Walkers own-goal social media gaffe

Walkers Crisps (a PepsiCo brand) scored an own-goal this week when it invited people to tweet selfies via #WalkersWave to be incorporated into a personalised video promoting as getting the chance to win tickets to the UEFA Champions League final.

The plan was that Walkers brand ambassador Gary Lineker, would display the selfie on a board and the consumer’s image would be incorporated into a Mexican Wave sequence.

"Nice selfie!" Gary would say, admiring the selfie.  "Here you are - uniting with other fans outside the National Stadium of Wales." The selfie would then be superimposed onto an animated crowd of supporters.

Nice viral idea. 

But in a world where social media users are continually reminded that they control the brand dialogue, social media did precisely that – take control.   The hashtag soon climbed the top trending topics chart, but not for any reasons originally planned by Walkers.  

Within hours Walker’s automated marketing machine was tweeting videos of Gary Lineker exhibiting photos… not of consumers… but notorious serial killers disgraced tv personalities, and paedophiles including: Fred West, Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris and Harold Shipman - all uploaded as pranks by social media users.

The campaign was quickly relegated to ‘The League of Poorly Planned Promotions’. The long-established League already features many global names, with more joining the ranks on a regular basis. 


Recent brands include Pepsi, whose advert was condemned on social media for appearing to trivialise Black Lives Matter social justice demonstrations by showing a truce between protesters and police when an officer accepts a can of Pepsi from uber- socialite Kendal Jenner - who takes time away from a modelling shoot to mix with common protesters. 


Run throughout the Middle East, Nivea’s “White is Purity” campaign was removed for being racially insensitive.


“Make It Happy” campaign

Noting how social media comments can be odious, in 2015 Coca-Cola decided to make the social planet a happier place. 

Twitter users were invited to reply to any trolls with the hashtag"#MakeItHappy"; Coca-Cola would then transform negative tweets into cute ASCII art.

"We turned the hate you found into something happy," @CocaCola chirped its bot.

Twitter users however started tweeting everything from White Supremacist sayings such as "we must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children", to extracts from Mein Kampf, which the automated Coca-Cola’s bot duly turned into cute ASCII art.


"Get Some Nuts" campaign.

A Snickers TV advert featuring Mr T from the classic TV series The A-Team was pulled after being accused of insulting gay men. Mr T fired Snickers chocolate bars at a man exercising in tight yellow shorts while yelling: "You are a disgrace to the man race. It's time to run like a real man."

Dunkin' Donuts

Thailand Dunkin' Donuts ran a poster image of a woman in blackface and bright pink lipstick to promote a new "charcoal donut".

The chief executive of the Thai franchise - whose daughter was the featured model, reportedly said: "I don't get it. What's the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?"

Ford India

The US carmaker apologised over an ad posted online soon after India passed a law on violence following a fatal gang rape. 

The ad featured three gagged and bound women in the boot of a car.  It also showed former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the driver's seat grinning and flashing the peace sign.

World Wildlife Fund

In 2009, WWF’s agency made a spec ad for WWF that showed dozens of planes flying at the Twin Towers. The copy in the advert explained that hundreds more died in the 2004 tsunami than 9/11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

Burger King

The brand’s Singapore agency created an advert for a special "super seven incher" promotion promising to "blow your mind away."

Anti-gambling campaign

During the 2014 World Cup an anti-gambling campaign featured an anxious boy confiding to his friend that his father had bet his entire life savings on Germany lifting the cup.

The trouble was... Germany whipped Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals and went on to beat Argentina 1-0 in the final.

Critics said that the campaign was more likely to encourage people to gamble.

Anti-smoking campaign

Perhaps only in France could an advertising agency turn an anti-smoking campaign into what looked like a promotion for under aged sex.

The advert appeared to depict young people forced to perform oral sex.  The then Secretary of State for Family Affairs, Nadine Morano, described the campaign as a "public outrage to decency"


In 2011, Brazilian agency Moma released a campaign with paedophilic suggestions between a teacher and young student. The campaign won an award at Cannes. 

However, at the time, Kia said it had "no business relationship" with the agency that made the ads. The ads were pulled, and Moma was stripped of its award.


No one would normally associate upmarket retailer Bloomingdale’s with date rape - apart from the brand’s 2015 creative team.

The advert featured a woman dressed in Rebecca Minkoff evening-wear. A male ‘friend’ stares sinisterly at her.  The copy reads: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”

Bloomingdale’s apologised for the advert which couldn’t be pulled as it was in print.  


In 2011 as part of Benetton's ‘Unhate’ campaign a poster depicted Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam. 

The brand received the threat of legal action from the Vatican for a "totally unacceptable" image of the Pope, and subsequently withdrew the ad.

The Vatican said the ad was "damaging not only to the dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church but also to the feelings of believers".

All interesting to keep in mind the next time you are planning a campaign whilst enjoying a cup of tea and packet of crisps.

Jonathan Gabay


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