Influencer marketing is a great way for companies to reach wider audiences, and generate brand awareness. When campaigns run smoothly they can deliver successful results which lead to increased sales and new customers. But, when a campaign goes wrong it can end in disaster, leaving more people aware of a brand but for all the wrong reasons.
Influencer campaigns that backfire can not only damage the brand but also ruin the content creator’s reputation. And with cancel culture at its peak, more and more consumers are realizing that they can hold companies and influencers accountable by voting with their dollar, something that we’ve recently witnessed with the Budweiser campaign.
In this article, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the biggest influencer campaign flops, some of which didn’t only end in disaster for the company but also for the creator.
Top Ten Influencer Campaigns Gone Wrong
Brands love to highlight their successful partnerships with influencers but tend to steer clear of discussing those that fail.
In fact, data from the Association of National Advertisers shows that 75% of companies are using influencer marketing as part of their online strategies, but a mere 36% are actually satisfied with the delivered results. To top that off, 19% of marketers stated that they found influencer marketing to be ineffective.
This goes to show that influencer collaborations aren’t always smooth sailing.
We’ve collated a list of the ten worst influencer marketing partnerships which really showcase what can happen when a brand collaborates with the wrong influencer, or when a creator isn’t dedicating enough attention to campaign deliverables.
Fyre Festival Chaos
To kick things off, we thought we’d start with one of the largest influencer disasters in recent years.
It was such a flop that Netflix choose to solidify the fact by creating an entire documentary about the shenanigans.
The festival was promoted on social media by big-name celebrities and musicians such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Pusha T, Emily Ratajkowski, and even Blink-182. Once it became apparent that the festival was a massive scam, these influencers along with many others were confronted with legal action.
The creators were instructed to post about how the festival was going to be luxurious, offering amazing music on a scenic tropical island, where attendees would be able to brush shoulders with A-listers. Nevertheless, Fyre Fest would go down as ‘the greatest party that never happened’.
It turned out to be a total scam! We don’t need to go into the details because we’re all familiar with this story, but it was bad.
The influencers – who faced serious media scrutiny after the fact – may have not known that this was going to be the outcome, but this is why it’s important to do your due diligence before agreeing to collaborate with a brand.
Olivia Jade And The School Admissions Scandal
In 2019, the world found out that many A-list celebrities had been paying large sums of money to universities and colleges so that their kiddos would get accepted. Sadly, this scandal not only hurt the reputation of the celebrity parents but also their children, most of which were influencers and celebrities as well.
Olivia Jade got caught in the crossfire. She’s the daughter of Lori Loughlin and a famous Youtube who would use her channel to share fashion and beauty-related content. During her influencer career, Olivia had managed to secure collaborations with big brands such as Sephora, Amazon, and Marc Jacobs, which isn’t at all surprising as she had over 1.9 million subscribers on Youtube and millions of followers on Instagram.
When the school admissions scandal news broke Olivia lost some of her brand partnerships. Some of the companies even went as far as releasing PR statements about the entire debacle.
Even before the school admission drama hit the mainstream media circle some of Olivia’s audience had made comments about her lack of interest in school. In fact, she’s even confessed to the above in one of her Youtube videos stating that she was more interested in partying.
Olivia went on to issue a public apology, but the damage had already been done and although brands stood to lose thousands of dollars by cutting their collaborations shorts they felt it was in their best interest to find a better role model for their audiences.
Katie Price ft Snickers
This failure is a blast from the past, in fact, many people consider it one of the earlier influencer marketing scandals in the U.K.
You’re probably already familiar with the popular slogan “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” from past Snickers marketing campaigns. But this is where it gets hilarious.
Snickers decided to take a chance on influencer marketing in late 2012, and they went on to sign contracts with a long list of celeb influencers such as Cher Lloyd, Amir Khan, and Katie Price. The campaign was aimed at U.K. audiences.
Katie was known for posting about fashion, entertainment, and family life so when the star began sharing political statements her audience was convinced that she’d had her account hacked. It was completely out of character!
In the end, Katie went on to post “You’re not you when you’re hungry”, but by that point, her audience was convinced it wasn’t her!
The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency approved the campaign after an investigation took place into whether they’d broken any guidelines. Meaning that Snickers wasn’t prompted to pay a fine, especially after their hefty influencer spend that caused chaos online for weeks on end.
Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled Crypto Scam
Multi-million dollar companies often like to use familiar faces for their influencer marketing campaigns, such as musicians, athletes, and movie stars. Normally, this kind of partnership is a match made in heaven that generates great results for all parties involved. But, when professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and DJ Khaled got caught in the middle of a massive crypto scam they ended up getting sued by investors who had lost millions of dollars.
Centra Tech had managed to swindle millions from their investors, the founder was charged with fraud in 2018, and although the two influencers didn’t end up facing legal repercussions they sure did experience backlash and damage to their reputations.
Kendall Jenner’s Soda Scandal
Pepsis’ campaign has gone down in history as one of the biggest marketing disasters of the 2010s.
The advert showcased Kendall participating in what seemed to be a protest for diversity. This might have not experienced such backlash if it hadn’t been aired during a time when civil unrest was a present undertone in America due to Trump’s presidency and the wave of protests that came with it.
In the main advert clip, tensions between the police and protest attendees begin to rise, but Kendall magically appears to save the day by offering one of the officers a can of soda. The advert ends with the whole crowd dancing and celebrating.
Ultimately, audiences didn’t appreciate Pepsi’s advert and even though the original thought behind the campaign came from a place of good, the message failed to translate. Many viewers accused the brand of taking advantage of the current political and societal climate. While others stated that casting white women as the hero was getting old.
Kendall didn’t do anything wrong, she was fulfilling her contractual obligations and was blissfully unaware that she wasn’t going to be perceived as the right person to deliver Pepsi’s message to audiences all over the world.
Pepsi went on to cancel the commercial, but the damage had already been done. This campaign backlash is a clear example of why brands need to study their audience before trying to make political statements through their campaigns, making sure their partner with the right celebrity who will be able to deliver the message successfully and without causing an uproar.
Kim Kardashian Breaks Prescription Drug Law
In a similar fashion to her sisters Kylie and Kendall, Kim Kardashian also received a massive backlash after one of her campaigns went live during her pregnancy.
Kim posted to her Insthttps://www.netinfluencer.com/what-does-boost-post-mean-on-instagram/agram promoting a drug used for morning sickness called Diclegis, but she forgot to include the long list of side effects in the caption which is required by law when making claims about prescription medications.
Kim was ordered to remove the post by the FDA and reupload it including a caption that included all of the side effects.
When it comes to influencer marketing, it’s important to make sure both the brand and influencer are following advertising guidelines and regulatory laws.
Scott Disick’s Boo Tea Mistake
If you’re active on social media you’ve probably seen your fair share of influencers pushing detox teas. Boo Tea is known for doing just this, with a focal part of its marketing strategy revolving around influencer collaborations.
Nevertheless, the brand made a big mistake when partnering with Scott Disick because instead of coming up with an original caption for his sponsored post, Disick simply copied the instructions that the Boo Tea marketing department had sent him. This even included the time frame in which Scott should publish the post.
Even though Scott claimed it was a mistake, the backlash incited a lot of negative comments about Boo Tea.
This case just goes to show that creators are also human and they too can make mistakes. Even with the biggest PR team backing them, mistakes can still happen.
Jem Lucy’s ASA scandal
This next disaster is one that you’re bound to have heard of.
Jem Lucy found herself in hot waters with the ASA after promoting a weight loss product while pregnant. The brand she was collaborating with was Skinny Caffes.
The ASA instructed Jem to remove the post after it was discovered that the way in which she had worded the sponsored post was “unsafe” due to the brand stating on its website that its products aren’t supposed to be taken when pregnant. Jem also failed to tag the campaign as an advert or paid partnership, which just went on to make matters worse.
Image source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-49163138
Snapchat Plays Themselves
Luke Sabbat, a well-known influencer, was approached by Snapchat in 2018 to promote their new product Spectacles. At the time, Sabbat had over 1.5 million followers on IG, which made him the perfect creator for the campaign.
From start to finish this story is weird, not only did Snapchat want Sabbat to promote their new product on a competitor’s site but Sabbat never actually fulfilled his contract, where it was stated that he needed to make a public appearance and wear the glasses to fashion week.
Snapchat went on to sue Sabbat, but while doing so they exposed the fact that they were leveraging competing platforms for their outreach campaigns.
This campaign ended in a massive fail for both the brand and the influencer.
Bud Light Influencer Controversy
Lastly, in our roundup, we’ve got the most recent example of an influencer campaign going incredibly wrong.
In April this year, Bud Light partnered with Dylan Mulvaney, an influencer whose content is mainly related to LGBTQ topics. The internet did not receive this partnership well, with tons of conservative thought leaders and anti-trans groups immediately taking to social media to air their disgust.
Bud Light continues to suffer the consequences of this campaign, with their stock prices dropping due to boycotts around the country.
These ten campaign catastrophes highlight just how complex influencer marketing can be. Not only do brands need to find the perfect fit whose personal brand is in alignment with the company’s overall values, but influencers also need to vet campaigns too.
There’s no secret formula to successful influencer campaigns, after all, the outcome depends largely on people’s reactions. But, what’s clear from this guide is that both brands and influencers need to make sure their collaboration makes sense and will be well received by their audiences.