Lessons for your business from seven controversial digital marketing campaigns

A viral digital marketing campaign has the power to reach customers in numbers you’d only ever dreamed of, but the scope for mistakes throughout the process is massive.

Fortunately, if you’re a growing business or startup looking to develop creative ways for creating buzz online, there’s no shortage of controversial examples and stories of mistakes that can act as warning signs before you send your own work live.

Over the past five years we’ve asked advertising and marketing experts to explain how and why so many brands have ended up putting a foot wrong.

From a simple lack of proofreading to a failure to think about the endgame of a campaign, here are seven examples of digital marketing endeavours that didn’t quite go to plan.


1) Big Mac campaign not as big as hoped, 2017

The campaign: In January, McDonald’s Australia tried to get customers involved in Australia Day celebrations by running a social media campaign asking customers to eat a Big Mac upside down and share an image with the hashtag #bigmacdownunder.

The controversy: The campaign gained attention, but not for its popularity. Mumbrellafirst noted the hashtag had only been shared a handful of times on social media and the campaign only reached 15 digital users overall.

The expert view: McDonald’s posited that eating a Big Mac upside down was the Australian way, but director of InsideOut PR, Nicole Reaney, told SmartCompany at the time the campaign didn’t really connect with authentic Australian habits. This idea didn’t really connect with how people consume the chain’s food in real life, she said.

“A typical ‘Big Mac’ consumer is hardly the type to turn their burger upside down, take out their phone, snap a shot and enter a 16 character hashtag on top of their post,” she said.


2) Dippin’ Dots vs Donald Trump, 2017

The campaign: The US ice-cream brand issued an open letter to White House press secretary Sean Spicer and offered White House staff and the press corp free desserts.

The controversy: Spicer had previously expressed a dislike for the Dippin’ Dots brand on Twitter, but the company took matters into its own hands on social media, insisting it would rather be “friends than foes” with the administration.

The expert view: While brands took an opportunity to engage with politicians in this case, other companies should take care when entering the political sphere, says crisis communications expert Nicole Matejic.

“Brands should carefully consider how they engage with governments officially as a strategy — rather than be drafted into the political sphere unwillingly by association,” she told SmartCompany in February.


More campaigns on the SmartCompany website.