Digital marketing disasters of the past year

6 Jun 2012

Starbucks Ireland’s recent apology for posting a tweet asking Irish customers why they’re proud to be British is just one example of digital marketing gone awry.

The coffee chain said the tweet was only meant to be sent to its British Twitter followers as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. So while Starbucks Ireland wipes egg off its face, we present other digital marketing moves gone wrong this past year.

KFC Thailand eats its words

KFC Thailand is another company that had to apologise to customers after a social media misfire.

An earthquake rattled Thailand in April 2012, and a post on KFC Thailand’s Facebook page then urged Thais to monitor earthquake news with a bucket of chicken, as residents worried about another tsunami engulfing the country.

“People should hurry home this evening to monitor the earthquake situation and don’t forget to order the KFC menu, which will be delivered direct to your hands,” ABC reported the post as having read.

The 8.6-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Aceh province in Indonesia had triggered warning systems across Thailand, the country that was devastated after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed 230,000 people, including 170,000 in Aceh, in December 2004.

The post on KFC Thailand’s Facebook page drew hundreds of angry comments.

A new tsunami did not reach Thailand and the post on KFC Thailand’s Facebook page was removed. An apology on the page expressed “sincere regret” for the “inappropriate” message.

Nike ends up kicking itself

Right around St Patrick’s Day this past March, Nike released its SB ‘Black and Tan’ trainers, a nod to the drink made from mixing stout and pale ale.

Well, people in Ireland were hardly drinking to that, as ‘Black and Tans’ refers to a paramilitary unit sent to suppress Irish revolutionaries in the early 1920s, and is still associated with the mistreatment of civilians.

Naming a trainer ‘Black and Tan’ would be like naming a trainer ‘al Qaeda’ in the US, Ciaran Staunton, president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, told

Backlash followed and Nike apologised for unintentionally upsetting the Irish people.

Kenneth Cole puts his foot in his mouth

Designer Kenneth Cole invoked the Egypt uprising and Cairo hashtag to plug his spring line on Twitter in May 2011. Oops.

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at,” the tweet read. In an indication the tweet was good to go live, it was signed ‘KC’.

You can imagine what happened next.

The tweet was removed and Cole took to Facebook to say sorry.

“I apologise to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt,” he wrote.

“I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

Qantas contest fails to take off

Australian airline Qantas launched a Twitter contest in November 2011, asking followers to describe their “dream luxury in-flight experience” for a chance to win pyjamas and toiletries.

The problem? The airline was on strike. Just a day before, Qantas and its unions had stopped contract talks. In October, the airline had grounded its fleet, resulting in thousands of stranded and now-angry customers.

Qantas’ Twitter followers then hijacked the campaign’s hashtag, #QantasLuxury, and posted thousands of angry tweets.

PR experts deemed the campaign as perhaps Australia’s greatest public relations failure.

“Epic PR fail, excellent case study in corporate cultural tone deafness. Simply don’t get it,” social media commentator Peter Clarke had said.

Qwikster all goes wrong for Netflix

Netflix announced in September 2011 its plan to spin-off its DVD-rental service in a separate site called Qwikster.

The first problem lay in that name – it had no relevance to DVD by mail and consumers found it tough to remember how to spell correctly – Quickster, Quikster or Qwickster?

The second hiccup lay in the company failing to obtain the Twitter hashtag @Qwikster before making its Qwikster plans public.

@Qwikster already belonged to someone named as Jason Castillo on the account. Judging from the tweets from @Qwikster, the person tweeting is a foul-mouthed, bored and hungry individual in dire need of a refresher course in spelling. He or she seemed to have enjoyed fleeting fame in a few tweets after the Netflix announcement.

Three weeks after revealing its plans for Qwikster, Netflix killed the plans for the service. That third quarter, 800,000 subscribers quit Netflix altogether.

Oh, and then its stock sunk 35pc.

Image of digital marketing via Shutterstock

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic