The world’s fastest-growing social network is home to some of the most brilliant types of content marketing online.
From viral, meme-laden posts to competitions that encourage creative user-generated content – the platform is chock-full of advertising opportunities; its no wonder the site boasts over eight million business accounts this year alone.
However, with the clever marketing stunts comes Instagram’s fair share of marketing fails. Whether it’s a lack of planning, research, or simple customer service skills, one careless business move can spawn a vitriolic wave of social media backlash (and possibly perpetuate it online – for listicles like this one).
Below, we discuss some of the most well-known Instagram fails, from brands and influencers alike.
Instagram fail #1 – Forgetting to delete promotional instructions
Brand deals and sponsorships are the lifeline of many Instagram influencers. They are awesome ways to build valuable business relationships while earning a good income.
Ideally, the influencer has a genuine belief in the product, and at the same time, has it align with their brand image and original content.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians star, Scott Disick, and British girl group Little Mix were sure to get the latter bit right in their infamous 2016 sponsored posts – only to forget one crucial step: deleting the promotional copy instructions.
Both sponsored images sported captions with the introductory statements: “How’s this copy Jade?” and “At 4 pm est, write the below.”
Needless to say, while their published posts successfully spotlighted their partnered brands, they mainly came off as fake and disingenuous.
Fans were quick to point out their blunder in the comments, taking the incident both humorously and critically.
Lesson learned: always, always read through your captions before posting – even if you’re writing copy from scratch, a quick edit can help you weed out typos, autocorrections, or cringe-worthy and unnecessary statements.
Instagram fail #2 – Free swimsuits from sunny Co. clothing
Marketing tip number one: be prepared for consumer response.
Sunny Co. Clothing had to learn this the hard way, when they advertised free bathing suits on Instagram, for anyone who reposted their promotion and tagged their Instagram account within the next 24 hours.
What they weren’t expecting, however, were the mass volume of participants who attempted to cash in on this freebie, within mere hours of the original post.
The brand was expectedly taken aback, clocking in at more than 300,000 Instagram likes before putting up a new post stating a slight change in rules: “Due to the viral volume of participants, we reserve the right to cap the promotion if deemed necessary.”
Followers weren’t all too happy, with some complaining about delays in their order – and others claiming they were charged full price upon checkout.
A lot of followers were quick to jump on the bandwagon of memes, poking fun at the campaign and inevitably turning it into one of the most memorable Instagram “fails” in history.
Although, given that Sunny Co’s account jumped from a mere seven thousand followers to a whopping 750,000 after the incident, some may argue that their little marketing stunt wasn’t a “failure” at all.
Though this number has significantly dropped since (the profile now holds around 360,000 followers), perhaps their flub turned for the better of their business, in the end.
Instagram fail #3 – Jumping on the wrong hashtag
Hashtags are must in anyone’s Instagram marketing strategy, and it pays to know the community-specific hashtags used by those in your niche.
Exclusive tags such as “#fitspiration” for the gym junkie community and “#beautyaddict” among health and beauty ‘grammers can be easy to miss without a bit of background research.
At the same time, clever hashtags that sound related to your niche may just be associated with an entirely different group altogether.
UK bakery Warburtons discovered this with a rather humorous Instagram faux pas, where they encouraged followers to post photos of their homemade Christmas crumpets with the hashtag “#crumpetcreations”.
This was part of their holiday-themed competition, where winners would receive VIP tickets to The Christmasaurus Live Shows, along with free crumpet packs and signed books by the musician Tom Fletcher.
What they weren’t expecting, however, was the common usage of the tag “#crumpetcreations” among an obscure Internet group known as the “furry community”.
Users who tapped on the “#crumpetcreations” hashtag, expecting to see posts of baked holiday goods, were instead treated to photos of random users in anthropomorphic animal suits.
Because parts of the community are often linked to more sexual and NSFW-type content, Warburtons were quick to pull the hashtag from their campaign, opting for the more family-friendly “#WarburtonsChristmasCrumpets”.
Moral of the story? Research, research, research.
Instagram fail #4 – Tasteless modeling
Want to spark public outrage? While it may not have been fashion brand Reformation’s intention, a modeling photo promoting their “Guava Dress” in early 2016 was a sure success on that front.
The promptly taken-down photo displayed a young model posing on a table of a clothing factory, with two women at work in the background.
Upon upload, the photo was bombarded with disgusted and sarcastic comments, calling out the brand and their social media manager for racist and classist material.
Just this year, plenty of influencers were found on the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
Due to the popularity of the HBO mini-series, Chernobyl, models were inspired to take photos at the location, banking on the trending pop culture topic.
Unsurprisingly, many were met with fervent backlash, with commenters criticizing the sultry and overtly sexual nature of their photographs – claiming that such stunts were done in blatant disrespect for the historical tragedy and the lives lost.
A content idea may seem appealing at the time, though perhaps a second opinion (or three, or four) can help anyone avoid such damaging social media flubs.
Instagram fail #5 – Tasteless captions
Along with tasteless content, some users have been called out for their offensive choice in captions.
Clothing brand Benetton was slammed in early 2017 for publishing a post on boy’s clothing, headlined with a caption: “Sorry ladies. Girls not allowed!”
Most responses to this campaign were, obviously, in the negative. With comments such as “Girls not allowed, seriously how’s your circa 1980 marketing team working for you!” – the “sexist” advertisement was quickly dragged to the ground.
Some were quick to defend the brand, however, stating how it was a “harmless ad” poking fun at the “cootie culture” among young boys. Though the brand issued an apology, they kept the photo up on their feed.
In 2018, New Zealand singer Lorde also came under fire for captioning the Whitney Houston lyric, “And iiii will always love you,” on a photo of her in a bathtub.
Many claimed that it was a tasteless joke aimed at Houston’s death (who had accidentally drowned in a bathtub in 2012), though after taking the photo down and issuing an apology, Lorde explained that she merely used a “poorly chosen” quote to express her love for bathing.
At the end of the day, the Internet is a ruthless world – and many will choose to come after you, whether you mean well or not.
For the sake of a positive PR image, sometimes it’s just best to tread carefully.
Instagram fail #6 – Antagonizing your followers
Nothing screams “bad business” more than treating your customers like utter garbage.
It seems like Stefano Gabbana missed the memo on that one when a marketing campaign gone-wrong led to the Dolce and Gabbana co-founder to spew insulting comments towards his very own followers.
In early 2017, the high fashion brand released a new pair of women’s shoes with a design that that expressed the statement, “I’M THIN AND GORGEOUS”.
Some fans were understandably unnerved by the writing, claiming that the message could shame consumers for not having an ideal model’s body.
Instead of expressing remorse for this oversight, Gabbana simply took to the comments to slam each and every one of his critics, throwing insults such as “idiot” and “stupid” among hoards of outraged users.
Brandon Truaxe, the founder of the beauty brand, Deciem, encountered this very same issue himself when a string of marketing misfires took place in 2018.
His too-transparent approach to handling Deciem’s Instagram account didn’t sit right with many followers, with plenty of posts featuring unnecessary information on dead animals, countless videos of garbage piles (both in an attempt to promote the brand’s anti-plastic and anti-animal testing practices), and even his sexual orientation.
When critically called out for his approach, Truaxe resorted to insulting responses, even telling one of his critics that they “needed more followers”.
If you’re looking to win new customers and maintain the loyalty of your current ones, you’re better off treating them with respect.
Instagram Fail #7 – Careless product promotion
If you’re going to promote medicinal products on your Instagram, it’s best to be extra careful. After all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally market anything with potentially adverse effects.
This was exactly the FDA’s concern when Kim Kardashian West took to Instagram to promote a morning sickness drug titled Diclegis.
The social media star coupled her photo with a long, well-thought-out testimonial stating her positive experience with the product, wrapping it up with a few links to the product’s information page.
Apparently, it wasn’t well thought-out enough. The Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) was quick to jump onto this incident, and soon, West was issued with an FDA warning letter stating the there wasn’t enough information shared on the risks of the drug.
“These violations are concerning from a public health perspective because they suggest that DICLEGIS is safer than has been demonstrated,” the letter reads.
As it turns out, the medicine wasn’t suitable for women who experience severe pregnancy nausea and vomiting – a point omitted from Kardashian West’s post.
The post was permanently taken down soon after and has become a cautionary tale for other influencers when endorsing products of any healthcare nature.
Instagram Fail #8 – Sneaky swipe tactics
On December of 2017, Chinese sneaker brand Kaiwei Ni managed to cleverly boost website traffic through a Story ad that promoted their “80% off Black Friday Sale”.
The ad displays your typical product photo and bright, bold text – with the image of a small strand of hair is strategically placed in the center.
Those absent-mindedly scrolling through their Stories feed are likely to mistake this as an actual stray hair, and, in an attempt to brush it off their screen, will swipe up as a result.
This action leads the viewer right onto the brand’s website – and as cunning a tactic as it was, users were understandably unhappy.
The incident was brought to light by entrepreneur Blake Robbins, harbouring thousands of likes and retweets. Instagram eventually took it down for “violating policies”, and banned Kaiwei Ni’s account from ever advertising on the platform again.
Farming web traffic through sneaky tactics may work for you temporarily, but dishonest moves such as these are only likely to customers to hate you in the long run.
Instagram Fail #9 – Fake “authenticity”
Our final Instagram fail features the fashion brand, Missguided. The Instagram account struck controversy when attempting to spread a seemingly genuine, body positivity-type message; featuring models on their feed with their stretch marks on display.
Might seem all positive and innocent, no? At first glance, their efforts look to be an inclusive celebration of all body types and “flaws”. Upon closer inspection, however, former Missguided photographer Chloe Sheppard called the brand out for photoshopping in these stretch marks, rendering their entire campaign tasteless.
As a response, Sheppard uploaded images of her own self, stretch marks and all. In her caption, she wasn’t afraid to express her disdain for a “certain company”, adding that there were plenty of models with actual stretch marks that the brand could have used instead, and that their entire campaign “reiterates the idea that stretch marks/eating junk/thick thighs whatever are OK but only when applied to a skinny girl.”
Missguided had since come out with a statement doubling down on their marketing efforts, stating that allegations involving Photoshop were “entirely untrue”.
Fans can only hope this is the case – but for future brands with the intent of spreading a positive message, best to keep things as real and authentic as possible.
Think Before You Post!
As each of these users has learned, one wrong move on Instagram can plunge you in the middle of an utter PR disaster.
As a business, keep your followers, sales, and reputation intact by putting your audience first, and learn to gracefully receive and apply constructive criticism when necessary.
Be smart when publishing content for the world to see – lest it ends up as an immortalized, embarrassing Internet memory.
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