7 Lessons From Bad Social Media Marketing Campaigns

No matter the medium, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. But social media can be unforgiving when it comes to putting something on the internet. In fact, 18-year old Callum Haywood developed a program and website that’s called We Know What You’re Doing, which takes public posts and re-publishes them in categories: Who wants to get fired, who’s hungover, who’s taking drugs, and who’s got a new phone number.  Yikes!

The good thing about these social media marketing mistakes is that there is a permanent record of them on the internet and hopefully we can learn from them and try not to make the same mistakes others have made. Here are seven of my favorites.

1. QR Codes on Billboards = WTF where you thinking?

I don’t care how compelling you or your product is, no one is going to scan a QR code (not even the passenger) when driving down the freeway.

2. You don’t own your hashtag.

McDonald’s found out the hard way that you can’t verbify everything. They initially tried to use the hashtag #McDStories on Twitter to showcase positive stories around McDonald’s. But instead, they a backlash of negative press ensued. They should have learned their lesson from Wendy’s #HeresTheBeef campaign four months prior.)


3.  Research your new product name before you launch it.

Poor Netflix decided to split their company, which many weren’t too thrilled about. But to make matters worse they didn’t do due diligence on their new company or their new name (see Twitter profile of current owner of @Qwikster)

4. Using allegories is a nice touch, until it kills you (or your campaign).

Skittles’ King Midas allegory leaves something to be desired.

5. If ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Remember New Coke? For about a blip, right. Why wasn’t it successful? Because Coca-Cola decided to celebrate a century of a popular product by taking away the formula that made it so popular to begin with. Duh.


6. Sex doesn’t always sell.

I know it’s hard to believe, but sex doesn’t always sell. This ad is by Carl’s Jr for their Spicy BBQ hamburger where they try to capitalize off of the then famous Paris Hilton’s phrase “That’s hot.” Um..not. In fact, the burger doesn’t even make an appearance until 37 seconds into the video and Hilton doesn’t say a word because she probably couldn’t memorize any lines. (I speculate that last part of course).

 7. Think about what your image is conveying.

A picture says a thousand words sometimes and in the case of Belvedere Vodka, who often put up cute little ads for their Facebook and Twitter pages, hit a snag and had to apologize and make an hefty donation to RAINN (an anti-sexual violence organization).

The important thing is that we can learn from all of these mistakes. Have you seen any bad social media marketing campaigns lately? Enter the links below.



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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.


  1. […] On the very same day that I posted this, Tracy Sestili posted this wonderful list of 7 Lessons from Bad Social Media Campaigns on the Social Strand Media site. Some of them are pretty funny, some simply appalling. Share […]

  2. […] invited consumers to tell their positive stories in regards to McDonald’s, and use the hashtag #McDStories. What McDonald’s did not take into account was the fact that all too many consumers have a […]