25 Epic Influencer Marketing Fails of All Time
Influencer marketing is a hugely popular marketing strategy, but when brands employ influencers to promote their products, the collaboration is often not without risks.
This is a masterlist that compiles the 25 most epic influencer marketing fails of all time; both those where the brand smacks their forehead in embarrassment and those where the influencers do.
KENDALL JENNER AND PEPSI
The 2017 partnership between Pepsi and Kendall Jenner is a prime example of an influencer marketing failure. The idea of the ad was to recreate a Black Lives Matter protest to create a global diversity campaign in collaboration with the supermodel. In the ad we see Kendall Jenner abandoning her ongoing photoshoot to join the protest campaign of people of all races promoting ‘unity in diversity’. Right before Jenner joins, we see the police attempting to control the crowd. But worry not - heroine of the day, Jenner, steps forward and offers one of the officers a canned Pepsi Cola. Pepsi becomes synonymous with peace and the white supermodel succeeds where so many before her have failed.
Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., even shared an iconic photo on Twitter of her father confronting the police during an American Civil Rights Movement. Her accompanying sarcastic caption was: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
In the wake of the disaster that was their ad, Pepsi took it down, apologised and explained that they had merely wanted to promote unity in diversity and had meant no harm. The ad is an example of how important it is to choose the right influencer to convey the right message. Otherwise it may only invite (rightful) criticism and, indeed, do harm … at least to your brand.
JENNER SISTERS ATTEMPT TO PROFIT OFF OF DEAD MUSICIANS
2017 was a tough year for influencer Kendall Jenner. When she and her sister Kylie launched a line of band tees, many of them depicting dead musicians, the influencer-sisters were faced, once more, with the wrath of the internet.
The T-shirts featured photographs and logos of well-known musicians and bands, including Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and The Doors. More than that, each T-shirt was superimposed with a brightly coloured photograph of either Kylie or Kendall, or simply their logo: kk. Critics raged and accused the sisters of trying to seek profit from musicians’ legacies. Notorious B.I.G.’s family was disgusted with the sisters and his mother wrote in an Instagram caption: “I have no idea why they feel they can exploit the deaths of 2pac and my Son Christopher to sell a t-shirt.”
Ouch, what a fail.
THE CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES INFLUENCER FAIL
Using a disaster to self-promote is definitely a huge fail. But that is exactly what many influencers did when the devastating California Wildfires were raging, destroying homes and killing 84 people.
Opportunistic influencers used the disaster for self-promotion by posting unrelated pictures and tagging them with hashtags related to the disaster. Photos of the disaster with the hashtags #californiafires, #woolseyfire, and #malibufires appear on Instagram alongside random product ads and selfies.
That’s just distasteful, influencers.
Felix Kjellberg, more commonly known as PewDiePie on his YouTube channel, is known for posting videos showcasing himself as an eccentric comedian. With 53 million subscribers in 2017, he is one of the most popular YouTubers of all time.
But PewDiePie landed in massive controversy when he posted a video of himself reacting to an anti-semitic video. The video showed two Sri Lankan men holding a banner that said “Death To All Jews”. The video was removed and PewDiePie soon posted a new video in which he apologised to his followers.
PewDiePie has worked with many brands - but will they still work with him after gaining such a bad social media reputation? Disney and YouTube both say no and have already broken their partnerships with PewDiePie.
FLOYD MAYWEATHER AND DJ KHALED SUED FOR PROMOTING SCAM
Celebrities are, in effect of their status, almost automatically considered influencers. They have a voice and they have a preexisting following that will listen. Big companies can therefore easily benefit from using familiar faces that people know from the music, sports or film industry for their influencer marketing.
But when boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and rapper DJ Khaled became brand representatives for an illegal company, they were sued by investors who had thrown millions of dollars into Centra Tech, a company that sold financial products related to cryptocurrency. In that way, Centra Tech managed to scam investors out of millions of real dollars.
Mayweather and Khaled, who had both signed deals with Centra Tech, took to Twitter and Instagram to encourage people to buy Centra Tech’s coins. According to TMZ, Mayweather even stated, “You can call me Floyd ‘Crypto’ Mayweather from now on.”
Centra Tech’s founder was charged in April 2018 with fraud and the two celebrity endorsers’ roles in sponsoring an illegal company is a prime example of a sort of reverse influencer marketing fail, where neither the company nor the influencers could be trusted.
KATIE PRICE AND SNICKERS
Pin up model Katie Price, also known as Jordan, surprised everyone when she in 2012 began tweeting about economic, social and political issues. Not the model’s usual way of conducting herself on social media, to be honest.
It turns out that Snickers was behind it all and that it was related to their “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign. So, Katie Price’s sudden out-of-character enlightenment posts on important issues were just because she was hungry and therefore not… herself?
The backlash at Snickers began in earnest with people complaining about “misleading advertising.” What to take from this influencer marketing fail is that you should encourage your influencer to be transparent about the sponsorship.
REMEMBER TO DELETE EDITOR COMMENTS
When British pop group Little Mix promoted their branded perfume on their Instagram account, they forgot one tiny little detail.
In the caption they pretended to be greatly surprised by seeing their picture on the side of a taxi. But the genuinity of their surprise was tainted a bit by an obvious copy-paste situation in which the editor’s comment was included.
Well, now we know that Jade from the marketing department did, indeed, approve of that copy.
SCOTT DISICK AND BOOTEA SHAKE FAILURE
Little Mix are not the only ones who were in a bit of a rush to get an Instagram post out there. When BooTea Shake collaborated with reality TV person Scott Disick, Disick displayed complete sloppiness by simply copying the directions from the marketers and pasting it into his caption.
And the directions were very clear: “Here you go, at 4pm est, write the below. Caption:”
Disick, apparently, did not even bother to read through the copy from the marketers. This reflects badly on BooTea Shake because their influencer displays indifference, thereby adding zero or little value to BooTea’s message.
OREO LICK RACE GONE WRONG
As stated before in this article, transparency about sponsorship and paid content is super important. But when your influencers forget to disclose that their content is paid for, it has consequences.
Oreo collaborated with influencers Dan and Phil on a Lick Race challenge to see who could lick an Oreo clean first. But Dan and Phil did not disclose at all that their content was paid for by Oreo parent company Mondelez. The video was removed and another lesson was learned: make sure you contractually obligate your influencers to disclose payment for content to avoid an influencer marketing fail like this one.
KIM KARDASHIAN’S MORNING SICKNESS
Like her sisters Kendall and Kylie, Kim also fell into the influencer marketing fail trap during her pregnancy with baby North.
On her Instagram, Kim posted a picture promoting the morning sickness drug Diclegis. But Kim forgot to list the full side effects of the drug, which is required when marketing pharmaceutical products. The FDA ordered Kim to remove the post and repost with the drug’s side effects listed.
So remember to make sure your influencer actually follows the marketing communications regulations of your product.
POCKET LIKE IT’S HOT
In 2012, Snoop Dogg collaborated with American microwaveable snack brand Hot Pockets on a commercial featuring a rendition of his own smash hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot”.
The commercial was filmed as a music video featuring Snoop Dogg himself, dancing women in tiny shorts, and a Hot Pocket dressed as a pimp. The lyrics were changed to “Pocket Like It’s Hot.”
You did not have to do that, Snoop. Honestly.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ASghGlubyE&feature=youtu.be
LEG MUSCLES AREN’T THE STRONGEST ONES ON RONALDO
When Cristiano Ronaldo teamed up with a Japanese brand for the so-called Facial Fitness Pao, we were all a bit weirded out.
The product is a sort of mouthpiece with propellers and is meant to strengthen your facial muscles. Weird as that is, even weirder is it that Ronaldo became poster child for the quite absurd Japanese product.
Ronaldo probably also still smacks his forehead over that influencer marketing fail.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4zYt4roWWM&feature=youtu.be
KIM KARDASHIAN UNLOCKS TOILET
Like the rest of us, many of the biggest influencers started from the bottom and had to climb their way up.
Kim Kardashian is no exception, and that’s why she’s earned another spot on this masterlist. In 2012 she collaborated with toilet paper company Charmin Restrooms to promote their holiday pop-up toilets in Times Square.
Kim was given a huge key to unlock the temporary toilets and her face became associated with… toilet paper. Good for her that toilets are no longer the first thing you think of when you think of Kim K today.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbItdFu_3vY&feature=youtu.be
LIL WAYNE GOES DOWN STRAPPED
Strapped Condoms is a condom brand with a very positive vision to target the young African American community. In a campaign designed to raise awareness of HIV and other STD’s, Strapped Condoms collaborated with rapper Lil Wayne to simultaneously place focus on another important issue regarding police violence towards the African American community.
The ad features a photo of Lil Wayne being harassed by a cop with the tagline “Go Down Strapped”, but the angle of the photo and the fact that it’s a condom ad makes it look unmistakably as if Lil Wayne is engaging in a sex act with the cop.
Despite being a well-intended ad, the internet (naturally) joked ruthlessly.
2012 was a hard year for many brands and their celebrity influencers.
PopChips certainly made a bad call when they made a very racist commercial featuring actor Ashton Kutcher. In the commercial, Ashton is wearing a brownface and puts on an offensive Indian accent, claiming to be a Bollywood producer looking for “the most delicious thing on the planet.”
This influencer marketing fail reflects mostly the poor judgment of PopChips, but I’m sure Ashton Kutcher regrets this one, too.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW5aLNpiV-s&feature=youtu.be
There’s not much that’s sexy about pringles, to be honest. But I’m sure Pringles would disagree, because they used one of the sexiest men out there - Brad Pitt - to be their 80s style influencer in a commercial from 1989.
The very shirtless and very young Brad Pitt runs out of gas and Pringles chips in Miami, but thankfully, a car full of girls drives up and offers him Pringles. The day is saved.
Though not necessarily an example of a brand choosing to work with the wrong ambassador, as some of my previous examples, this commercial just makes it clear that everybody’s gotta start somewhere. Even Brad Pitt.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mucuLrWHGqc&feature=youtu.be
THE FYRE FESTIVAL THAT NEVER HAPPENED
When Ja Rule joined forces with an up and coming tech entrepreneur to host the most legendary and luxurious music festival ever, the internet went crazy. Everyone wanted to be there for the epic Fyre Festival.
The people behind the festival acquired 63 of the biggest influencers in the world to promote the festival. The influencers posted an orange coloured tile on their social media accounts with the hashtag #FyreFest and the first one of these posts got 300 million impressions in 24 hours.
However, as the day of the festival approached, the festival management had apparently disappeared from the surface of the earth.
False marketing in today’s world is a no-go, especially when using influencers. This case was just humiliating for each and every one of them.https://www.wired.com/story/fyre-festival-documentaries/
SNAPCHAT SUES OWN INFLUENCER
In 2018 Snapchat acquired model, actor and social media influencer Luka Sabbat to promote their new spectacles product. Sabbat had at this point 1,6 million followers on Instagram and seemed like an obvious choice for Snapchat.
The weird thing about this was that they wanted Sabbat to promote the product on Instagram, not on Snapchat. Even weirder and disappointing for Snapchat was that Sabbat never actually delivered.
Snapchat sued him, but was also exposed for trying to promote their products on their main competitor’s platform. Embarrassing for both Sabbat who lost credibility as an influencer, and for Snapchat for their huge influencer marketing fail.
EXTREMELY GOOD PHONE CAM
This influencer marketing fail took place in Egypt, where phone brand Huawei acquired influencer Sarah Elshamy to be the face of an ad promoting their newest Nova 3 phone. The ad shows Elshamy and her co-actor taking a selfie with a Huawei phone.
But Elshamy released behind the scenes photos, which revealed that the selfie was actually taken with a professional DSLR camera. She took the photo down within 24 hours, but it was too late. The picture was out there, shared and the internet never forgets.
THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER
In 2006, low-fat butter substitute brand I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter got The Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, to promote their product.
The commercial features not one, but two Ozzy Osbourne’s who live together as a couple. Hm. While employing Osbourne was pretty punk rock of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, the combination of low-fat butter substitute and the man who once ate a bat live on-stage is an extremely bizarre combination.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMs7-MQb5as&feature=youtu.be
A VERY GENEROUS GIVE-AWAY
Swimsuit brand Sunny Co Clothing bit off more than they could chew when they posted an Instagram post in 2017 that promised a free swimsuit to all who reposted their picture and tagged them. The brand had previously been using influencers to promote their swimsuits, and this was an ultimate way to actually make ambassadors out of all of their followers.
It turned out to be a massive influencer marketing fail. The brand gained 745.000 followers just from that one post and an overwhelming amount of people followed the brand’s instructions, expecting a free swimsuit.
Sunny Co Clothing could, of course, not keep good on their promise and angered both swimsuit-less followers and Instagram.
INFLUENCER BANNED BY LUXURY HOTEL
In 2018, YouTube influencer Elle Darby attempted to pay for her five-night stay at the luxurious The White Moose Café in Dublin by promising social media exposure for the hotel.
Darby wrote to owner Paul Stenson: “As I was searching for places to stay, I came across your stunning hotel and would love to feature you in my YouTube videos/dedicated Instagram stories/posts to bring traffic to your hotel and recommend others to book up in return for free accommodation.”
Having none of it, Stenson replied: “If I let you stay here in return for a feature in a video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? The waiters who serve you breakfast? The receptionist who checks you in? Who is going to pay for the light and heat you use during your stay?”
Stenson ended his email reply to Darby, stating: “P.S. The answer is no” and subsequently banned all social media influencers from his hotel. Bam.
INSTAGRAM SCAM CLASS
Instagram influencer Aggie Lal (@travel_inhershoes) has nearly a million followers on Instagram. It therefore sounded very promising and educational when she in 2018 announced that she was gonna run a 12-week course called “How To Grow Your Instagram”.
Lal promised to teach students how to become a successful travel bloggers who could earn big money. She charged 500 dollars for the classes for which 380 people signed up.
However, participants told BuzzFeed that the courses fell short of expectations, even calling the whole thing a scam.
Untrustworthy influencers are the worst influencers.
NAOMI CAMPBELL IN GOOD SPIRITS
Like Disick and Little Mix, supermodel Naomi Campbell showed little interest in reading through her Instagram caption when she collaborated with Adidas in 2016.
The supermodel had at the time 2,9 million followers who were there to witness the supermodel posing with a brand new pair of Adidas shoes in an Instagram post.
The caption said: “Naomi, So nice to see you in good spirits!!! Could you put something like: Thanks to my friend @gary.aspden and all at adidas - loving these adidas 350 SPZL from the adidas Spezial range. ✊ @adidasoriginals.”
Massive fail, but nice to know the supermodel was in good spirits, at least.
THE LOGAN PAUL SCANDAL
Due to his, at the time, 15 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, Logan Paul was in 2017 a treasure for any brand to work with.
But when he posted a video of an encounter with a suicide victim in Japan, he was met with outrage. In the scandalous video, that apparently was intended to be humorous, Logan Paul finds the body of a suicide victim in Japan’s forest Aokigahara. Paul acts with complete disrespect and distaste towards the body of a suicide victim, shouting “Yo, are you alive?” at the body.
The video was taken down but Logan Paul immediately lost his credibility as an influencer. Wonder what brands will work with him now.