from successful social media campaigns but even more so from the ones that went wrong. Social Media can sometimes be a scary place to navigate. Once you post a photo on Instagram, share your thoughts on Twitter or give your opinions on Linkedin, there’s no going back. It’s there forever. While it’s important to take risks when creating social media content, it’s essential to be careful about what you post. 

Take a look a these ‘Social Media Scares’ – three social media campaigns that went disastrously wrong. What can we learn from these businesses mistakes? 


In 2017, Pepsi teamed up Kendall Jenner to create their latest advertisement, and it went viral for all the wrong reasons. The advert was released during the Black Lives Matter movement following protests against police brutality against black people in America. Audiences criticised the ad for presenting a privileged, white supermodel as a peacemaker between civil rights activists and police. Considering the movements that were happening at the time, you’d have thought Pepsi would have picked a different topic. 

Listen to your audience

This isn’t the first time a company has made a mistake like this, DiGiorno accidentally tried to advertise their pizza using the hashtag #WhyIStayed, a hashtag about domestic violence. Using hashtags and current trends in your social media posts is a great way to connect with your audience, but you have to make sure you know exactly why something is trending. Make sure you listen to what your audience is saying. Ask yourself, does this post reflect the views of my audience? 


Do you remember Lush’s ‘anti-spy cops’ campaign released last year? The negativity was a first for Lush. Although they have created controversial campaigns in the past, the reactions are usually more positive than negative. Lush is a great example of a brand whose marketing efforts have resulted in a generally positive brand reputation. They’ve been advocates for the fight against animal testing, as-well-as environmentally friendly products and a reduction in plastic use throughout the company. However, this campaign didn’t quite hit the mark. The company was aiming to draw attention to the UK “spy cops” scandal, but the campaign was unclear to a lot of audiences thought the company were attacking the police.


A lack of clarity can be detrimental. Just last month, we discussed Gillette’s #thebestmencanbe campaign which aimed to draw attention to toxic masculinity, a campaign that sparked a lot of criticism due to the lack of clarity in the advert (read more here). Similarly, Lush’s unclear campaign caused a lot of upset. The hashtag #FlushLush started trending as users stated they would boycott Lush products. Once Lush made their intentions clear, the feedback wasn’t all bad. Lush explained that is was not an anti-police campaign and some users argued that the company were right in their efforts to raise awareness. Perhaps if they were clearer from the beginning, Lush’s campaign might not have been received so poorly.  

American Apparel

American Apparel has been involved in several controversies, having had their adverts banned in the past. But in 2014 they made quite the mistake on their Tumblr account. A member of their staff reblogged this photo thinking it was a photo of fireworks celebrating the 4th July. It turned out to be a photo of the Challenger disaster in 1986. You can just imagine the reaction across social media sites. 

Don’t chance it

Everyone makes mistakes, who hasn’t posted a tweet with a typo or a photo on Facebook they weren’t supposed to? So always double-check what your posting, even if you’re sure it’s okay. Ask a friend for their opinion, spell-check and cross-reference anything you post. Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes to spot a mistake you can’t see yourself. Because once that mistake is out there for the world to see, it’s hard to recover from it. American Apparel posted an apology for the post on it’s Twitter page, saying that it was posted by an international employee who was born after the disaster and was unaware of it. A lesson learnt to anyone working on social media – don’t leave it to chance, always check your post. 

Making a mistake on your company’s social media can damage your brand image. When the reputation of your company is at stake, it’s crucial you’re 100% sure about what you’re posting.  Always do your research and double-check your content. Make sure the message in your social media campaigns is clear to your readers and reflect the views of your audience.

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