A Timeline Of Brands That Got Skewered by Social Media And How You Can Avoid Doing The Same

By Perks |

Although social media is a great medium to connect with your customers in a faster more open forum, it can spiral out of control really quickly when not done properly. Examples of this below are the reason why you need an agency and an in-house liaison that can coordinate all incoming, outgoing, internal and external communications regardless if it’s social media, branding, marketing, pr or anything else. All communications of any sort will affect your brand and have a way of ending up on social networks whether you like it or not.

The rule of thumb in an unfortunate communications situation is this: commiserate, apologize, rectify, transcend. By commiserating you let the offended party know that you understand their hurt and validate it. This is much different than apologize where you take full responsibility for what has happened. After that you make sure you rectify the situation by actually fixing the issue at hand. But don’t just rectify the situation, transcend their expectations by going above and beyond. People expect you to fix what was broken. What they don’t expect is to get more than they started with. That’s how you ACTUALLY fix the situation.

Take a look at these examples of companies that ending up being skewered on social media and learn a thing or two from their mistakes.

A list of companies that were blind-sided by the internet, they didn’t understand the impacts of the power shift to the participants, or how fast information would spread, or were just plain ignorant.

Criteria of “Punk’d” includes a situation where the story would have not been told if social media was not available, or if social media enhanced the situation.  Read my exclusive interview with Greenpeace on Forbes.

This doesn’t include fake blogs, companies who deliberately tried to cheat the system get their own honorable mention.

Although this punk’d list is the one to stay off, the one you want to get on is the Groundswell awards.

Update: I’ve added severity status for some of these Punk’d using the Categorization of Brand Backlash Storms)


GoDaddy CEO Kills Elephant, Then Trampled by Crowd
Although GoDaddy is accustomed to controversial marketing tactics this incident actually loses customers. CEO Bob Parsons took a video of him on a hunt in africa and then proudly tweeted about killing problematic elephants. NGOs like PETA responded swiftly requesting customers shift to new domain registers yet Parsons rebuts them on Twitter. Competitors of GoDaddy offered to donate $1 to elephant funds and reportedly raised over $20,000. In a gesture of branding, Mr Parsons gives local Africans GoDaddy hats as they carve up carcass for food –further inciting criticism. The original video has been removed, after critics rally behind raising money for elephants. It’s so rare, but this incident receives a stronger category rating as actual revenues were directly impacted. (Category 4)

Exported from Detroit: Chrysler Fires Social Media Agency
Just as Chrysler received a very positive reaction from their superbowl ad “Imported from Detroit”, An accidental F-Bomb was released on the official Chrysler blog, which tarnishes the driving scene in Detroit. Since then the agency employee was since fired, and then the agency NMS was also fired. This is notable for a few reasons. 1) Mistakes happen, and companies that do make them often get better (Dell, Walmart, Comcast), part of social media is to fail forward, pick yourself up and move forward 2) There’s a debate if firing the employee or agency was really warranted, or if that was too extreme, see agency blog and comments, see Chrysler corporate blog. 3) The agency NMS desperately needs a Social Media Management System with workflow and keyword triggers to ensure there’s a review process. 4) Eminem is known for many F-bomb curses, and was prominently featured in the brand campaign, isn’t this consistent with the associative branding? 5) If Chrysler showed some humor, they may have emerged unscathed by then offering free driving classes to Detroit using Chrysler cars! (Category 3)

Kenneth Cole Brings Twitter Revolution to Front Door
In a self-promotional tweet that hijacked the world sensitive #cairo tag during the revolution, Kenneth Cole promotes their own spring lineup. I’m watching the Twitter backlash unfold and see blog posts emerging. No doubt this will turn to mainstream attention (update like HuffPo within 3 hours). What’s interesting is the inflammatory tweet (now deleted) came from a blackberry with “KC” tag, and then the apology Tweet used a “we”. Update: they removed the tweet and apologized on Facebook. (Category 3)


KFC employees Goes ‘Afoul’ over order request
This Australian KFC worker in the last of the 2010 punk’d listings goes ballistic after what looks like is being taunted by a customer who requests bacon, which is forbid during Islamic tradition during this period of Ramadan. In any case, it shows that consumers now can embarrass the company and employees by using simple mobile devices then putting on YouTube, which now has over 31k views. (Category 3)

Brandjacking: DKNY Stripped by PETA Anti-Fur Protesters
In a coordinated real world and online attack, PETA anti-fur protesters overtook the DKNY Facebook wall, with little or no resistance from corporate staff.  Taking a page from the successful Greenpeace assaults, PETA if catching on, although has yet to develop social assets that can be used by their community in the assault.  Expect PETA and other NGOs to continue to ramp up their sophistication in assaults, often much faster than brands are ready for.  Brandjackings are an interesting thing.  Brands spend millions on FB pages, yet PETA and Greenpeace can easily overrun investment. (Category 3)

Fonterra Dairy Soured: Brandjacked by Greenpeace, Commits Facebook Suicide
In a style similar to the Nestle’ social brandjacking campaigns, Greenpeace launches campaign at New Zealand based dairy corporation Fonterra’s apparent Facebook page.  Fonterra claimed not to manage this page, however the offensive videos and posts were removed.  Apparently, the entire Facebook page was eventually dismantled.(Category 3)

‘Cook Source’ Steals Recipe. Self-Immolates In Kitchen
A blogger by name of  Monica Gaudio found out that ‘Cook Source’ helped themselves to one of her 2005 recipes from her blog, did minor edits and the posted it on their own website as their own original content.  After confronting the editor of Cook Source, she was apparently told the blogger the content could be used anyway they wanted (sources conflict here).  Regardless, Cook Source experienced a groundswell on their social media properties like Facebook, a Hitler video, and resulted in a variety of critical articles (Google counts over 65 mainstream media articles). (Category 3)

Gap Falls Into Their Own Redesign Revolt
Gap Inc, puts forth a logo redesign, but is met with severe backlash from passionate fans, critics, and media on social media channels. There were thousands of comments, logo redesign websites, Twitter spoof accounts (over 4000 followers) and even Facebook accounts setup to lead this branding revolt and over 626 results in Google News on “Gap Logo” from mainstream press. We once thought logos were owned by the brand, but clearly we’re finding that the consumers take just as much ownership in the logo. Link via Roger Harris. (Category 3)

Bait and Switch: Pantene’s Cause Marketing Backfires
A lesson in transparency: A cause marketing style campaign was launched in the Philippines, asking women to get join a Facebook page called “I Commit to Change“. Once the members joined the independent ’cause’ Pantene unleashed its branding campaign, promoting their latest products as the agent of change. Feeling duped, the women fire back, launching blog salvos, and it remains a case study in South East Asia marketing case studies and beyond. The lesson? Be up front and clear about your intentions to consumers, or risk greater brand damage and reduced trust. As told to me from Donald Lim. (Category 2)

A Polished Apple: Mac Forums Censors Critics in Forums
A recent consumer reports publication critiques the iPhone4 as having faulty reception and antennae issues.  Although widely discussed online in a variety of locations, Apple community managers have apparently censored the discussion in their own community, which only exasperates the situation as they spread it to blogs.  Reading down this list, in many cases we see that censoring only makes the problem worse.  Instead, companies should see this as an opportunity –not a threat to be swept under the carpet. (Category 3)

Nestle’ Sours their Facebook Page
Nestle, which has been under attack from Greenpeace members for sustainability issues has gone under attack.  Apparently, junior members of Nestle’s staff (or PR firm) asked members not to mis-use the logos or risk being banned from the Facebook page.  After some arguing, a groundswell overtook the page and there are thousands of critical comments, some of the ‘rudeness’ and some demanding sustainable products and threatening boycotts.   There are two major issues here:  A PR crises regarding rain forests and sustainability, and social media best practices. Update: Read my analysis (Category 3)

iPunk’d: Mainstream News Falls for iPad “Beta Tester” Hoax
Flamboyant CEO and internet celebrity Jason Calacanis tweeted he was an early beta-tester for iPad, and ‘leaked’ out fake specs.  Mainstream media, who were hungry to break any news, published mis-stories, with a variety of accuracies. Among the over zealous journalists includes The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, CNN Money, Reuters, Macworld, ComputerWorld, and Joystiq (couldn’t find article), more from Valleywag. Just goes to show that any lead is a story worth starting, fact checking not required, and Jason knows how to catch a media wave. (Category 2)

Cleanup in Aisle 8: Digital Fingerprints Exposes Wal-Mart’s Paid Supporter
A vocal online supporter of Wal-Mart opening in Chicago was allegedly unearthed ties back to Wal-Mart’s PR firm. In an era of digital footprints, the IP address was matched to the agency that represents Wal-Mart, the Chicagoist has some of the alleged discussion, on display. There’s three lessons here: 1) transparency in fiduciary relationships isn’t only ethical, it’s probably the law, when lobbying for a company while on payroll on the web (although FTC regulations tend to be fuzzy in my opinion) 2) This erodes trust of communities and the social web. 3) It’s disappointing to see Wal-Mart (or it’s partners) on this list again (see below) this is a good time to send a disclosure memorandum to all agency partners. (Category 2)


Pepsi’s AMP iPhone App Encourages Guys To Score –Yet Results in a Penalty
Pepsi’s AMP brand which caters to young males created an iPhone application that arms studs with pickup lines for different categories of women.  This application gives young men to categorize women (geek, cougar, band girl and beyond) and offers pickup lines, useful information to relate to them and a ‘scoring’ system after they’ve done the deed.  Unfortunately, a groundswell emerged from blogs and mainstream press forcing Pepsi’s hand to remove the app –and the offensive material. (Category 3)

Honda Product Manager Crashes Into His Own Comments
An overzealous product manager at Honda promotes his own product but fails to disclose his own relationship with the company –till the community calls him out. Honda responds by sheepishly removing his posts, due to lack of disclosure and not being a company representative. It should be recognized that every employee is a representative of the company –official or not. What’s needed? Training, internal policies, and a safe place to practice. (Category 2)

Digerati Dooce Sends Maytag/Whirlpool to the Cleaners
Consumer activism or celebrity abuse?  Popular blogger and Twitterati (over 1 million followers) had problems with her brand new Whirlpool machine and took to her social tools to discuss, complain, and suggest a boycott till her machine was fixed, read her chronicle, and what happened next as it spread to Forbes.  Not sure what Whirlpool could have done to avoid this –all customer experiences good and bad are exposed on the social web, how does a brand know when they’re talking to an influencer?  They don’t. (Category 3)

Property Manager Sues Over Moldy Tweet –Infecting Their Own Brand
A tenent in a Chicago apartment who had 20 followers in Twitter was sued by property manager for saying: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.” is being sued for $50k for defamation.  As a result, this incident has received global attention on the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and major news outlets.  This may have caused self-damage to Horizon as prospective customers may search Google for Horizon and see how they publically sued a customer.  Horizon later issued a statement regarding their intention to “sue first, ask questions later” (Category 3)

Decrescendo For United Airlines After “Breaking Guitar” Song
A musican scorned is a scary thing –add YouTube and the whole world can see.   Dave Carroll claims he saw United baggage handlers toss his custom guitar, then complained with no resolution.  He turned to what he knows best, and created a song and shared it with the world.  More from LA times who says that after the song started to get popular, United changed their tune from minor chords to major, thanks to Mark for submitting. (Category 3)

Fire Sale: Furniture Company Habitat Self-Evicts on Twitter

Stylish furninture maker Habitat jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, but this time, tags it’s self-promotionary tweets with popular trending topics such as the Iran election.  What’s this the same as?  Parasite marketing.   As a result, the Twitter community strikes back, and Habitat retreats.  To their defense, they’re just the ones that got called out -there’s a bunch of spammers doing this now.  Thanks Mark for the submission (Category 2)

Contest for Bloggers Results in Asus Losing
Computer manufacturer Asus hosted a sponsored contest where bloggers could review their products –then the community could vote on the best review.  Asus, not happy with the honest (but not that shiny review) review from one blogger, decided to shift the rules to benefit a more positive review.  Backlash ensues, read comments, link via Ian Fogg (Category 2)

Snotty Dominos Employees YouTube Themselves To Court
Millions are grossed out by two Dominos employees who uploaded a video to YouTube of them blowing snot on pizzas at a Dominos stores. Interestingly, the crowd was able to pinpoint their location, they’ve now been fired and are facing felony charges, NYTs has more. Thanks to Josh for the tip. (Category 3, and perhaps 4 if this doesn’t get cleaned up)

Buying Friends? Belkin pays for Positive Reviews
This scandal leaves consumers not sure if they can trust the positive reviews about Belkin products. As one employee offered to pay users of Amazon’s Mechnical Turk to write positive reviews. As Belkin was exposed, they issued a mea culpa suggesting this was an isolated event, but now, it’s suggested that these orders came from executives. (Category 2, yet if the Fed gets involved, it go to Category 3 or 4)


Motrin Gets Headache From Twittering Moms
A well-intended Motrin ad launched towards baby carrying moms triggered them to revolt on twitter. On this quiet weekend it spread to blogs, YouTube, and then mainstream press. Some argue the moms were acting more like a mob, Motrin didn’t test it’s copy with the target audience up front –leaving everyone with a splitting headache. (Category 2)

CNN Falls For Rumor –Sinking Apple Stock
A rumor created by community created news site iReport that falsified CEO Steve Jobs having a heart attack spread to mainstream media website CNN, and caused a dip in stock price. User generated content will always have the risk of falsified content. (Category 4)

Exxon Mobil Brandjacked in Twitter
The twitter community (myself included) was eager to embrace “Janet” a no holds barred up front in your face corporate representative that was ready to tackle the hard issues –sometimes without grace. Unfortunately, to the Twittersphere’s surprise and Exxon, Janet, is not an official company representative she claimed to be. Read the story to unravel the multiple angles to this unique case. (Category 2)

JC Penney Brandjacked by Fake “Sex” Ad
We’re seeing more ads being created. In this case a ‘third party vendor’ (agency, I think) created this and submitted it to Cannes. JC Penney wasn’t happy and had it removed from YouTube. Unfortunately, blogs picked it up and it will never go away, video is here, I know you want to click. (Category 2)

Louis Vuitton gets Brandjacked in Anti-Genocide Campaign
Artist creates and sells T-shirt demonstrating how the media turns a deaf ear to real world tradgeies such as genocide in Dafur, infringing on LV logo. LV fires back, with lawsuit, a groundswell begins. Submitted by Søren Storm Hansen (Category 2)

Burger King exec trash talks using daughter’s email
Not sure why he didn’t just create a new email address, that would have been a lot safer. Submitted by Hilker. (Category 3)

Johnson and Johnson to bloggers: Hurry up and get dis-invited
Sounds like a mis-coordination, bad timing, and not a well thought through process that ended up getting scobleized, and Maryamized. (Category 2)

Anonymous Unmasks Church of Scientology
The church of Scientology has been criticized by an anonymous group, a faceless mass that has created videos, staged marches and protests, and is subvert the Church from around the internet. (Category 2)

Marvel nearly cuts of bloggers from Iron Man screening
Techcrunch (700,000 + subscribed) who intended to host a screening for loyal tech readers (perhaps a perfect audience of tech bloggers) were cut off by Marvel. Techcrunch is known for copy and pasting legal notes right onto the blog, fortunatly, things were quickly resolved. (Category 2)

Target-ed by Bloggers
A blogger complained about an indecent ad that portrayed as demeaning to women, complained and was shoved off by a Target representative. Story now on NYTimes, little things, can be big.


Target’s Rounders program “This is our secret game”

Target encouraged it’s premier members in the rounders program to pump up it’s brand in a Facebook group, sadly, the covert operation ended up on blogs and then mainstream media

HD DVD Decoded by Digg, unDugg, then Dugg again
Digg users publish HD code, industry freaks out, Digg maintains stance.

Wholefoods CEO caught being a troll
Whole Foods CEO, was anonymously trashing competitors and pumping company up on Yahoo finance boards. (Category 3)

Delta holds customers hostage
What’s worse than being held prisoner on Delta’s dirty plane? (Video), watching the crew getting off da plane. Oh, and no food, crying babies, but one talented videographer. (Category 3)

Taco Bell’s infestation crawls into YouTube
A minor rat problem moved it’s way to YouTube, spreading faster and farther than expected, a total of more than one million views for all videos. Submitted by Graham Hill (Category 3)

Facebook Party with Molson ends up with Hangover
Molson invited folks to share party pics in Facebook, including with youth, which resulted in a backlash from community and parents. Molson withdrew the campaign and went home early –no more Facebook partying for this brand.


Data storage blogger posts industry price lists, sales reps cry f#ck!
Robin Harris, one of the most well known of the data storage blogosphere posts price lists that were received from various customers.

Dell Laptop Explodes, news at 11 –via YouTube
More bad news for Dell, as laptops explode in Japan, all can see online.

ZZZ… Comcast suffers from Narcolepsy
Sleepy Techician caught on YouTube, then fired. Also see Comcast must die blog, submitted by Jeff Jarvis. (Category 3)

Hitachi “Hell” Gets The Finger
Angry customer gets bad service, writes long experience, and flips off HQ in picture, he’s also an influencer in the gaming community. (Category 2)

The Naked NOKA Chocolate Uncovered
A premium chocolatier (Noka) had a tremendous markup ($309- $2,080 per pound) of their secretly re-packaged chocolate, was exposed as a fraud and spread on blogs. And their google results is really painful. Submitted by Whitney.

AOL Holds Customers Hostage –Then Gets Canceled
This guy really bothers me, I can see why Vincent Ferrari was miffed. It’s clear, he was dealing with the customer retention department. Nothing worse than the feeling of being held hostage. Submitted by David Alston.

Airplane Fiasco’s Spread Online: JetBlue
There are so many examples, such as a YouTube testimonial about JetBlue’s 8+ hours stranded in terminal. Related: JetBlue’s CEO responds after flights are cut months later due to storm.

Starbucks Brandjacked by YouTube Video
Who wants a tasty frappuccino when there are kids starving? This was one of the first cases of brandjacking we saw.


Why we Dwell on Dell Hell
Jeff Jarvis launches blog post that sends a flurry of PR negativty at Dell’s poor service, it’s since been improved.(Category 3)


Kryptonite unlocked
Locks were disabled using a simple bic pen cap, spread on forums and blogs, one of the earliest examples that got mainstream attention. (Category 3)

Wives of EA beg for spouses back on blog
Call HR? Forget it, call Livejournal. This early incident from a wife of a game developer complains on a blog –getting national attention from press and media. As a result, EA did make some changes to their work and lifestyles of their employees. (Category 3)


The Barbera Streisand Effect
Singer star tries to remove content from internet, it all goes downhill from there. I actually learned about this from reading my colleagues Groundswell book (Category 2)


Apple’s dirty little secret plastered over NYC
Apparently, 18 months is all the iPod will run before you’ll need to buy a new one, says this video, where street teams went around defacing ads. Submitted by David Churbuck (I got his name right this time)


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