Back when disruptive marketing worked, there were fewer dramatic fails by major corporations. Advertising teams could discuss possible implications of ideas for weeks and run concepts by focus groups to ensure that no one would be confused or offended. There's a lot to love about social media marketing, but in an era where your words go live as soon as you hit "Publish," fails happen. From hashtags that are decidedly not safe for work to newsjacking tragedies, we've compiled 7 of the most embarassing and talked-about social media fails of 2012:
Back in January, fast food giant McDonald's created the #McDStories hashtag to generate brand mentions by having customers share stories about happy memories at the restaurant. Unfortunately, the Internet saw it as an opportunity to start trolling in force. One of the tamer Tweets generated stated "I used to like McDonalds. I stopped eating McDonalds years ago because every time I ate it I felt like I was dying inside.” Suddenly, the entire Internet was sharing unbelievable horror stories about McDonald's. While the campaign was stopped within two hours, many social media users are still buzzing about the fail.
The Moral: Once the negative comments start rolling in, it's impossible to un-hijack your hashtag.
2. #SuperBowl Hijack
Major car manufacturer Toyota didn't create just one or two, but nine brand-new Twitter accounts to bring attention to their latest iteration of the Camry during Superbowl 2012. Anyone using a Superbowl-related hashtag was spammed with a message about a Camry giveaway. Social media users weren't interested in unsolicited messages, so Toyota closed the accounts and issued an official apology.
The Moral: No one likes a hashtag hog.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with the hashtag, you'd think they would have learned their lesson from McDonald's. When upscale supermarket Waitrose asked social media users to share why they loved buying their groceries in their store, the conversation quickly turned satirical. Here are some Tweets that resulted:
"I shop at Waitrose because their Swan burgers are good enough for the Queen #waitrosereasons"
"I Shop at Waitrose because Tesco doesn't stock unicorn food. #Waitrosereasons"
The Moral: Make sure other companies haven't already suffered at the hands of a similar hashtag fail.
In commemoration of the golden-voiced British singer's new album release, her social media team coined what may have been the year's worst hashtag. While we're not going to go into too much detail, Twitter users quickly figured out that without the use of CamelCase, in which the first letter of each word is capitalized, the tag could be read as something pretty obscene. The resulting R-rated comedy wasn't all bad, and some social media experts speculate that it was actually a deliberate move by her PR team to get the tag trending.
The Moral: If your hashtag can easily appear obscene, the dialogue isn't going to be about your actual product.
Following the tragedy of the Aurora cinema massacre in July, the hashtag #Aurora quickly began trending as Americans shared messages of sympathy and sorrow regarding victims and their families. British eCommerce fashion retailer Celebboutique gained all the wrong kinds of attention by tweeting "#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress;)" While the company quickly issued an apology, claiming they hadn't taken the time to research the hashtag, they'd already gained the reputation of insensitivity.
The Moral: Take the time to research trending hashtags before you join the conversation, every time.
A KitchenAid's social media employee damaged her entire brand when she accidentally forgot to sign out of her Twitter account before sharing her thoughts on a presidential debate. She stated: “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’. #nbcpolitics” was sent from the brand, then quickly deleted. An apology was issued and rumor has it that the representative was fired.
The Moral: Caution will keep you employed in 2013.
Historically, Newsweek has not been afraid of being controversial, and their decision to put the term "Muslim Rage" on the cover of their magazine in September 2012 was likely pretty calculated. When Twitter users turned culturally insensitive in droves regarding their #MuslimRage hashtag campaign, it certainly didn't make Newsweek look very mature. Some of the more mature Tweets included thoughts about how it's frustrating to forget your shoes at the mosque. It was a shameless play for clicks, and while it may have temporarily worked, it was the epitome of tackiness.
The Moral: Don't encourage people to use a hashtag that begs for inappropriate or insensitive comments.
What do you think was the biggest hashtag fail of 2012?