We love seeing how the world’s most popular brands make waves in social media. We love picking apart their successful campaigns, how they generated tons of engagement, and more in between. But social media fails can teach us as much as #wins do.
Seeing others’ mistakes is also a stern reminder that our social media presence is a double-edged sword.
Let’s take a look at four of the biggest fails from big names we are all too familiar with.
Wendy’s Ill-Advised Use Of Memes
A few days into 2017, the international food restaurant chain sent out a tweet featuring Pepe the frog in response to a user. Originally a character from the comic book Boy’s Club, you may have seen Pepe before in sites like Reddit and 9gag, where people associate the meme with good feels.
Wendy’s just tweeted and deleted this pic.twitter.com/c7l1nzOKZr
— Colin Jones (@colinjones) Enero 4, 2017
But everything changes, even memes and the messages behind them.
In 2015, Donald Trump tweeted an illustration of Pepe as himself, complete with a presidential podium and the POTUS seal. About a year later, political rival Hillary Clinton along with several news organizations called out the meme as a white supremacist symbol.
The once-innocuous green frog became the poster boy for a group that opposes people of color!
Wendy’s didn’t seem to get the memo. The tweet only lasted for 15 minutes, but Wendy’s brand has already been dubbed as the “official fast food chain of Nazis.”
Takeaway: Always look at the trends and associations with memes or references before using them in your posts.
Pepsi’s TV Commercial
Kendall Jenner’s commercial with Pepsi in 2017 made headlines for the wrong reasons. The ad aired on, TV but social media users ripped it online anyway.
The TV commercial shows the reality star joining the a #BlackLivesMatter protest along with people of color from different walks of life. The climax of the ad features Jenner walking to the front line and ending the tension between the protesters and the police with, you guessed it, ice-cold Pepsi!
Here’s the video if you missed it.
The commercial got a whipping shortly after it aired.
Journalists called the ad “unspeakably tone deaf” and insensitive, while activists found the ad offensive as it slights the tremendous work they do. Why put bodies and lives on the line when all you need is Pepsi!?
Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., joined the outcry and called out the soda company in a tweet.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) Abril 5, 2017
Internet users also ranked what they found as the most ridiculous scenes from the commercial.
Pepsi stood by the ad initially but relented under continuous pressure and criticisms from the public. The company has since stopped the further rollout of the TV commercial and issued an apology both to the people offended and Kendall Jenner for dragging her into the mess.
Takeaway: Joining a movement or a cause is good – except when it comes across as a brazen attempt to profit.
Uber And The Travel Ban
Uber came under fire from multiple directions in 2017.
A former engineer detailed the harsh culture and sexual harassment rampant in the firm, opening the floodgates to similar complaints. Uber is also facing an intellectual property lawsuit from self-driving car business Waymo. Not to mention the feds are inquiring into the software tool that Uber allegedly used to evade law enforcement.
But perhaps the blunder which left the strongest impression on customers and the general public came when President Trump announced a travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance and many taxi companies responded to the ban by calling on its members to stop pickups from the JFK International Airport.
— NY Taxi Workers (@NYTWA) Enero 28, 2017
Meanwhile, Uber did not only promote their service, but they also switched off surge pricing.
Surge pricing has been turned off at #JFK Airport. This may result in longer wait times. Please be patient.
— Uber NYC (@Uber_NYC) Enero 29, 2017
To say that the promotion was terribly mistimed is an understatement.
The tweet drew the ire of the internet. Many users also accused the company of trying to break up a strike and profiting off of refugees, giving birth to the #DeleteUber movement. Celebrities like George Takei and Lena Dunham also rallied online to boycott Uber.
Lyft donates $1mil to ACLU while Uber doubles down on its support for Trump. #DeleteUber
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) Enero 29, 2017
“Sorry for any confusion about our earlier tweet—it was not meant to break up any strike,” said a spokesperson from the ride-hailing giant. “We wanted people to know they could use Uber to get to and from JFK at normal prices, especially last night.”
Then-CEO Travis Kalanick also issued a statement criticizing Trump’s travel ban. But the damage to Uber’s brand cannot be undone.
Takeaway: Exercise more caution when self-promoting on social media, especially during a crisis.
McDonald’s Blasting Of The President And More
McDonald’s Twitter account is as corporate as they come. They mark holidays as usual while promoting certain outlets and updating (would-be) investors of the fast food chain’s strategy.
But on March 16 last year…
McDonald’s tone took a violent sharp turn when it called President Trump a “disgusting excuse of a president,” called for Barack Obama’s return to the White House, and dropped the mic by reminding users of the President’s “tiny hands.”
The tweet was up for only 20 minutes but still garnered more than a thousand “likes” and retweets. You can read the archived version of the tweet right here.
McDonald’s apologized on their website and said their “account was hacked by an external source” on Twitter.
Based on our investigation, we have determined that our Twitter account was hacked by an external source. Read more: https://t.co/X5NwVI5sKp
— McDonald’s (@McDonaldsCorp) Marso 16, 2017
Then in November 2017, McDonald’s was involved in another Twitter mess albeit much, much less political. The company’s Twitter account sent out a tweet with a placeholder instead of a copy and link.
Black Friday **** Need copy and link****
— McDonald’s (@McDonaldsCorp) Nobyembre 24, 2017
As usual for a brand as massive as McDonald’s, the hiccup got thousands of responses from users, many of which are along the lines of the following…
— Humby Baquerizo (@HumbyHumberto) Nobyembre 24, 2017
To be fair, though, McDonald was quick to turn things around with humour.
When you tweet before your first cup of McCafé… Nothing comes before coffee. pic.twitter.com/aPJ2ZupS9b
— McDonald’s (@McDonaldsCorp) Nobyembre 24, 2017
Takeaway: Secure your social media accounts with two-factor authentication, and always double-check your post before publishing.