When Reactive Marketing Goes Rogue

We recently looked at five of the top reactive marketing examples. Now, we’re going to shift gears and look at five of the worst reactive marketing disasters. As was said in our previous post, “an ill-conceived tweet can spark a social media firestorm.” Content marketing is a great way for companies to foster a relationship with their consumers, but it’s also a great way to garner a boycott against your brand if you, (for example) insult an entire nation with one tweet.

With instant mass communication a reality, brands have the responsibility of maintaining their image. Every once in awhile, however, a brand will say/do something so absurd that it has us saying to ourselves “did that really just happen?” Yes it did. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest head-scratchers that have crossed our radar.

Reactive Marketing Blunders

American Apparel – The Hurricane “Sandy Sale”

Last October, as Hurricane Sandy was barreling towards the East Coast of the United States, American Apparel held a “Sandy Sale.” Creating an image highlighting the states about to be hit by the storm, American Apparel sent an email inviting its “bored” customers to shop during the hurricane. Meanwhile, people were losing their homes along the coast and billions of dollars in damage was created within 36 hours.

American Apparel’s ad didn’t go over well with the public (we covered the spread of one of the news stories covering it at the time on The Whip) and a petition for an apology was created shortly thereafter (to no avail). This serves as a lesson to marketers; don’t use disasters, natural or otherwise, to turn a profit; the public isn’t going to appreciate it – particularly when your effort is as transparent as this.

Epicurious and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Epicurious Tweets

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, Epicurious, a hospitality website, decided to capitalize on the tragedy to encourage their Twitter followers not once, but twice, to use their products. The tweets, shown above, were completely tone-deaf. Once again, Twitter users were in an uproar over unfeeling messages. Epicurious apologized saying “we truly regret that our earlier food tweets seems insensitive.” The lesson here? Take a break from marketing for two seconds by either showing real support or not saying anything. Trying to capitalise on a tragedy that left most Americans feeling fearful left Epicurious looking almost inhuman in their pursuit of profit.

Kenneth Cole goes to Egypt

Kenneth Cole Twitter

When protesters took to the streets of Cairo, Egypt in 2011, the hashtag #Cairo was trending on Twitter. Kenneth Cole, a fashion designer, decided to use the tag as a joke relating to his company’s new collection of clothing. Turns out the world didn’t care for the designer’s attempt at humour; the tweet was soon deleted and replaced with a corrective statement and apology. Cole’s real error here was again, demonstrating ignorance and a lack of humanity in representing his brand. A violent uprising is a violent uprising even if it happens halfway around the world – and even if you don’t care what’s going on in Cairo, plenty of consumers do.

American Rifleman and the Aurora Massacre


NRA twitter

The morning after the midnight massacre in Aurora, CO, American Rifleman, an official journal of the National Rifle Association, posted the above message on Twitter. The tweet, created by someone unaware of the events from the previous night, was alarming to people who were waking up to the news of a massacre. Meant to be an innocent tweet, the author’s ignorance combined with the day’s breaking news changed the messaged that was received by the public. How is something like this avoided? Check the news before saying something potentially controversial.

Live Nation and Radiohead’s Stage Collapse

One windy day in Toronto, Canada, a Radiohead concert was scheduled. The stage was set and all promotions were ready to go as the crowd filed into the venue. After a huge gust of wind everything was sent into chaos as the stage collapsed on top of the crowd causing one death and numerous injuries. The concert was cancelled yet the promotions kept going, as originally planned. The tweets following the incident, shown above, display the pre-scheduled message alongside a real-time update. While scheduling social media ahead of a live event can be convenient, if something goes wrong (as is the case here) it can be devastating to a company’s image. Was this the worst tweet in the world? Absolutely not, it was far from it, but the timing was unfortunate. Although Twitter may not be the first thing one thinks about when something goes wrong, all scheduled tweets should be cancelled as soon as possible to avoid a misunderstanding.

The Lessons

Not every big story should be “newsjacked” – think about the people behind the story and show them respect

Keep track of your scheduled posts and make sure to check up on them in case of a news event which casts your communication in a different light to usual

Bear in mind that you’re talking to the world when you use social media, and not everyone is like you.

Are there any examples that we missed? Do you think there are any other lessons that can be learned from these news-jacking examples? Feel free to drop us a line.