Nowadays, influencer marketing has become one of the core strategies of digital marketing. Collaborating with the right influencers allows brands to reach out to their target audiences, increase brand awareness and drive purchasing decisions. However, not all influencer campaigns are rainbows and sunshine. Some of them involved errors and controversy, ended up causing more damage than good.
In this article, we’re going to analyze some of the influencer marketing failures and unpack the lessons so brands can avoid making such mistakes in their future marketing campaigns.
Pepsi & Kendall Jenner
In April 2017, the global drink company Pepsi released an ad starring famous model Kendall Jenner. In the 2:48 ad, Jenner was being photographed when she happened to notice a protest march happening on the street. After a few eye contacts with the protestors, she decides to join the protest, before walking up to a police officer and offering him a cold Pepsi. When the officer drinks it, the crowd goes wild and the ad ends with everyone applauding, cheering and hugging each other.
The ad went viral after less than 24 hours, but not in an expected way. Receiving massive backlash from audiences, the beverage giant was claimed to be mocking a serious political issue by solving it with a can of soda! Besides, the ad seemed to show the exact opposite of what could happen if someone tries to approach a policeman in the protest!
Among those who criticized Pepsi was Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. She wrote a sarcastic tweet in response to the ad: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” The tweet had 144k retweets and over 260k likes! Facing a lot of pressure, Pepsi decided to remove the ad and wrote a tweet to apologize publicly.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
Takeaway: Targeting social or political issues in an advertisement is a risky strategy that could result in backlash and boycott if it isn’t done right. While it’s important for brands to stand up for a cause and deliver an ad that inspires, brands should be conscious of possible reactions from the audience and carefully consider whether the risk is worth taking.
BooTea and Adidas
The following examples of influencer marketing campaigns showcase how influencers should not endorse a product online!
BooTea, a popular health and detox brand, made an epic mistake when they partnered with famous influencer Scott Disick. When promoting BooTea Shakes to his 23M followers, Scott Disick made a direct “copy and paste” of the instructions given by the marketing team by accident. Here’s what he posted as his caption:
“Here you go, at 4pm est, write the below. Caption: Keep up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteuk protein shake!”
Upon noticing the mistake, he quickly deleted the post but not before others have seen it, captured it in the form of a screenshot and shared it all over the internet!
Scott Disick posted his paid Instagram ad too early pic.twitter.com/c46BXJutVO
— Pauline (@lil_p_yo) May 19, 2016
You might be surprised to know that Scott is not the only one who committed this type of mistake. Supermodel Naomi Campbell also copied the exact instructions given by the brand and used it as a caption for her photo promoting a new pair of @adidasoriginals.
Mashable made an interesting point when they questioned if this error is truly an accident or a trick to bring more attention to the brand. Whether such mistakes are intentional or not, we might all agree that posts like this would add zero or very little positive value to the brand’s image.
— Jezebel (@Jezebel) June 16, 2016
Take away: While many people blame the influencers for being too careless, brands may need to share their responsibility in these failures, too. The desire to make the most out of influencers can result in influencers promoting products in an inauthentic or unnatural way. That’s why it is essential for brands to form a good relationship with influencers and make them love their products before advertising. In the end, the audiences will only trust your brands if they see the influencers truly enjoy your products and not just promoting it for the sake of monetary benefits.
Adidas and Volvo
In 2017, Kendal Jenner landed herself in trouble again with another controversial ad. She was chosen to be the ambassador for Adidas Originals and was featured in Adidas’s campaign Originals. The ad was beautiful and stunning, yet all people talked about was the mismatch between Adidas and Kendall Jenner. Many people felt that the sportswear giant failed to deliver their message as they worked with a supermodel when they should have cast a real athlete whose story is inspiring and relevant to the brand’s message.
Another example of collaborating with the wrong influencer is the campaign between Volvo and fashion blogger Chriselle Lim. Chriselle is known for producing authentic content and aesthetic pictures featuring her lifestyle, beauty and fashion. This explained why in the post promoting Volvo, Chriselle received mixed reactions from her audience as the product was not a good match to her niche. Comments reflected that her photo looks “fake” and is not aligned with her usual style at all.
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Happy Monday! Posting these photos to remind myself to stay calm and step outdoors atleast once everyday. I’m the type of person that can sit by the computer and stay indoors all day and be completely fine. But it’s once I’m outdoors Im reminded how much my body, mind, & soul needs the sun, breeze, & air. Making it a point to start off the day outdoors even if it’s drinking coffee in my yard. Happy Monday!!
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Mark your calendars for August 11-15th for the @shopbestkeptsecret virtual flash sale which will be the biggest and best digital flash sale with 40+ top designers up to 80% off. Their goal is to raise $1 million dollars for @baby2baby & @yourrightscamp two incredible organizations that need our support! I’ll personally be shopping and hope you will too! More info on my stories #ShopBestKeptSecret #ad
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Now that Allen and I are parents we are making more of an effort to live a clean & eco friendly life. And it all starts with the little things such as the products we use everyday. Although we want people to continue #drivingdirty to help save water in California, I’m happy that @VolvoCarsUS is introducing an eco-friendly car wash solution called Consciously Clean. I’m that girl who rarely washes her car (anyone else like me? 🙋🏻), but when I do I cringe by all the toxins that are used and all the water that is wasted. It’s the little things that we do that makes the biggest difference. 🌎 Edited: After seeing all the comments I wanted to clarify… I’m not saying that I’m perfect and live a complete 100% eco friendly life, but since I’ve become a mom I have become more aware of the toxins that we use everyday. I’m only human and striving to become better everyday, and that is the message I wanted to send to you guys. By all means I did not mean that I was perfect..I still have a long ways to go. Thank you for your support and for understanding
Takeaway: These influencer marketing failures show us that by partnering with the wrong influencers, brands are more likely to confuse their potential customers and invite unnecessary criticism to their campaigns. High follower count is not the ultimate factor for brands to select the right influencers. There are many other factors worth considering such as their suspicious followers, influencer brand’s affinity, audience demographics and so on. Hop over to our blog to discover 4 things that you should look at to pin down the most suitable influencer.
Huawei Fake Selfie
To prepare for the launch of the newest Nova 3 phone, Huawei partnered with Egypt actress and Influencer Sarah Elshamy in their 30-second ad. The video shows a couple having a great time and using Huawei to capture their beautiful moments. There was no controversy around the ad, not until Elshamy released behind-the-scenes photos, revealing that the selfies taken by Huawei were actually taken by a professional DSLR camera!
This is actually not the first time Huawei has been caught using DSLR photos as samples of smartphone shots. In 2018, the smartphone brand posted a beautiful picture, showing what could be done with the Leica-engineered dual-cam P9 smartphone, yet the picture was then caught to be taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and a $2,100 lens.
Take Away: It is understandable for Huawei to use professional equipment to give the best shot, yet it would be nicer if the brand was more honest and advertised products based on what they really can deliver. Making misleading advertisements can badly hurt a brand’s reputation and end up damaging the customer’s trust in that brand. At a time when audiences are seeking more authentic content, transparency and authenticity are the keys to pull off an influencer campaign that resonates with the audiences.
Bonus: Huawei & Gal Gadot
Now, this is not an example of influencer marketing failures, but it is still an interesting case worth your attention. In 2018, Gadot became Huawei’s US brand ambassador for the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and was featured in their video ad. Later on, she has been caught tweeting about Huawei by using… Twitter for iPhone. This little funny detail was called out by YouTube tech influencer @Marques Brownlee, attracting up to 57k likes and 14.3k retweets and comments in his discovery!
Gal Gadot with the Huawei ad… tweeted from an iPhone. Niceeeee pic.twitter.com/aEKJVwoyBL
— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD) April 24, 2018
The tweet was soon deleted then replaced with a new one. Explaining the mistake, Gadot told CNET through her publicist that she had a member of her team post the video, and that person used his/her personal device to upload it without noticing the device used would be visible to others. This accident showed that a lot of things can go wrong in an influencer campaign, and the only thing that brands could do is to plan carefully and predict any faults that can possibly happen.
— Gal Gadot (@GalGadot) April 25, 2018
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