Instagram Fails? 17 Controversial Insta Moments from Brands

By in Social media marketing, Instagram Strategy, Social Media, Marketing Tips Mar 6, 2018

What are the most cringeworthy Instagram fails from brands?

How should you not treat customers online?

To answer these questions, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most controversial Instagram campaigns. Learn from these brands’ mistakes to avoid Instagram outrage.

1. Kaiewei Ni

How do you take clickbait to the next level? The Chinese sneaker manufacturer, Kaiewei Ni, introduced netizens to the scrollbait. They created a Black Friday Instagram stories ad with a lock of stray hair in the center. It was designed to make customers swipe the screen, so they’re automatically redirected to another site.

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It’s a certainly creative, but in a sneaky way.

Not surprisingly, Instagram removed the ad for violating their platform’s policies.

2. Sunny Co. Clothing

How do you feel about free swimsuits?

Yes, you read that right: free swimsuits.

To promote their new Baywatch-themed swimsuit, Sunny Co. clothing announced that everyone who reposted and tagged their picture, within 24 hours, would receive a free $65 swimsuit.

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The post went viral and was reposted 3,000 times within the first few hours.

Needles to say, the company couldn’t keep up with their promise. It stated that “the viral volume of participants” gave it the right to cap the promotion.

Not surprisingly, customers weren’t happy. They flooded the brand’s inbox with complaints and posted their outrage on social media.

Sunny Co’s co-founder Brady Silverwood then released a statement and promised to send free bathing suits to all the participants.

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So what can we learn from costly Instagram fails? Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

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3. Dolce & Gabbana

While Italian designers Dolce and Gabbana have their fair share of online controversies, this one takes the cake. Designer Stefano Gabbana posted a photo of a shoe with the words “I’m thin and gorgeous” in big blue letters. It also had designs such as music, cute quotes and studs, but the thin comment was a major faux pas.

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Social media had a lot to say.

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But the icing on the cake was Gabbana’s harsh response to commenters. He labelled commenters as “stupid” and “idiots.”

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A key takeaway here? Never be mean or rude to people.

Just because you’re annoyed doesn’t mean that you have the right to insult your followers. Instead, understand their side of the story and learn from their criticism.

4. ColourPop

If you thought brands and ad campaigns would no longer be racist here in the 21st century, you are (very sadly) mistaken. ColourPop sparked outrage when it posted the shades of their new line of “sculpting stix.” Unfortunately, they named their darker shades as  “Yikes” and “Typo.”

And, their followers were not amused.

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It’s ironic that the new line was marketed to people of color, but their original skin tones were considered as disastrous mistakes.

What can we learn from their story? Don’t be racist, and think before you post.

5. Reformation

How do you spark an online debate?

Reformation shows us how it’s done in a post featuring a model wearing a $198 guava dress, as factory workers toil in the background. It sparked outrage among customers who argued that the image was both classist and racist.

The position of the model in the foreground was interpreted as condescending to the factory workers with a not-so-glamorous occupation. While supporters of Reformation’s post argued that the company regularly posts images of its factory and workers on Instagram, it could still be interpreted as offensive and insensitive. Hopefully, their marketers will learn from their Instagram fails the next time around.

6. Benetton

Excluding billions of women around the world is never a good idea.

Benetton learned this the hard way when it posted a picture of boys with the caption, “Sorry ladies. Girls not allowed.”

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Thousands of women were quick to react in the comments section.

Users commented, “Wow! For a gender neutral photo, that’s a really sexist tag!” and “Looks like it’s time for a new social media director.”

Moral of the story? It’s 2017 so it’s time to let go of traditional gender roles.

It’s not smart to exclude (roughly) half of the world’s population.

7. Missguided

Nobody’s perfect. So, chances are, promoting natural “flaws” and joining the body positivity bandwagon is a great idea.

This was Missguided’s intention when it uploaded images of models with stretch marks . However, Chloe Sheppard, a professional photographer, accused the brand of using Photoshop to add stretch marks to the models’ bodies.

In an interview with The Debfrief she said, “Go to their original Instagram post and zoom in on where the stretch marks are, you can see little bumps and white shadowing from where something has been done to that area on Photoshop. “The stretch marks are also completely different patterns in the two photos which made me think they were doctored on.”

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Netizens were quick to roast the brand at their doctored attempts at body positivity. As one user said, “Embarrassing attempt at Photoshop and even worse attempt at pretending you promote body positivity. #BodyPositivity #Missguided #stretchmarks”

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However, Missguided released a statement and said their photos were 100% not photoshopped, despite contrary evidence.

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Thankfully, after these Instagram fails, Missguided’s next campaign didn’t airbrush their models.

A lot of people have stretch marks. If you want to promote body positivity, it’s not hard to find people with different body shapes and types and features that can model for your campaign.

8. Warburton

The world is filled with people with their own unique quirks and hobbies. So it’s hard to blame this British baking company, for not knowing about furries, an internet fandom of people who love to dress up in cartoon animal costumes.

The brand launched the hashtag #CrumpetCreations, and asked followers to use their brand’s famous crumpets. This active hashtag is widely used by the furry community, so users who jumped into Warburton’s campaign, accidentally entered the world of furries.

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The brand’s content alongside the furries content, certainly looked awkward on Instagram.

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The takeaway? Next time you think of a campaign hashtag, check whether it’s actively used by other fandoms, brands or communities. Hijacking a hashtag isn’t a crime, but this is one of the Instagram fails you can easily avoid.

9. Revolve

If you thought that the fashion industry has made progress in embracing women of all colors and sizes, here’s a reminder that there’s still work to do. Last year, Revolve sparked outrage when it failed to include non-white models and plus-size women in last year’s Revolve Awards.

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Many Instagrammers flooded the brand’s feed with the hashtag #RevolveSoWhite. Several users expressed their disappointment over the brand’s lack of diversity. In fact, a quick look at the brand’s feed reveals a bias towards specific types of women.

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To add fuel to the fire, Valerie Eguavoen of On A Curve, wrote a post titled “”#YOUBELONGNOW – Responding to Revolve and the Fashion Industry, on its Consistent Exclusion of Black Women.” She states, “Despite the overwhelming support I have received on Instagram, I have to say that I am not a pioneer. Hundreds of black women and other women of color express their frustrations on this topic every single day – through the comment sections, on their platforms, and through emails and DM’s to the brands themselves.”

While Revolve has white-passing women of color like Chrissy Teigen, it’s impossible to find dark-skinned women on their feed. AndRevolve isn’t the first online brand to come under fire.

Consumers recently slammed Athleta,, and Boohoo for their lack of representation of plus-size women and women of color.

10. Tarte Cosmetics

Racial slurs are never okay. You’d think that everyone would know that by now, but apparently not.

Tarte Cosmetics was criticized for posting “ching chong” in its caption, “My brain during the day: Potato, potato, ching chong tomato.”

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Shortly after, the brand was slammed on social media for their racist joke against Asians.

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The brand took down the photo and issued an apology after the online backlash. The brand said in its post, “We deeply apologize to anyone we offended today, it was a complete oversight & we absolutely didn’t mean to post with that intention. We removed immediately & spoke with the intern explaining why it was offensive.” However, some netizens weren’t satisfied because the brand did not directly apologize to the Asian community.”

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The brand then issued another statement written by CEO and founder of Tarte, Maureen Kelly.

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While Tarte owned up to their mistake, this Instagram fail could’ve been avoided if they had been more careful about what they posted in the first place.

11. Wycon Cosmetics

Wycon Cosmetics, an Italian company, has also faced a racism controversy. When they posted their line of gel nail polish, they revealed that their darkest shade was named, “Thick as a N****” (but they used the actual word). Seriously.

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When netizens expressed their outrage over the names, the brand initially brushed it off. Eventually, the brand apologized to their followers in the comments section. Forbes translated it from Italian to English, “We’re sorry that this post has triggered these types of reactions: Every color from our Gel On collection is inspired, with a cheerful attitude and a pinch of naiveté, by famous song titles, many of which derive from the landscape of hip-hop. For example ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ by Snoop Dogg, ‘Bootilicious’ [sic] by Beyoncé, ‘Candy Shop’ by 50 Cent, Lollipop, Lady Marmalade etc… The reference here is ‘Thick N****’ (sic) by DBangz. Wycon is the brand for everybody #nobodyexcluded is our motto and we didn’t mean to offend anybody!”

The company also removed the shade names and replaced them with numbers instead. Although there’s nothing wrong with naming the shades, as long as they’re not racist.

Of course, they could’ve avoided the scandal if they had a more racially diverse and sensitive team.

12. Zpalette

How do you treat your customers?

Zpalette set an example of how to not treat customers on Instagram. The brand recently released its Z Potter product, but customers weren’t happy with the $85 price tag.

How did the brand respond?

It called customers cheap, dismissed complaints and rewarded positive commenters with a discount. Yup. Like, they seriously actually did that. Here’s a photo of their comments section:

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The brand later released a statement to justify their treatment of customers. They called commenters people who want to “jump on the bandwagon, or “be seen or heard, or get followers.”

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This statement was deleted when netizens started a Zpalette boycott.

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BoxyCharm took advantage of the controversy and said it treated customers with love and respect.

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13. Ollie

Skincare blogger Vanessa of GoalsToGetGlowing was on the hunt for a low PH cleanser. She explained the reason behind her low pH life. Totally fair, given that people have different experiences when it comes to cleansers.

She then posted a picture of different cleansers and their PH levels. At the middle was Oille, which had a pH pf 9.5. She put an emoji that indicated “nope” in the caption. She wasn’t bashing the cleanser in any way.

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But Oille had a lot to say:

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Whatever happened to treating customers right? Politeness and friendliness must have been absent from Oille’s social media manual.

So, naturally, Instagrammers condemned Oille’s tantrum. After a while, it sent Vanessa a personal apology.

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While Oille later realized their mistake, social media has no reset button. Oille isn’t a famous brand, but after this social media tantrum, chances are it left a bad impression on potential customers.

Moral of the story? Learn how to respond to criticism. Brands that can respectfully respond to feedback can learn a lot from their customers. For example, COSRX developed a low pH cleanser once customers asked for one.

14. Lime Crime

What do you do when your server is cyberattacked, sends malware, and steals credit card information?

You can learn what not to do from Lime Crime.

Consumers started the #Boycottlimecrime movement after an undisclosed number of customers learned that their credit card information was stolen due to the brand’s website.

Doe Deere, Founder of LimeCrime, responded by saying that she would not tolerate bullying or harassment. There was no attempt to appease the victims, whatsoever.

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Not surprisingly, customers responded with guns blazing.

Eventually, Doe Deere, responded with a statement that emphasized her efforts to secure their website to prevent future attacks. However, no effort was made to appease consumers who lost their credit card information.

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15. Vera Bradley

Why is it good to be a girl?

Vera Bradley’s “Why It’s Good to Be a Girl” campaign answered. However, customers did not react well when their Instagram posts had lines like, “when a gentleman offers you his seat,” “belt their favorite song lyrics” and “needing 5 shades of lipstick.”

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The campaign was heavily criticized on social media for its flawed execution. Not everyone woman needs 5 shades of lipstick, nor did they rely on the help of gentlemen.

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Perhaps if the brand posted statements that were more relatable to women in the 21st century, instead of the 1950s, the campaign would’ve hit the right notes. But, in this case, their strategy seemed backwards.

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16. The Ordinary

Ever heard of TMI?

CEO of skin-care brand The Ordinary, Brandon Truaxe, took transparency to a whole new level when he took charge of the brand’s Instagram account. He declared the cancellation of the company’s marketing plans and said that he would directly communicate with customers via Instagram.

His new transparent approach led him to post an image of piles of trash once he declared to eliminate plastics in his product’s packaging. He also apologized publicly to Drunk Elephant, a previous competitor, on Instagram.

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Has he ever heard of TMI? Apparently not.

Some customers didn’t like  it and called out his too-transparent approach. Truaxe responded with a video that called critics “disrespectful.” He said that he would delete all negative comments, unless it was useful criticism. He also responded to a user who suggested a social media team, with “@heybrianne you need more followers”

To put icing on the cake, he also blocked followers who liked negative comments.

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How did customers respond?

They set their Ordinary’s products on fire and announced a boycott.

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As of writing, the Instagram drama hasn’t ended yet.

Brandon Truaxe continues his transparent approach on Instagram. He also fired Co-CEO Nicola Kilner and CFO Stephen Kaplan resigned.

17. McDonald’s

McDonald’s is a good example of what happens when a brand doesn’t target the right customers.

Last 2015, McDonald’s had 771,000 followers on Instagram. At first glance, nothing seemed to be wrong. However, once you visited the comments section you would see a lot of insults about the quality of their food.

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Instagrammers also complained that they were being “spammed” by the brand, since they continued to see their ads on Instagram.

The takeaway? It doesn’t matter how famous your brand is. If you don’t target the right customers and engage with them, your marketing won’t work out.

Do you have Instagram fails you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.