One of the great things about working in digital is that, unlike with print, you can still make changes once something has gone live.

The down side is: if things go horribly wrong you can expect evidence of your mistakes to float around the internet until the end of time.

Here are five of my favourite digital marketing disasters of all time, not just because I’m sadistic but because each one provides a valuable lesson (or something). 

Need a Cake bakery

In 2011, Reading-based baker Rachel Brown put out a Groupon advert offering a 75% discount on 12 cupcakes. 

Clearly she underestimated Britain’s insatiable appetite for dangerously sugary snacks, because within a very short space of time she’d sold 8,500 of the deals. 

That’s 102,000 cupcakes. 

Brown ended up having to draft in temps to help fulfil the orders at a cost of £12,500, wiping out her profits for the year and losing her between £2.50 and £3 per order. 

Need a Cake bakery Groupon

Tesco’s horse meat Tweet

Tesco was by no means the only brand to purchase equine-infected meat matter from some vague European location, but it was definitely hit hardest by the PR Painthrower™. 

This Tweet definitely didn’t help the situation.

According to Tesco it was scheduled before the scandal broke out and was never intended to be a joke. I’m just not sure I believe that. 

The iPhone 6’s built-in U2 album

As if spending an eye-watering sum of money on U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ album wasn’t enough of a disaster in itself, Apple then released it free to iTunes users so anyone with an iPhone ended up with it automatically downloaded onto their device. 

The fallout was so hard (people really hate U2. Who knew?) that Apple was forced to set up a dedicated page on its site advising people how to remove the offensive item from their phones. 

Remove U2 album from iPhone

HMV employee Twitter takeover

The list of brands that have nearly annihilated their reputation with one tasteless or badly timed Tweet is endless. But this has to be one of my all-time favourites. 

When HMV called the administrators in and 4.500 jobs were put at risk, one mightily vexed (I just didn’t want to say 'disgruntled' like every other article about it) employee took over the company Twitter feed to give live updates of the situation.

HMV Twitter takeover


The Tweets have since been deleted, but it’s a good lesson to always be aware of who can access your social media accounts. What’s been said can never be unsaid and all that. 

Interflora’s paid advertorials Google penalty

If there’s one time you don’t want to get a Google penalty as a flower seller, it’s in the weeks leading up to the biggest weekend in your commercial calendar. 

That’s exactly what happened to Interflora when it paid a load of UK newspapers to give it backlinks. Google found out about it and slapped Interflora right in the stamen with a penalty.

Interflora sorry flowers

The penalty was so severe that Interflora wasn’t even ranking for its own name, and the newspapers involved were also penalised.

It took Interflora 11 days of link-removing (and presumably grovelling) to get the penalty lifted. 

Conclusion: just don’t do any of the above. Ever

These are some of the best digital marketing fails I could think of, but I’m sure there are hundreds of others out there.

Let me know some of your favourites in the comments below. 

Jack Simpson

Published 10 July, 2015 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)


Gary Lillistone, Client Services at New World PR

The cake maker story reminds of the Hoover compo debacle where they offered free flights for buying a product. It was a 'great deal', so people took up the offer in their droves and it cost Hoover a lot of money!!! Motto of the story is: be sure you can afford to make a great offer, even if there is a 100% take up. Don't base it on a few % of readers taking it up. My other favourite is the major tomato ketchup producer who let a URL lapse which meant a compo was directing their customers to a German Adult site! Brand damage. There is automated software that can stop that sort of thing from happening now. Gary

about 3 years ago


Chris Monkman, Web Developer at E-Dzine

Don't forget legal slip ups. Just heard of toronto2015 PamAm games and stating that any and all links, plus the hashtag # TO2015 have to have written permission before they can be used (They're getting enough traffic as is, I'm not helping them here).

Oh and the e-mail address given didn't work. Cue huge schadenfreude from any technical sites who'd picked up the matter.

about 3 years ago

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