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.
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.
It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets
— Tesco (@Tesco) January 17, 2013
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.
@jmangas86 I’m terribly sorry. That tweet was scheduled before we knew of the current situation. We’d never intend to make light of it.
— Tesco (@Tesco) January 18, 2013
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.
Apple owes me a new iPhone, because I had to purify this one with fire after finding a U2 album on it
— Warren Ellis (@warrenellis) September 10, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.