3 Embarrassing Digital Marketing Blunders by Big Brands

Website design, user experience, CRO, content, PPC, display, email, SEO… these are the varied elements and channels that make up online marketing. But what unifies all of them in a productive and efficient way?

Digital Strategy

As part of your digital strategy, you should plan your budget against estimated returns and assess the opportunities available to you through each medium.

You should also be looking at the marketplace, your audience, how they will respond to your efforts and also what makes you unique. Digital strategy covers all your online activity – it should dictate which channels you use and the messaging you use on them.

Considering how important it is, you’d think big companies would have their digital strategy down. However, that’s not always the case.

Let’s look at some infamous digital strategy mistakes from big brands that should have known better.

British Gas – Lack of Foresight

In 2013, British Gas decided to run ‘#askBG’, a Twitter event where they planned to answer questions about a recently announced 9.2% price rise.

The torrent of online vitriol was extreme – experts called it ‘one of the worst PR disasters’ ever seen on social media. Encouraging customer feedback, just after you’ve announced a hugely unpopular and controversial price hike – this had disaster written all over it.

From a strategic standpoint, there was clearly a lack of planning and understanding on the part of British Gas. One look at their audience’s historical response to this kind of price rise would’ve told them how this was going to go.

Unpopular decisions are always difficult from a marketing perspective, but you need to make sure your marketing strategy uses online channels to soften the blow – not make it hit even harder.

Lesson learnt: Analyse the landscape – plan ahead

American Apparel – Repeatedly Overstepping the Line

Defining your tone of voice is an important part of developing your digital strategy – your brand identity should drive all marketing activity.

American Apparel have that down, they’re edgy, political, sexy.

There’s nothing wrong with this in concept. The adage exists for a reason, sex really does sell. Pushing the boundaries, generating controversy? That can work in your favour too.

If you’re trying to be sexy and edgy, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You get slapped down for sexualising children. Twice.

Sorry, make that three times.

What makes this even worse? American Apparel recognised this was a problem – they replaced their CEO in January 2014. She wanted to tone down the brand’s imagery, stating:

“It doesn’t have to be overtly sexual. There’s a way to tell our story where it’s not offensive.”

This was before the second and third incidents mentioned above. Clearly, there was a disconnect between American Apparel’s marketing output, what they wanted want to do and what they could get away with.

Controversy is good to a point – but there is a limit. If their questionable sexual content gets enough negative courage, even their most stalwart customers will be turned off.

Lesson learnt: Unify intent and output – communication is key

New England Patriots – Putting Their Fate in the Hands of Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool and one that can be an effective part of your strategy. However, if you don’t have an effective plan it can blow up in the face of even the biggest brands.

One of the most painful examples of this befell multiple Superbowl winning American Football team the New England Patriots.

Aiming to push their Twitter account up to 1 million followers, becoming the first NFL team to do so, they ran a campaign where names would be picked from the pool of new followers in the run up to the target. Winners received a digital thank you from the team – including the winning Twitter handles emblazoned across the back of a team jersey and posted for the world to see.

Unfortunately, this resulted in a Twitter handle including a racist slur being retweeted by the team. The automated system used to create the digital thank yous failed to recognise the offensive language, and thus the entire campaign backfired – with the Patriots social media team scrambling to apologise and explain the mishap.

What can we learn from this? Social media is powerful and opens up promotion opportunities that are worth taking, but when you give it free reign you are essentially rolling the dice with your public image.

The only thing that can keep a handle on social media is a human being – and even that isn’t foolproof. But letting an automated system do something like this, where you’re going to retweet or use content that has come in from the public… that is a recipe for disaster.

Lesson Learnt: Maintain control

Don’t find yourself on a list like this.

You don’t want to be on a list somewhere as a company that’s made a digital strategy mistake like this. Download our guide and answer the question: Can you afford not to have a digital strategy?

Comment below and let us know the worst digital strategy fail you’ve seen or share the article and see how painful your friends find these blunders.