Don't Be an April Fool: 8 Cringe-Worthy Online Marketing Fails You Should Avoid

Posted by Huw Jenkins 30 Mar 16

shutterstock_261752060.pngIt’s not easy being a marketer. Getting your messages heard, whilst navigating the multitudinous world of social at the same time as juggling a variety of marketing channels is tough.

No wonder mistakes are made.

However, rather than bury your head in a face palm, take a look on the bright side.

In the wake of a fail comes a valuable opportunity to learn - after all - mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were before [insert motivational meme]. 

As we approach the annual day of tomfoolery, we’ve collected some of the best (and worst) marketing fails for you to observe, learn and avoid, to ensure you're not the butt of any jokes this year. 

And hey, learning from someone else’s mistake is less painful.

 #Susanalbumparty: hashtag fail 

Hashtags are a way for social media users to tag their posts with keywords, which in turn make them easier for social networks to organise and users to search. To be seen is to be heard, right?

Well, some might regret being heard in our first example.

Known for her quirky personality, angelic voice and her record-breaking debut album (and that infamous party), Susan Boyle's PR team decided to get the party started with one (very) ill-advised tweet. 


Susan Boyle Twitter hashtag


Some sentences transform sans white space, so be wise before utilising the power of the hashtag, otherwise you might be calling your #therapist. 

But hey, publicity is publicity, right?

Bloomingdales: being creepy 

Social media was again set ablaze after this catalogue ad from Bloomingdales, which more or less endorses alcohol-fueled date rape, went viral. 

Although not strictly online marketing, this is a classic example of how marketing failures invariably end up doing the rounds on social, so beware.  

The picture, which features a man eerily side-eyeing a woman, reads: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”

Egg milk punch will never be the same. 

Staples: untargeted ads 

In a funny case of targeting gone wrong, here's what Staples offered a guy on Facebook: 

StaplesThe gender-targeting faux pas only serves to remind us of how important it is to get even the simplest things right and ensure your data sets are properly segmented, targeted and nurtured. 

Dynamic Keyword Insertion: wrong place, wrong time 

In another negligent oversight - blindly using Dynamic Keyword Insertion in Google Adwords can lead to a marketing whoopsie. 

Take a look at this, for example, which highlights why you should ALWAYS be careful about using a placeholder (for a keyword) in your ads. Using the Costa Concordia disaster as a promotional moment isn't exactly ideal for cruise vacations is it...


Dynamic Keyword Insertion YouTube just nope

We're all familiar with the power of reactive marketing.

Using a trending topic or event to propel marketing messages into the mainstream is an amazing (and free) way to harpoon your brand into the centre of the "buzz" and boost awareness, traffic (and hopefully sales).  

Timed correctly, it can be great for business. For instance: events such as the birth of a Royal baby presents a unique opportunity for childcare brands, for example, to hop on a national wave of baby-fever. 

However, take heed from this almighty fail from, who used the death of a man as a "seamless" segue to promote its brand as a means of relieving stress... 

Airport Parking Reservations Amazon: #primedayfail

Proof that even the omnipresent giant of ecommerce isn't infallible to public scrutiny: Amazon faced the wrath of online bargain-hunters during its much-hyped Prime Day. 

Disgruntled shoppers took to Twitter to lodge complaints under the hashtag #primedayfail while staring down sales of granny panties, shoe horns, and 55-gallon drums of lube.

Amazon Prime Day


Disappointed by the lack of cheap TV's, tablets and electronic goods, Twitter set ablaze.  


However, Amazon reported their sales grew by 93% on Prime, who are we to mock?

#StonerSloth: missing the mark  

Depicting your target audience as giant hairy beasts with long, curved claws is probably not the way to win the hearts and minds of those you wish to resonate with.

Anti-drug advertising is often ridiculed for missing the mark with young audiences - #StonerSloth is no exception. Australia's New South Wales government turned a campaign designed to shame teens who get high into an (unintentional) comical fail.



IHOP: social misogyny

International restaurant chain, IHOP, was forced to apologise after using its Twitter account as a vessel for inappropriate breast humour. 

Alongside a centrally butter-dolloped stack of pancakes, read: “flat but has a GREAT personality.”

Needless to say, the company soon apologised, tweeting: “Earlier today we tweeted something dumb and immature that does not reflect what IHOP stands for. We’re sorry.”

Heinz: QR fail 

Imagine this: you innocently scan the QR code on an unassuming bottle of Heinz Ketchup and instead of being directed to a fluffy story about 57 different types of tomatoes, you're directed to a website that's not for the faint-hearted.

That's what happened to Daniel Korell from Germany when he scanned a QR which had expired the year before.

After Heinz didn’t renew the connected URL, Fundorado, a German purveyor of porn, moved in - explaining the fail. Let this be a gentle reminder to marketers everywhere to keep an eye on old links and codes in case they're broken (and/or recycled). 

Your digital footprint doesn't expire, but your public image can. 


In an ideal world, you will never make a marketing mistake. However, the likelihood is that in a multi-channel, busy and competitive ecommerce world full of different audiences, segments and idiosyncrasies: you probably will. 

Make sure you;

  • Always check, double check and triple check your content. A simple mistake, inside joke, or lazy proofread could land your company in very hot water. 
  • Don't use disasters to promote your brand. For obvious reasons. 
  • Constantly update your running marketing campaigns and keep an eye on old ones. Make sure your digital footprint isn't pointing in the wrong direction. 
  • Don't promise what you can't deliver, or risk the wrath of an unsatisfied customer.  
  • Ensure your marketing is tailored and targeted at your audience (tools such as Ometria offer comprehensive segmenting and ensure your messages are always delivered to the right person). 

The mark of a man is how (s)he can navigate a storm. 

We all make mistakes, but it's how you acknowledge them, neutralise the problem and move on with grace (whilst remembering what not to do in future) is the key to ecommerce longevity. 

Topics: Ecommerce examples

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