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When Digital Marketing Strategies Go Wrong

When Digital Marketing Strategies Go Wrong


The internet loves a marketing disaster. It makes few allowances for the brands that try and fail. It never forgets. And it rarely forgives. The dreadful irony of these digital catastrophes is that they frequently befall companies that are doing their best to innovate. If Skittles hadn’t been attempting to engage with user- generated content, it would never have exposed itself to the nasty reality check that forced a rapid rethink of its social media strategy. In other cases, such as the deathless ‘DeU hell’ saga – which began in June 2005 when a disgruntled blogger took the computer giant to task over its poor customer service and faulty hardware – the brand well and truly had it coming.

As the scope of the web increases, a growing roll-call of brands have a digital marketing disaster against their name. One of the latest to join the list is Habitat, which learned a brutal lesson about Twitter hashtags in June. In the process, the furniture retailer handed a useful tutorial to any brand contemplating an exciting social media adventure.

For that reason, no brand should be utterly condemned for fouling up in its attempts to master a new medium. Each incident illustrates a different rule of engagement, and in many cases, those rules need to be broken in order to become apparent to all. While the unlucky brand spends a few days in the digital stocks taking a squishy bombardment from the online community, its mistake is written up in the annals of common-sense digital marketing, and no one has to make it again.

In hindsight, some initiatives, such as’s faux guerrilla ‘Information revolution’ campaign from 2007, seem to have been destined for ridicule. But the notoriety of these well-known bodge- jobs tends to mask the fact that brands frequently get away with terrible clangers when no one is really looking.

To help you avoid making such blunders, we bring you six of the biggest digital marketing messes of all time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most relate to brands making a hash of social media.

Social Media Habitat

Habitat won’t be repeating the trick of using bad-news-related hashtags to drum up interest on Twitter. In June it was caught piggybacking searches for ‘Iran’ and ‘Moussavi’ during the country’s post-election riots. A predictable storm quickly picked up, online and off, and Habitat moved to distance itself from its own strategy, blaming ‘an overenthusiastic intern’ who was, we were assured, ‘no longer associated with Habitat’.

But while the initial Twitter mix-up could be put down to mild cynicism and naivety from a brand getting to grips with a new platform, there are those who believe the real sin was Habitat’s reaction to the outcry.

“Once you have been caught out, you need to admit culpability, and that is where you might regain a bit of the kudos you lost with the original campaign,” says Garrett Dearey, associate director at Positive Digital. “Clearly it was a mistake and Habitat owned up to it very quickly, but blaming the intern and sacking them was unnecessary. If you are caught out, stick your hand up, say it was an initiative that didn’t go well and try to make some degree of compensation, where possible.”