This year was a doozy for brands' social media fails. Below you'll find a short list of some of 2019's worst offenders. Learn from their mistakes, and then proceed with caution on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online in 2020.
Faking a Mental Illness
After Denny's paved the way for brands to post outlandish, random (but good-natured) content for attention, it's the norm for companies to try to be funny. But some jokes don't land, especially when they make light of a mental illness that affects 300 million people worldwide.
I can't do this anymore-- SUNNYD (@sunnydelight) February 4, 2019
That's what happened when citrus punch brand SunnyD unleashed a series of tweets implying that the brand was losing its will to live. While some users were entertained, others pointed out that a juice brand posturing as a depressed individual was inherently insensitive.
Always Remember This 9/11 Pizza Flag
In 2014, it was pretty normal for a brand to use September 11 as an opportunity to promote their products. By 2019, most companies got the memo about approaching the national tragedy with tact. This one didn't.
Realizing how tasteless this was, Ledo Pizza deleted the tweet and replaced the pizza flag with a real one, but by that point, it was too late. Users had taken screenshots of the original tweet and were quick to remind the pizza chain of its blunder.
An Aquarium's Otter Meme Moment
When marketing to young people, it can be tempting to try and use the words they use. At best, your efforts can come across as pandering. At worst, they can offend entire communities.
Abby is a thicc girl-- Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) December 18, 2018
What an absolute unit
She c h o n k
Look at the size of this lady
OH LAWD SHE COMIN
Another Internetism ! pic.twitter.com/s5fav2gu09
The latter is what happened to Monterey Bay Aquarium when it used language like "thicc," "chonk," and "oh lawd she comin" to describe Abby the otter on Twitter. Users were quick to point out that such words were African American vernacular English, and could be viewed as cultural appropriation.
The aquarium swiftly apologized, admitting its "need to do better" and that it did not understand the connotations of the language it was using. Monterey Bay embraced this as a sincere learning moment, but it will still be known to many as the aquarium guilty of digital blackface.
#MondayMotivation Falls Flat
There's something inherently icky about a bank smugly berating people for their financial instability--particularly one that received a bailout from U.S. taxpayers during the 2008 financial crisis. When Chase implied that certain customers have a low balance because of their own bad spending habits, the backlash was swift and justified.
Even Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren chimed in with a tweet of her own.
.@Chase: why aren't customers saving money?-- Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 29, 2019
Taxpayers: we lost our jobs/homes/savings but gave you a $25b bailout
Workers: employers don't pay living wages
Economists: rising costs + stagnant wages = 0 savings
Chase: guess we'll never know
The company's weak Twitter apology also hit the wrong chords.
An (Artificial) Intelligence Disaster
This July, when Adidas launched a new line of gear for U.K. soccer club Arsenal, it rewarded any user who tweeted #DareToCreate by posting an A.I.-generated jersey with their Twitter handle on the back. It was innocent enough -- until trolls with hateful handles exploited the campaign. Soon enough, Adidas's official account was tweeting branded jerseys with offensive messages on the back. The worst of them are too vile to type, but if you need a hint, think Holocaust denial and mass extermination.
Given how A.I. Twitter experiments have gone in the past, it's fair to say Adidas should have seen this coming. In 2016, Microsoft's chatbot, Tay, showed that when A.I. is given limitless exposure to the internet, trolls will take advantage.
Using the N-Word
Speaking of vile language, in April a troll changed its Twitter display name to the N-word and tweeted at Uber's customer service account about a negative experience it had while using the platform. In response, Uber tweeted "We're so sorry about that N*****!"--except the actual tweet wasn't censored.
Even if it was an automated response, a simple filter would have prevented publication of the racial slur. Of course, Uber apologized for the mistake, but it speaks volumes that the ridesharing company hadn't thought through this scenario ahead of time.
Santa Letter Shredding
When compared with the gaffes found elsewhere in this list, crushing holiday cheer doesn't seem like such a terrible blunder. But as a company that profits from the season of giving, The UPS Store's Scrooge moment isn't exactly the best branding move.
Unsurprisingly, the tweet was deleted. UPS Store spokesperson Staci Reidinger clarified the company's intentions, saying "at the end of the day, we're not sitting here trying to offend anyone, we're trying to get people to engage with us." Although the tweet did get attention, it wasn't for the right reasons.
There's nothing wrong with poking fun at a boring Super Bowl ... unless it's played in a stadium in Atlanta you paid $324 million to name.
Luckily, the aftermath wasn't too brutal for Mercedes-Benz, and most people found the tweet kind of funny. Nevertheless, the automaker still deleted the post, suggesting that the company recognized the awkward irony of trash-talking an event bearing its name.