Hurricane Sandy highlighted the fact that brands still struggle with social marketing, as retailers fell over themselves to try and use the disaster to sell more clothes.

The immediacy of social media makes it the perfect way for brands to expose themselves to ridicule by sending out a kneejerk tweet without thinking through the consequences.

But not all of the examples on this list are errant tweets – indeed some obviously had a great deal of thought behind them, which probably makes the ensuing fall out far worse.

So without further ado, here’s the top 10 social media fails of 2012 so far…


In a shining example of a brand being blissfully unaware of its own reputation, McDonald’s used the hashtag #McDStories to promote video content of their suppliers talking about McDonald’s ingredients.

Unfortunately for Ronald the campaign was hijacked by consumers complaining about the company’s service and the quality of the food.

And it’s a campaign that won’t die – a quick Twitter search shows that people are still using the hashtag to attack McDonald’s.


Back in January Snickers ‘hijacked’ the Twitter accounts of Katie Price and Rio Ferdinand for an ill-advised publicity stunt.

Price posted a series of tweets discussing the Eurozone debt crisis and calling for ‘large scale quantitative easing in 2012’, which had many of her 1.5m followers initially guessing she’d been hacked.

However, the four tweets were swiftly followed by one that clarified the issue; “You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersuk #hungry #spon” – which also contained a link to the photo above of Price holding up a Snickers bar. 

The stunt earned Snickers a lot of press, but also annoyed Price’s followers who didn’t like being tricked into reading marketing messages.

Two users even complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, but an investigation cleared Mars of any wrongdoing. 

Urban Outfitters

Where you and I see 80 mile-an-hour winds and widespread flooding, some marketers apparently see a business opportunity.

Several US retailers tried to make light of Hurricane Sandy by tweeting special offers, but Urban Outfitters’ was perhaps the most tasteless.

Its tweet offering free shipping included the hashtag #ALLSOGGY. Nice.

The Gap was also guilty of an ill-timed tweet that tried to increase online sales, but at least it also advised everyone affected by Sandy to “stay safe!”


While most people recoil in horror when brands try to make a profit from human suffering, there are a few who see it as canny marketing.

Step forward HubSpot, which posted a blog highlighting ‘Five Hurricane Sandy Newsjacks from Marketers’ that appeared to celebrate brands that were trying to use the disaster as a way of driving sales.

After being rightly criticised, HubSpot took down the blog and apologised “for promoting the idea of newsjacking a tragedy.” 

It also donated £5,000 to the Red Cross, which was probably taken out of the blogger’s wages.

Swedish tourist board

In an effort to show the world what Sweden is really like, the nation’s tourist board struck upon the idea of turning over control of its Twitter account to a different citizen each week.

The results have been mixed, with some users proving to be quite charming while others have turned out to be borderline anti-Semitic.

In June Sonja Abrahamsson used the account to pose a series of questions asking why some people didn’t like Jews, which unsurprisingly caused quite a bit of controversy.

The tourist board stuck to it guns though and refused to censor Abrahamsson.

In fact the scheme is still running, evidenced by the fact that followers were treated to this cultural insight earlier today:


This example highlights the importance of having someone constantly available to check your social media accounts to prevent complaints from escalating.

On bank holiday Friday in August an Odeon customer vented his anger at a disappointing cinema visit on the company’s Facebook wall.

It’s almost impossible to find out how Odeon responded to the complaint as the post now has now more than 25,000 comments and 297,000 likes, but suffice to say the cinema chain didn’t nip it in the bud early enough.

Steven Gerrard

All Twitter hashtags are likely to be hijacked by spambots or jokers at some point, it’s one of the risks of social media that we can’t avoid.

But even so, I feel sorry for the Adidas staff members that had to find genuine questions among the torrent of abuse and wisecracks directed towards Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard yesterday.

It was a simple enough campaign – let fans ask Gerrard questions using the hashtag #AskStevieG. But anyone could see that the majority of responses would be along these lines:


Back in August Ryanair customer Suzy McLeod complained on Facebook that she had been forced to pay €300 after forgetting to print off her family’s boarding passes.

Within days the post had 350,000 ‘likes’ and nearly 18,000 supportive comments.

This would register as a PR disaster for most brands, but Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary was typically unapologetic:

We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid.


In general voters don’t turn to homeware brands for their political news, so it’s hard to work out what possessed KitchenAid’s social media team to tweet an insult about President Obama’s dead grandmother during one of the presidential debates.

The tweet was quickly deleted and an apology was posted calling it an “irresponsible tweet,” but the damage had already been done.

KitchenAid’s senior director Cynthia Soledad was forced to issue a further grovelling apology in which she said that the personal responsible “won’t be tweeting for us anymore.”


When is a fail not a fail? When it reinforces your brand image as a quality, upmarket grocery chain.

Waitrose is added to this list as people did hijack its #WaitroseReasons hashtag to poke fun at the brand, but the tweets were generally jokes about the brand’s upmarket image rather than complaints about shoddy service or poor quality food.

So rather than exposing Waitrose to ridicule or vitriol, it reinforced the fact that consumers see it as a premium brand that is a cut above other grocery stores.

And Waitrose clearly saw the campaign as a success: