From a steady stream of celebrity deaths to an election that lent itself better to screaming matches than corny jokes, 2016 gave brands plenty of opportunity to make everyone groan on Twitter.
Mourning the death of a beloved musical icon? So are the good people at Crocs! Watching an accused sex predator defend himself as he vies for the most powerful job in the world? Let Bisquick know if you have any questions!
These are the types of sensitive cultural moments you can always count on to spur at least one misguided corporate social media team to bumble their way into.
But brands also reminded us once again this year that they are plenty capable of faceplanting all on their own — whether mistaking two iconic black women at an event already steeped in diversity controversy or failing to foresee a bot’s transformation into a racist hatemonger.
The brand social media outrage cycle is a well-worn machine that tends to follow the same pattern again and again. But there’s still a certain schadenfreude in seeing companies invest so much in appearing friendly and relatable only to seem the most human when they’re doing exactly what everyone does online: Creating bad tweets.
In that spirit, here are a few of the worst brand fails of the past year, in no particular order.
1. Cinnabon pays tribute to Princess Leia’s “buns”
Mourning a beloved celebrity’s death with a product-placement tribute is a surefire way to cook up Twitter outrage. Yet every time a star passes, brands seem unable to resist the urge.
Cinnabon was forced to delete and apologize for its pastry-themed nod to Carrie Fisher this week after Twitter users slammed it for crassly exploiting legitimate grief around the late Star Wars actress. Extra points for a particularly corny joke.
2. Beauty outlet mistakes Whoopi Golberg for Oprah
The 2016 Oscars were marked by heated controversy over the stark absence of nominees of color in top categories.
Enter online publication Total Beauty with a seemingly innocuous comment on Twitter about Oprah’s surprising tattoos on Oscar night. The only problem: The woman in question was actually Whoopi Goldberg.
The company hastily apologized for the gaffe and offered to donate $10,000 to a charity of the two stars’ choosing.
3. Texas mattress company promotes ‘twin towers’ sale
Sometimes brand fails are understandable. While the mistake is certainly regrettable, you can see the thought process by which the company might have arrived at it. You might even be able to sympathize.
This mattress company’s spectacularly tone-deaf ad for a “twin towers” sale is not one of those cases. One has to wonder who in the world thought that a video in which two spokesmen yell in comically exaggerated terror as they knock over two stacks of mattresses would go over well.
The ad was so bad that it led to the closure of that particular Miracle Mattress location.
4. A Thai company suggests dark skin is for losers in blackface ad
The most insidious type of advertising fail is that which simply reflects harmful societal attitudes and prejudices.
That seems to be the case in this startlingly racist commercial from a Thai cosmetics brand with a tagline that claims that you “need to be white to win.”
The ad is rooted in the Thai cultural association of pale complexion with higher social status, particularly among women.
The brand later apologized and removed the ad from YouTube.
5. Microsoft’s Twitter bot becomes a racist Trump supporter
In the brand fail perhaps most emblematic of 2016 as a year, Microsoft’s artificial intelligence Twitter bot, Tay, was transformed into a racist jerk by Twitter users just hours after the company let it free.
While the outcome is more of a failure on the part of humanity than the software brand, Microsoft should have had the foresight to, maybe, look into the kind of place Twitter is before making its bot so impressionable. read more