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When Social Media Gets Ugly - The 20 Biggest Brand Disasters

Written by Simply Zesty on

Social media is a brilliant tooling for letting brands engage with their customers and it generally makes the world more transparent. Sometimes however, brands can get caught out badly, or make massive mistakes which get amplified through social media, which is what we are focusing on today.

It happens on a regular basis and the most terrifying thing for brands and businesses is that it can all kick off in a matter of minutes and all it takes is one tiny message from a single employee or an unhappy customers.

From a consumer standpoint, it is great news because brands are far more accountable than they've ever been before and the standard of service and general honesty around products is improving as a result. Here are some of the worst examples of social media going wrong.


All it really take on Twitter is one tweet - as you will see from the examples below - and because of the nature of the service,  your brand can take a bashing and see the news spread globally in a matter of minutes. The standard response is the apology tweet, but brands will often find that this goes unnoticed and the damage is already done.

Kitchen Aid Obama

Sometimes a brand can send out a tweet that was well-intentioned, but send out the wrong message. However, there are certain tweets that cannot be defended. During the presidential debate earlier this month, Kitchen Aid's tweeted about U.S. President Barack Obama's grandmother saying:

"Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president'. #nbcpolitics,”

For context, Obama mentioned his grandmother, Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham, during the debate. She passed away on November 2nd, 2008,  just before Obama was elected president. After posting it to its 24,000 followers, it quickly deleted the tweet and said that a member of its Twitter team accidentally posted it from KitchenAid's account instead of his personal account.

Kenneth Cole In Cairo 

Kenneth Cole is a well-known shoe manufacturer and retailer in New York, but when he tried to take advantage of trending hashtags, it backfired drastically. During the uprising in Ciaro back in 2001, Cole tweeted this message:

"Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at"

Needless to say, he took down the tweet and the subsequent link, but that didn't stop others from denouncing him for his actions. However, his account got 400 new followers so maybe it was intentional.

Bing - Japan Earthquake

When Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, millions of people and businesses donated money to help those affected by the disaster. Bing wanted to do the same so on March 12th 2011, it offered to donate $1 for everyone who retweeted its message, with the overall total going to $100,000.

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Image Via Seattle Times[/caption]

Many retweeted the comment but others criticised the company for using a natural disaster as a marketing opportunity, saying that Bing should just donate the $100,000 anyway. Bing later tweeted that it had donated $100,000 to relief funds.


Following the trend of employees posting stupid things, Chrysler found itself in crisis after a tweet outraged both consumers and Chrysler. The tweet read:

"I find it ironic that Detroit is known as #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f#*!ing drive."

What eventually happened was Chrysler deleted the tweet, didn't renew its contract with New Media Strategies and the employee who wrote the tweet was fired.

Habitat UK

Habitat, the trendy furniture store, decided to use trending topics to get noticed. However, the @HabitatUK's used ones that had nothing to do with furniture or shopping, using ones that happened to be trending at the time like #Apple, #iPhone and #mms. It even used a hashtag for an Iranian election, trying to get people to sign up to a database.

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Image Via Social Media Today[/caption]

Naturally, people were annoyed by this and called the brand out on this, which meant that @HabitatUK deleted its offensive tweets and replaced them with a number of product and sales tweets.


Like the Kitchen Aid example,  someone can post something offensive or stupid very easily. This ended up happening to Stubhub earlier this month when an offensive tweet, referring to the company as a "stubsucking hell hole," was posted.

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Image Via Mashable[/caption]

The tweet was taken down an hour later with the company apologising for it. The possibility that the account was hacked.


While TV stations and traditional media used to be the only source of video content that could catch brands out, the simple fact is that billions of us now walk around with smartphones in our pockets that can capture HD quality video. This is a nightmare for brands as they are only one click away from being filmed and shared on Youtube.

Domino's Pizza 

Back in 2009, before Domino's Pizza ever had a social media presence, it found itself in trouble when two employees in its Conover N.C. franchise, uploaded a video onto YouTube of themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich before it went out to delivery. The video went viral and immediately, Domino's was under pressure, but since it had loyal fans who alerted it to the video, it was able to take action.

The brand took a number of actions to deal with the crisis, it official video statement from Domino USA's president Patrick Doyle, is one way they dealt with it.

United Airlines

Dave Carroll, a Canadian country and western singer, was traveling with United Airlines where his acoustic guitar was damaged by baggage handlers. What he did was release a video, United Breaks Guitars, which became a viral hit. When it reached almost four million, United Airlines took notice and offered to pay the cost of repairing his guitar and flight vouchers worth $1,200. However, Carroll told the airline to donate the sum to charity.


When a video about rats in KFC's restaurant appeared, the video immediately went viral and presented a number of headaches for the brand. Since this was 2007 and a restaurant's quality is based on its hygiene, this turned a local problem into an national story which KFC responded to poorly.

GoDaddy - CEO Hunts Elephants

Sometimes old content can come back to haunt you and in 2011, GoDaddy's chief executive, Bob Parsons, came under much criticism after videos of him hunting big game in Zimbabwe went viral. One graphic video showed him bagging an elephant while another from 2009 shows him in pursuit of a leopard that eventually shot dead. He became the target of numerous animals rights groups, which campaigned to boycott GoDaddy until Parsons agreed to abandon the annual hunts.


Sometimes there are actions that are inexcusable. FedEx came under major criticism last December after a video, showing one of its employees chucking a Samsung computer monitor over a fence to deliver the package. The video racked up over one million views in approximately 24 hours and it led to many others sharing their negative experiences with the company.


While news might not travel just as fast on Facebook as it does on Twitter, the sheer volume of people there and the fact that pretty much every brand in the world is on the platform make it a horrible place for things to go wrong. These days, when something does go wrong, most consumers won't even think of going to a brand website, but will head straight to their Facebook page where they know their voice will be heard.


In 2010, environmental activist group Greenpeace had long been pressurising Nestle to stop using palm oil, the production of which has been documented as a source of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and endangered species loss. After posting a video, Nestle lobbied to have the video removed from YouTube, citing a copyright complaint.

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Image Via C|Net[/caption]

So Greenpeace got its own back by getting Facebook fans to change their photos to anti-Nestle slogans. Nestle replied with a mild threat which said it would delete comments of those with said images. the internet reacted because Nestle looked like it was censoring people. It didn't help matters that its rep responded to comments in a somewhat condescending manner.

Bayern Munich

German football club Bayern Munich cam under fire from Facebook fans after it duped fans into believing that a staged promotional press conference was real. During the conference, fans were expecting a big name to be revealed, but instead the sporting director of the club revealed a picture of the person viewing the video's Facebook profile picture.

The stunt was to show how important the fans are to the club, but since fans were actually expecting a new signing, the stunt didn't go down well and the club was forced to apologise.


When car manufacturer Lotus posted an image and message that poked fun at the company in April, it would have done well to stop and think about what it was actually posting. An image, which poked fun at Lotus' financial problems, featured its CEO Dany Bahar dressed up as 'Baghdad Bob', Iraq's notoriously cheery ex-information minister, assuring people that Lotus was in good shape. However it wasn't the image that was the problem, it was the message:

"Take a little look at what we found online. Don't you think it's funny? We do. We had a good old giggle. After all, we love a bit of self irony, just as well really. Although it's funny, this one's not accurate but then again, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? The inconvenient truth is – surprise, surprise – we have never said that there are no problems at Lotus."

Now this doesn't seem too bad but it's when you realise that there were another 16 or so paragraphs following it, it looked like a manifesto and that Lotus had finally lost it. Of course, Facebook users had a good laugh at Lotus' expense and amazed at how badly it handled its PR. It later deleted the post.

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Image Via Lotus Cars Facebook[/caption]

Dolce & Gabbana

The Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana came under criticism at the start of a year after a security guard prevented locals from taking photos outside of its flagship store in Hong Kong, stating that only mainland Chinese or foreign tourists were allowed to take photos. Because the store was treating locals as "second-class shoppers",  this provoked a major reaction on Facebook  a vast number of users joined together to organise a protest. They created a page, now liked by 22,000 people, and staged a protest outside the store, the number that attended was so great that the store ended up having to close early.


While some of the incidents above mostly kicked off on one single channel, there are a number of high profile social media cases that spread across the social web in general. What usually happens these days is that if a brand has done something wrong, or something that customers want to vent about, the first place that consumers will turn to is the social web.


In mid-January, McDonalds launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. The campaign was to get customers to post happy and nostalgic stories about the times they got Happy Meals. However, it wasn't long before users turned it on its head

and Twitter users took the opportunity to share their own horror stories. Ranging to poor food quality to bad customer service, the campaign only gave the fast food chain negative publicity.


While many automobile companies have good PR departments, sometimes there are certain things that can happen where damage control is the only option. Toyota ended up having to recall 2.2 million vehicles around the world because of defective accelerators and out-of-position floor mats, the latter can potentially jam accelerators and has been linked to several fatal accidents. The recall damaged the brand's image and the company response didn't do much to help the situation.


Sometimes not all examples involve the brand directly. BP found itself regretting its lack of social media presence when a parody account, @BPGlobalPR

, started tweeting and got roughly 170,000 followers. Problem was that many people thought that this was the official account when in fact it was @BP_America (44,000 followers). The reason why it stood out was because BP used its account to announce its news instead of interacting with consumers.

Blackberry Outages

The problems Blackberry has suffered has been long publicised, with the company struggling to recover market share and revenue. The time this downfall began was with the global outage it suffered back in October 2011. Everything the company did to react was poor, it didn't communicate with users, it was slow to solve the problem and its apology of offering free apps did little to change the mood. Perhaps what the worst thing was about the outage was that while it was happening, car accidents in UAE went down by 40% with no fatal accidents happening.

Comcast Person Asleep On Couch

Similar to the FedEx fiasco earlier, Brian Finkelstein needed some technical help with his Comcast modem, so he  rang up the company who sent out a technician. The technician arrived, but instead of solving the problem, fell asleep on Finkelstein's couch.

Annoyed that his modem wasn't being fixed, Finkelstein took out his camcorder and recorded the technician while he was asleep. After some editing, he released the video and it became a hit. Soon after, many others started sharing their own negative experiences about the company. The technician was fired, but it was too late as Comcast suffered a major blow to its image.

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