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The 5 Biggest Facebook Fails From Big Brands

6 mins read

If you’re a social media manager, you want to start conversations. You’re always looking for creative ways to engage with people, and the idea of your content making the news sounds awesome.

Unless, of course, the headlines look like this…

Screen shot of google search page. "Cinnabon deletes and apologizes for its Carrie Fisher Tribute" is the top resultScreenshot: Google


Everyone occasionally posts content that misses the mark. Learning curves are part of social media marketing. But the internet isn’t always forgiving to brands whose gaffes cross into offensive or shocking territory.

Here are a few of the most striking Facebook fails and “oops” moments that we can learn from as marketers.

Facebook Fail #1: Pepsi posts violent images of Christiano Ronaldo voodoo doll

Pepsi Max Ad: a voodoo doll that looks like Christiano Ronaldo, the soccer player, is tied up and positioned on a train trackSource: Pepsi Sweden (Facebook)

Photos of a Christiano Ronaldo voodoo doll in various distressing positions were shared on by Pepsi’s Swedish branch before the 2013 World Cup qualifier. The posts were extremely provocative – and not in a good way.  In response, offended Portuguese Facebook users quickly formed an anti-Pepsi group that swelled to 100,000 people. Pepsi was forced to apologize to the soccer player, and thousands of Portugal fans swore off Pepsi for good.

Lessons learned: Stay away from posts that appear to threaten or encourage violence against another person. Something that seems like a friendly jab to you could be considered very ugly by someone else. Brands, especially those with a diverse target market, should also stay away from alienating one country or group of people to appeal to another. Remember, even if you have a Facebook page targeting a particular segment of your audience, others still have access to your content. If you wouldn’t want everyone to see it, you shouldn’t be posting it online.

Facebook Fail #2: Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice” falls flat

Burger King ad: Whoper SacrificeSource: Burger King (Facebook)

Burger King is known for their creative advertising but hit a snag when they created the “Whopper Sacrifice” application on Facebook in 2009. The application rewarded users with a free Whopper if they unfriended ten people on the social network. According to TechCrunch, 82,771 people removed 233,906 friends in less than a week.  Despite some people having fun with the campaign, encouraging disconnection on a social network stirred controversy. Eventually, Facebook shut the application down citing “privacy issues.”

Lessons learned: This is an early example of the importance of playing by Facebook’s rules with your advertising campaign. Since this 2009 incident, Facebook has continued to refine its policy. It’s currently pretty hefty, so we wrote a simplified guide to walk you through the details. Remember, Facebook always has the last word when it comes to what content you can share and promote on their network.

Facebook Fail #3: Bic comes under fire for its #HappyWomensDay ad

African american woman smiling. Text beside her says, "Look like a girl, Act like a lady. Think like a man, Work like a boss"Source: Bic South Africa (Facebook)

After being accused of sexism with the release of “Bic For Her,” the pen brand attempted to clean up their image with a #HappyWomensDay campaign in 2015. The problem? Their tagline “act like a lady, think like a man,” wasn’t well received super well. Many people found these words offensive, and the brand garnered even more bad PR for their treatment of women’s issues.

Lessons learned: Brands should avoid hot-button topics like race, religion, or gender unless their message, product, or service is explicitly tied to those issues. Even if you do feel that it is appropriate for your brand to join a conversation, it’s a good idea to test drive your content with people in your target demographic Playing it safe could save you serious backlash.

Facebook Fail #4: Making Light of a Plane Crash Backfires for Luton Airport

London Luton Airport Facebook Post: Image of a plane crashing. Caption, "Because we are such a super airport... this is what we prevent you from when it snows... Weeeee :)"

Source: Facebook

In 2013, an attempt at humour ended badly for Luton airport. The company posted a picture of a plane crash with the caption “Because we are such a super airport…this is what we prevent you from when it snows…Weeeee :)”. Unfortunately, the crash in the photo was a real incident which resulted in the death of a child. The airport removed the photo and apologized, but major news outlets had already shared the story far and wide.

The airport is not alone in its mistake. American Apparel They made a similar gaffe a year later, sharing a picture on Tumblr with the hashtags #smoke #clouds. Social media users quickly pointed out that the photo was a snapshot of the space shuttle Challenger’s tragic explosion.

A screenshot from tumblr. Image of a cloud of smoke spiraling down on a red backgroundScreenshot: Tumblr

Lessons learned: Of course, you should never make light of something that resulted in death or tragedy. To avoid an unfortunate mistake, make sure you know where the content you shared comes from before posting it in your chosen context. Take your own photos or buy stock, and only share posts from trustworthy sources.

Social Media Fail #5: Cheerios and Cinnabon learn what not to do with a celebrity death

Cheerios tweet with the hashtag #prince - image with the text, "Rest in peace". Cinnabon tweet of a cinnamon bun over princess leia's hair, captioned, "RIP Carrie Fisher, you'll always have the best buns in the galaxy."Screenshots: Twitter

Okay, so this isn’t technically a Facebook fail, but it’s a social media faux pas that bears mentioning on this list. Both Cheerios and Cinnabon came faced criticism for forcing their brands into the social media conversation about recently deceased celebrities. Both brands had absolutely no relationship with the deceased icons, making it appear that they were capitalizing on a tragedy rather than offering a heartfelt tribute.

Lesson learned: If you have to think for more than 5 seconds about how someone’s death is related to your brand, you probably shouldn’t be posting about it. There are some occasions for piping up in these situations – Chevrolet, a brand featured in one of Prince’s most popular songs, got very positive feedback for their tweets about his passing. Their tie to Prince was strong, obvious, and easily recognizable. Unless that’s the case, it’s best for your brand to keep mum when tragedy strikes.

Chevrolet tweet. vintage car with the text, "Baby, that was much too fast. 1958-2016" as a tribute to Prince and his death. Source: Twitter

Why We Should Learn From Social Media Fails

If you’re a content creator or marketer, you are constantly looking for inspiration. Most of the time, that inspiration comes from admirable or creative posts other brands post – but every now and then, a Facebook fail will catch your eye.

When that happens, don’t just laugh at the brand or shake your head at their mistake. Learn from it. Pay attention to what does and doesn’t work for others. I promise, making these mental notes will help you ensure your online presence is engaging and fail-free.


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