Five of The Worst Instagram Marketing Fails in Recent Memory

Written by Adam: Content and Social Executive.
· 4 minute read

Each year the impact of visual content on social media marketing continues to rise. It’s no surprise then that Instagram has become an integral part of many brand’s digital marketing efforts. 

We are all visual creatures after all. And with the latest Instagram update promising to trial out hiding the like counter, there looks to be more of a focus on users getting a sense of validation from the actual content. Meaning it will soon be even more important for digital marketers to get their content right on the platform. 

When used in the right way, Instagram can be an amazing way for brands to connect with people visually. You can tell your brand’s story, be creative and inspiring. Not to mention, capture the attention of your audience in a powerful and sustained way. However, nailing your digital marketing efforts on Instagram isn’t exactly easy. There are some brands who have certainly failed big time in recent years. 

Here are five of the worst examples from the last few years that you can learn from and hopefully – avoid! 

1 – Product return needed a re-think

Instagram is an ideal platform for some brand-boosting visual storytelling. However, it’s really important to consider the actual story you want to tell first. Before you ever begin embarking on a digital marketing campaign.

Los Angeles based fashion brand, Reformation, found this out the hard way when they decided to market the return of their “Guava Dress”, which was apparently “hot out the factory”, with this image:

The image featured a young model wearing the expensive dress while sitting on the table in front of two female factory workers. It was promptly taken down within moments, as it received a tidal wave of comments. Instantly sparking some major online attention, but for all the wrong reasons.

Customers started debating whether or not the post was more racist or classist – which as far as getting your customers talking on social media goes… isn’t great.

Supporters argued that it reflected the brand’s policy of full transparency when it comes to work conditions. But many agreed that the positioning of the glamorous model in front of the toiling factory workers was condescending, tasteless and immediately offensive.

2 – Made promises they couldn’t keep

In 2017 Sunny Co. Clothing decided on a strategy to advertise their new Baywatch-themed swimsuit.

The strategy involved posting a promotional picture on Instagram. Standard. And then telling their customers that anyone who reposted and tagged the image within 24 hours would receive a free swimsuit worth $65. Hmm…

Well it turns out, people really love free stuff! 

Because the post quickly went viral, with thousands of people reposting and tagging it within hours. Over 3,000 responses later and the company couldn’t keep up with demand. A second post detailed a cap on the promotion “due to the viral volume of participants”. 

As expected, this didn’t sit well with participants of the promotion and soon the company’s inbox was inundated with unhappy customers. The outrage was voiced all over social media and eventually the Co’s co-founder Brady Silverwood released a statement promising to send free suits to all participants. It became a costly promotional lesson of making marketing promises you can’t keep.

3 – Accidentally hijacked another hashtag

One of the most famous brands in the UK, bread maker Warburtons decided to launch the hashtag #CrumpetCreations on Instagram in 2017, in order to encourage customers to post pictures of their tea time snacks.

Sounds great right? Well unfortunately, as with any section of the web, Instagram is full of its own quirky hobbies and unique fandoms to follow. And as it turns out, the hashtag was already very much active amongst the “furries” community. Essentially a community of people who love to dress up as anthropomorphic cartoon animals.

This resulted in the brands content getting mixed in with the other content, and the bread makers followers were inadvertently plunged into the furry world! Awks

Just a few minutes of hashtag research, involving checking what hashtags are currently in use, would have avoided this situation. Luckily, Warburtons eventually caught on and changed the hashtag to #warburtonschristmascrumpets. 

Hopefully, their digital marketing plans on Instagram won’t go so a rye again… Sorry about that. That was pretty stale… and again apologies.

4 – A joke that misfired

Vegan and vegetarian diets are hugely popular now more than ever, with many people enjoying their plant-based dishes, and sharing snacks and meal options on social media. It’s not really a great idea then for a company to ridicule vegan and vegetarian food choices with an Instagram marketing post…

Well that’s exactly what Ruffles managed to do in 2017, when they promoted some Tofu-urkey 100% Turkey-less chips on Instagram, as a joke…

The image featured the words; “Limited Time: Never.” Along with the side-splitting caption; “There’s a reason tofu-urkeys are never pardoned.”

Safe to say the half-hearted joke didn’t exactly sit well with the large and very-much engaged vegan and vegetarian community on the platform. The hashtag #BoycottRuffles quickly picked up steam in response. Highlighting that although light-hearted humour can work well for many marketing campaigns, when it intentionally mocks potential customers, it definitely won’t.

5 – Excluded half the population of the planet 

In an effort at some more light-hearted marketing humour, fashion brand Benetton posted a promotional image of three boys, sporting their Summer 2017 children’s collection. The only problem was, the caption read caption “sorry ladies. Girls not allowed!”

What was intended as a humorous post, quickly turned into a major marketing misfire for the brand. Followers if their Instagram channel soon flooded the comments, accusing the company of reinforcing gender divides among young children. 

Benetton apologised in wake of the backlash, stating that they were ‘very sorry’ for ‘unintentionally offending’ their customers. Insisting the post was meant to be ‘playful’ and apologised for ‘striking the wrong chord’ with their audience.

The situation certainly highlighted how making broad statements about who should use your products can result in negative reactions. Who knew…? 


Social media marketing is never easy, on Instagram or any other platform for that matter, but with Run2, you can get the results you’ve been looking for.

If you’re looking to reinvigorate your social media strategy, without suffering any fails – don’t hesitate to contact us!


Content and Social Executive