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Digital marketing is perhaps the most essential factor that can drive new visitors to your website, increase subscribers, and convert sales. That’s when it’s done well. When it’s poorly done, it can become a nightmare. Today, we are looking at the epic digital marketing failures of some very well-known brands. Take heed so you don’t fall into these traps that can destroy your efforts.

5 Digital Marketing Fails That Went Viral

by | Sep 21, 2018

The past few years have been rife with digital marketing fails. I don’t mean small mistakes. Epic fails. But, they say we should always try to learn from our mistakes. I say let’s look at these failures and take away some pearls of wisdom, as well.

The Adidas Boston Marathon Email Campaign

In 2013, home-grown terrorists detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon. The incident left 3 people dead and over 250 maimed or severely injured.

Athletic wear giant, Adidas, sent a post-marathon email blast to the runners who participated in the 2017 Boston Marathon. The subject line? “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

While this well-intended email was sent to congratulate the athletes for completing this grueling race, the message struck a raw nerve just 4 years after the bombing. While Adidas issued an apologetic statement right away, it came too late.

Outraged recipients of the email had already shared, posted, and Tweeted about the email.

Our Expert Advice: Always craft your marketing copy carefully. Ask a colleague to review it. When there is any doubt about if the piece represents your company well, then don’t send it out.

The U.S. Department of Education Twitter Scandal

The U.S. Department of Education, the same agency responsible for the education of American children, received very low marks in response to a 2017 Tweet.

In the Tweet, the DOE intended to quote African-American sociologist W.E.B. DuBois during Black History Month. However, they incorrectly spelled his name DeBois. This set off a flurry of criticism. The agency apologized stating that the matter was a simple typo. However, the errant Tweeter included a typo in the apology.

Our Expert Advice: Typos can, and do, happen. Take time to double-check content before you publish. Keep spelling and grammar checking tools running to help eliminate typographical, spelling, or grammatical errors.

Walker’s Social Media Selfie Contest on Twitter

Twitter trolls upended a social media selfie contest run by Walker’s, a crisps company based in the United Kingdom.

The campaign was designed to be fun, but it got out of hand on the hosts. The prize for the best selfie was to be a pair of tickets to watch the UEFA Champions League finals. It should have been straightforward.

What the company did not anticipate was the submission of inappropriate selfies and memes. Some users thought it would be hilarious to send in photos of serial killers, rapists, child molesters, and infamous dictators like Josef Stalin as their entries.

It created a mass wave of outrage and the contest was shut down promptly. Obviously, Walkers did not expect this kind of turnout.

Our Expert Advice: Social media contests are effective and engaging. Set clear rules and expectations. Have moderators keep things in check and approve entries before they publish. Also, state clearly in the rules that you will ban those who abuse the page from entering future submissions.

Nivea Facebook Ad

German-based beauty company Nivea tried to drive higher sales in the Middle East market via a Facebook ad campaign. Sound smart?

Sure. But not when your tagline for the said campaign is “White is purity.”

While Nivea’s intent was to share the message that their new deodorant wouldn’t mess up the model’s white dress, it was perceived as a racist statement. The message was directed to users in the Middle East, but after a flurry of shares and rants, it quickly went viral.

Nivea issued an apology and quickly pulled the Facebook campaign.

Our Expert Advice: If your tagline, slogan, or any part of your copy has any reference to a hot-button topic or comes across as racist, change it! You never want your business to be perceived as insensitive.

DiGiornio Pizza Hashtag Mishap

In 2014, Twitter had an active hashtag # WhyIStayed.  This was used to allow victims of domestic violence to organize their stories of abuse and explain the horror of staying in a violent relationship.

During the time that this hashtag ruled Twitter, DiGiornio, an American frozen pizza company, used the hashtag without first researching to learn what the hashtag was all about.

The unfortunate outcome was a caption # WhyIStayed You Had Pizza. Obviously, they drew the ire of those victims from around the world. It was a badly chosen hashtag.

Our Expert Advice: Research your hashtags. Use only those which are appropriate for your business and represent your image.


In this digital era, we must all pay attention to detail. It takes only a few seconds for a poorly done social media post or email to begin circulating the worldwide web and leave you hanging with a failure gone viral.