When interactive marketing works, it’s amazingly effective, but when it backfires, it can implode just as spectacularly. Here are some of our favorite marketing fails.

The multidirectional communication allowed by social media can enable amazing interactive marketing campaigns, but can also be what tears a poorly judged campaign apart. Paradoxically, the worst campaigns can get just as much attention as the best, thanks to the power of schadenfreude. While that’s small consolation to brands who find themselves in the social media piranha pool, it does make for some good entertainment. Here are a selection of the marketing fails that made us cringe the hardest.

Starbucks Offers a Shot of Race Relations With Your Latte

Care for a side of enlightened discussion with your frappuccino? In March 2015, Starbucks announced a well-meaning but bizarre initiative, intended to start a dialogue about racism. Along with your order and an approximation of your name, baristas would write the words Race Together on to-go cups and invite customers to chat with them about what ethnicity means in today’s society, hoping that this would promote an atmosphere of openness and understanding.

The problem was that people don’t want deep conversation about racial stereotyping when they go to Starbucks: they just want their damn coffee. By coopting a serious issue that doesn’t have a clear connection with their brand, it looked like they were trying to cash in, hold the altruism. Starbucks withdrew the tone-deaf campaign quietly, realising that when we say we want our coffee black or white, it’s not supposed to be a metaphor.

Stop Trying to Make Bing Happen, It’s Not Going to Happen

You know you’ve made it when you’re in the dictionary. When Microsoft released their search engine Bing, they were keen to emulate the success of market leader Google by making themselves part of the lexicon. The name was even chosen, according to Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer, based on the likelihood it might “verb up.” In doing so, they failed to take note of the fact that people tend to resist forced changes to the language tooth and nail. Microsoft even invested in this pathetically hopeful bit of product placement.

That was probably the first and last time anybody “Binged” anything.

Apple Users Don’t Love U2

Remember when Apple re-released the iPod in 2005? There’s no arguing that their iconic “Silhouette” ad series helped to sear the brand into public consciousness, along with a soaring number by U2.

Referencing the Irish rock veterans worked so well for them, that in 2014 they did it again, giving away their album Songs Of Innocence away for free to half a billion iTunes users. Whether they wanted it or not. As well as mockery, the move provoked anger and frustration: many people felt that spamming their devices with the album was a violation of privacy, as well as just plain rude. And the pesky playlist proved resistant to deletion, with Apple eventually issuing specific instructions for getting rid of it. Even Bono ended up apologising: it’s probably hard to be smug when you literally can’t give your album away.

Blackberries Cheats on Itself

But moving on from their ill-advised collab, nobody can argue that Apple has created a quality product with the iPhone, including their rival Blackberry. Shortly after Alicia Keyes was announced as Blackberry’s global creative director, which she described as an “exclusive relationship,” Tweetdeck users noted that she had already been unfaithful, submitting a tweet from an iPhone. Ouch. Keys was quick to claim that she’d been hacked, but even if she did succumb to the temptation of not having to type on that fiddly little keyboard, she’s not alone. Blackberry suffered further humiliation when a tweet from their official account was tagged as having been submitted from the market forerunner.


IHOP’s Humor Falls Flat

Chances are when you think of pancakes, you don’t automatically think of sexism; but IHOP, apparently, were determined to change that. Perhaps inspired by competitor Denny’s resounding success with their surreal social media presence, they attempted some off-color jokes culminating in this:

Their attempt at bawdy humor promptly fell flatter than their flagship product.

Cue a shame-faced retraction and presumably some awkward conversations at IHOP HQ.

Using interactive marketing techniques is a sure-fire way of getting your brand attention: but without carefully considering the way your audience perceive your brand, as well as their needs and preferences, that attention could be the wrong kind.

Longneck and Thunderfoot offer B2C content marketing services to help your business reach the audiences that matter with smart, useful content that delivers the right message at the right time. Learn more about B2C content marketing here.