6 Online Branding Disasters And What We Can Learn From Them.

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Today’s guest post is an article written by brand marketing expert and writer, Victoria Greene.

Having a credible online presence is critical for brands of every shape and size — but your brand messaging needs to be on point if you’re going to actually engage people. The secret to great branded content? Being authentic.

91% of consumers say they want to buy from a brand they perceive to be authentic — inauthenticity and tone-deaf branded content is a turn-off. There is nothing more jarring to customers than a brand that seems too ‘try hard’.

Yet, branding disasters happen all the time — and the worst culprits seem to be some of the biggest brands in the world.

Learn from these six authenticity disasters in order to find your brand truth.

American Apparel mistakes a national tragedy for celebratory fireworks

Clothing company American Apparel caused controversy in 2014 when they posted a picture of the Challenger space shuttle disaster to Tumblr under the misapprehension that it was an image of fireworks.

The post, which was intended as a celebration of the US Independence Day holiday, quickly attracted criticism, with online commentators accusing the post of being in poor taste, due to the nature of the tragedy, which saw all seven crew members of Challenger killed when the shuttle broke apart just 73 seconds after take off.

American Apparel apologised and said the error was made by a social media employee who was “born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event.”

What we can learn: Do your research and check your facts before posting anything online. Though a simple mistake, this online branding disaster makes American Apparel seem careless, insensitive, and tasteless.
Nivea launches their ill-considered “White is purity” Facebook post

Nivea were forced to pull an advert that declared ‘White is purity’ after online commentators claimed that the slogan is racist.

The ad, which was posted to Facebook and targeted towards the skin care company’s followers in the Middle East, was intended to promote Nivea’s ‘Invisible for Black and White’ deodorant, which is supposed to keep marks off dark clothes.

However well-intended, the advert provoked the ire of online commentators, with one Twitter user saying “Shame, Shame, Shame on you. Fire your marketing person and anyone who approved this ad”.

What we can learn: Get fresh eyes on everything before you post it online. It seems unbelievable that this advert would make its way through every level of Nivea’s marketing team without anyone noticing the racist overtones of the slogan, but it goes to show that a team can become blinkered. Ask several people outside of your team for their opinion before you put anything online.
JP Morgan find their #AskJPM hashtag trending in the wrong way

When America’s commercial bank JP Morgan announced their Twitter takeover with the question “What career advice would you ask a leading exec at a global firm?”, they were probably expecting innocent questions from young graduates looking for advice about breaking into the world of finance. They got something else altogether…

Within 24 hours, there were 18,669 tweets using the #AskJPM hashtag, most of them using it as an opportunity to attack the bank’s ethics with blistering messages such as “Does the sleaze wash off with a regular shower, or do you have to use something special like babies tears?”


What we can learn: Think twice before opening your brand up to potential criticism online. You can control the messages you choose to give out about your brand, but you can’t control public interactions online, which are highly visible and potentially very damaging.

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Source: Twitter

Microsoft’s AI chatbot gets seriously trolled

It all started innocently enough. Microsoft unveiled Tay, a Twitter bot described as an experiment in conversational understanding, in May 2016.  The software giant said that the more you chat with Tay, the smarter it gets, and encouraged casual and playful conversation.

Microsoft should have guessed that Twitter wouldn’t play ball and people soon began tweeting the bot with all sorts of weird stuff. Tay started to say a lot of weird stuff back, causing Microsoft to quickly pull the plug.

What we can learn: Be prepared for mischief. Whilst your intentions may be wholesome, there are plenty of people who will meddle for the sheer fun of it, potentially tarnishing your brand’s online reputation.


Source: Twitter

Facebook is criticised for ‘exploitative’ Puerto Rico reality tour

Facebook should have a pretty firm grip on how to conduct itself online, but the social media giant recently came under fire for an ‘exploitative’ virtual reality tour through Puerto Rico, which had recently been ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

The video tour was promoting the company’s new virtual reality platform, Facebook Spaces, which transforms the user into an avatar that allows them to interact with other users in a virtual space.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who featured in the video, said that he meant no offense and that his goal was to ‘show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world’.

What we can learn: Consider other people’s perspectives because causing offense can severely damage your brand. Whilst Mark Zuckerberg was attempting to be helpful by showing the damage caused by the hurricane, it was construed in many cases as an insensitive and tasteless marketing stunt.
It’s important to show empathy and vulnerability as a brand, especially when first launching. It will help your audience connect with you, and forgive you for any imperfections faster.
Dove posts image of black woman turning into a white woman

In October 2017 Dove posted a video advert to its Facebook page that appeared to show a black woman turning into a white woman.

In the clip, a black woman takes off a t-shirt similar to her skin tone to reveal that she had turned into a woman wearing a t-shirt similar to her skin tone. The ad was immediately criticized as racist, leading Dove to pull the ad and apologise by saying “We missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of colour and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused”.

Shortly after it was pulled, Lola Ogunyemi, the model who featured in the advert, wrote a piece for the Guardian giving the advert context and saying that the ‘full TV edit does a much better job of making the campaign’s message loud and clear’.

What we can learn: Context is everything. Don’t post ads or images online that are easily taken out of context, as they can quickly go viral and harm your brand before you have the chance to do any damage limitation.
Keep these in mind when producing branded content

It may seem incredible to us now that any of these actually happened — but they did! In order to stay well clear of any similar online branding disasters, keep these pointers in mind when creating branded content:

  1. Be culturally sensitive. Like, really sensitive. Anything to do with race, gender, or socioeconomic class should be handled with EXTREME caution.
  2. Be careful about news-jacking — understand the context first. Don’t just dive in on the latest #.
  3. Get your facts straight & proofread everything multiple times. Get very good at spotting errors.
  4. Ask for consumer input pre-launch so that you aren’t left red-faced when you go live.
  5. Apologise quickly if something goes wrong. Take the content down, and eat humble pie. This is not the time to start justifying your creative ideas.

As these examples show, it’s easy to make mistakes, even if you’re one of the biggest brands in the world. If you’re running a smaller company, you’ll have less far to fall if you have an online branding disaster, but that doesn’t mean you should get careless. Heeding the importance of the lessons outlined above will keep your brand’s online reputation safe, respected and trusted by customers.

Victoria Greene is brand marketing expert and writer.
Her blog can be found at Victoriaecommerce.com.
Big fan of customer experience marketing and automation.

Related reading: 5 Strategies for brands marketing to Gen Z

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