The 12 worst marketing fails of 2016: Rogue chatbots, tasteless burgers and Google fools itself


As 2016 draws to a close, we look as some of the biggest marketing blunders of the year. From Microsoft's chatbot going rogue on Twitter to Gmail's backfiring April Fool's joke, there were plenty of mistakes from companies that should know better. Read on, learn from the mistakes and hope your team doesn’t make the list in 2017...


McDonald’s fail: Name your own burger site attracts tasteless creations

Clearly not learning lessons from “Boaty McBoatFace”, McDonalds New Zealand launched a "Create Your Taste" campaign that resulted in a number of highly offensive burger names appearing on its official site. Those who participated in the scheme would receive free fries and a soft drink as a way of thanks. However, the site was then deluged with a number of hideous and downright offensive creations. Below are some of the more publishable submissions from the now deleted site:


Kardashian star accidentally pastes sponsored post instructions into caption

“Keeping Up With The Kardashians” star Scott Disick has become the subject of web ridicule after mistakenly including all the instructions his advertisers sent him on a paid Instagram post.

"Hey Bae <3": Microsoft mocked for embarrassing millennial recruitment email

Microsoft's latest attempt to recruit the next generation of engineering talent has backfired, as its rather awkward attempts at 'Millennial speak' have been roundly mocked on social media. In a bizarre effort to look hip, Microsoft promised "dranks," "noms" and other buzzwords at a party for "bae interns."

AI mystery: Is ASOS' Australian Facebook page run by bots?

ASOS customers in Australia are claiming that the clothing retailers Facebook page is being run by bots (or rather robotic staff), after a series of baffling replies to their inquiries.


Jawbone hit by backlash for 'insensitive' Fathers' Day email

Wearable tech firm Jawbone has faced heavy criticism for "insensitivity" after sending an email to thousands of its customers with the subject link ‘Re: Your Dad’. A marketing student, whose father died five years ago, told the BBC that the email induced a panic attack. She said: "I immediately thought: What about him? Who in the world would send me an email about my dad? I got a little scared even."

"Mic drop": Gmail April Fool's prank backfires

Google hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons with this email prank, letting users comment on a thread and never have to hear from any replies again. Unfortunately, because the feature is built into Gmail and not all people pay attention to tiny user interface changes, this email addition actually cost some people their jobs. Consequently, Google pulled the prank to make sure other don’t suffer the same consequences.

Microsoft AI chatbot acts like a Millennial (but talks like Donald Trump)

Back in March 2016, Microsoft created an artificial intelligence chat bot that talked like a Millennial and learned from humans. But its good intentions backfired, with rogue web users getting it to cite Hitler and support Donald Trump. Tay’s conversation extended to racist, inflammatory and political statements. One Twitter user has also spent time teaching Tay about Donald Trump’s immigration plans.


Facebook and Universal slammed for showing different trailers to ‘ethnic audience’

Universal Pictures has sparked criticism for showing alternate trailers of its NWA biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’ to different Facebook audiences, based on ethnicity. Universal served a targeted trailer to “non-black and non-Hispanic” users that almost completely removed mention of NWA, the hip hop group the entire movie revolves around.

Unhappy meal: McDonald's ditches wearable fitness tracker over “rash” claims

McDonald’s latest attempt to shed its unhealthy image backfired this week, after a fitness tracker happy meal toy was claimed to bring out its users in a rash.
A McDonald's US representative said the firm had taken the "swift" step of removing them "after receiving limited reports of potential skin irritations that may be associated from wearing the band".


Gourmet Burger Kitchen pulls anti-vegan ads after social media backlash

Gourmet Burger Kitchen sparked controversy this week after a series of poster ads in London led to a social media backlash for criticising vegetarians. GBK were inundated with complaints, as were the ASA, forcing the company to backtrack and pull the ads after just two days. The burger chain was accused, among other things, of picking on a minority group. Indeed, they appeared to be as unaware of the legal status of Veganism as a protected belief under equality laws. Thousands took to social media to show their outrage. The parody #gourmetmurderkitchen even started trending on Twitter.

TV fail: Microsoft Surface tablets go offline during live NFL playoff

A $400m sponsorship deal with the NFL backfired this year, after Microsoft’s Surface tablets went offline for coaching staff during a live game... all caught on live TV.

Copyright fail: Warner Bros. reports own site as illegal

In its attempts to crack down on online privacy, film studio Warner Brothers has mistakenly asked Google to remove its own website from search results, saying it violates copyright laws. The takedown requests surrounded movies like The Dark Knight, The Matrix and The Lucky One. In each of these instances, Warner Bros requested that its own official pages be removed from search results.


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