Content Marketing Horror Stories

Content Marketing Horror Stories

860 450 Lauren Harrison

From the bone-chilling to the just plain terrifying, we look at some of the most hair-raising content marketing horror stories from recent years.

Content marketing can be scary. Even armed with the most powerful content, with so much going on out there, sometimes there’s no one to hear you scream.

From horrifying hashtag hijackings to blood-curdling campaign misfires, occasionally even the biggest brands can get it dead wrong. Pull up a seat around the campfire, try to ignore the rustling in the bushes behind you and let us share with you some of the scariest content marketing stories of our time.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Attack of the Killer Trolls

Social media can be a dark place. Trolls can pop up anywhere and often masquerade as nice, normal human beings – you could even be sitting next to one right now …

Trolling is a particularly tricky situation for brands – at times it can be difficult to distinguish trolls from real dissatisfied customers.

H&M Sweden recently came under fire for failing to take action against trolls who were making serious threats of violence against one of its followers. Both the brand and Facebook were heavily criticised because the horrible comments were left online for more than a month.

Trolls thrive on chaos. Whatever you do, don’t feed them!

Trolls may attempt to engage you with vague or innocent initial comments.There’s a difference between harmless online banter and those actively seeking to cause emotional distress. If it’s the former, disarm your troll with a simple joke at your own expense. If however you feel that someone is genuinely abusing or trying to threaten or an individual (like an employee or one of your followers) it’s worth a brief, firm reminder that malicious behaviour won’t be tolerated. If they persist, remove their comments without delay.



When people create trending hashtags, it’s often for a bit of fun or support. When brands do it, it’s to start a conversation about themselves. In doing so, they put an enormous amount of trust in the public.

Unfortunately, what many brands fail to grasp is that the people of the internet can’t be trusted.

In the hands of the wrong users, a hashtag can quickly turn bashtag.

Just ask McDonalds. Back in 2012, the bright sparks in the brand’s marketing department launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. It was hoped that the hashtag would inspire heartwarming tales of teen first dates and friends meeting for cheeseburgers. Not so much…

“One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up” is just one of thousands of #McDHorrorStories.

The #AskSeaWorld and #MyNYPD bashtag campaigns were ten times worse, provoking a huge backlash against the brands in question and many of their controversial policies.

And who can forget poor Susan Boyle, whose hashtag #Susanalbumparty started trending back in 2014 for all the wrong reasons.

If you can, better to follow the example of Waitrose. After a misguided hashtag campaign asking people to tweet why they shopped there, the supermarket chain handled mockery directed at its ‘upper class’ culture with good grace. By laughing along with its critics, Waitrose ultimately made the most of its own reputation as a quality brand (admittedly, this doesn’t work in every situation.)



Like any great zombie movie, this one is a no-brainer.

When you’re a brand with a reputation to protect, you had best do your homework beforehand.

Case in point, DiGiorno. When the pizza brand jumped on the #WhyIStayed hashtag back in 2014 (“You had pizza,”) it accidentally interrupted a serious conversation on domestic violence, simply because its social media guy had failed to take ten seconds to click on the trending hashtag to find out what it was about. That same social media guy (or the one who replaced him after he was sacked) has been apologising for his gaffe ever since, one furious and offended user at a time.

Similar blunders this year include Coca-Cola pissing off the Russians with an outdated map and DC Comics failing to recognise that the people of Pakistan speak Urdu and that their comic hadn’t been “translated from Pakistan.”

Check your facts, people.



If not knowing your facts is bad, then not knowing your audience is downright horrifying.

Starbucks’ brand identity, demographic and sheer volume of activity on social media practically guarantees a few misfires every now and then (Red Cup Gate, anyone?). In 2015 the brand was once again subject to widespread digital ridicule after monumentally misreading the room with its “Race Together” campaign – an initiative that encouraged baristas to talk about race issues with customers and write the slogan #racetogether on cups. Almost immediately, people started accusing Starbucks of using racial tension to sell coffee – perhaps a valid point. Then there’s, you know, the fact that people want their drinks quickly – not a chat.

What about Barcelona FC and its massively misjudged #WeAreAllLeoMessi campaign? The people of social media weren’t too happy with being asked to support the multimillionaire footballer as he faced his alleged tax fraud case (he wasn’t even looking at jail time!).

Good intentions, poor judgement.

Every bad move you make online will come back to haunt your brand – make sure you always have a crack team on hand to think everything through to its natural conclusion.



The misfires that are near impossible for brands to turn around are the ones come down to two words – bad taste.

If you are going to use black comedy, dip a toe in first to test the waters.

There are far too many controversial campaigns out there to list – from the inadvertently horrifying, to the just plain horrible.

Whether it’s Calvin Klein’s upskirt shots, Versace’s apparent advocacy of teen parenthood with that photo of Gigi Hadid, or Malaysia Airlines unfortunate ‘bucket list’ contest – launched after the airline’s recent tragic flight disasters, in many ways controversy and advertising go hand in hand.

But Miracle Mattress went way, way beyond the realms of facepalm territory this year. The US brand inexplicably thought it would be a good idea to launch a promotion to tie in with the 15th anniversary of 9/11 – complete with an ad simulating the towers falling with piles of mattresses. Undoubtedly one of the worst content marketing horror stories EVER.

At the end of the day, we love to be scared – it moves us to be better marketers. If you do happen to find yourself in a cabin in the woods with the unmistakable roar of a chainsaw in the distance, remember to handle the inevitable bloodbath with dignity, grace and, if appropriate, a wicked sense of humour.