From Tampax's eye-raising tampon tweets to Burger King's Pride buns, the 7 biggest social media fails by brands in 2022

Man with head buried in his hands in a messy office.
Bill Varie
  • Social media can be an intensely powerful tool for businesses—until account managers go off script.

  • From tone-deaf Pride posts to dirty jokes that fell flat, we rounded up the biggest fails of 2022.

  • This year's list includes PBR, Burger King, Duolingo, and Tampax.

Social media can be an intensely powerful tool for businesses, but when account managers go off script, the consequences can be damning.

In 2022, marketers appear to have largely steered clear of controversy, though a handful still managed to incur the internet's wrath.

In certain cases, companies like Duolingo walk a tricky balance, praised for their irreverence until a line is crossed—as happened with the company's widely-condemned quip earlier this year about the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial.

Other companies learned the hard way that dirty jokes, while attention-garnering, can also fall spectacularly flat. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Tampax both saw blowback for trolling Twitter with jokes that urged users to eat ass and talked about menstruation in vaguely sexual terms, respectively.

Read on for the 7 biggest flubs brands made on social media this year.

Burger King's tone-deaf Pride campaign

Burger King's ad for its "Pride Whopper"
Burger King's ad for its "Pride Whopper."Burger King

Each year during Pride Month, brands virtue-signal their ally-ship in both obvious and peculiar ways. The easiest and most popular method is for brands to add a rainbow flag component to their profile images or share a post announcing their support of the LGBTQ community.

However, every year, there is one gesture that is mostly inoffensive but completely misses the mark. In 2019, a UK-based supermarket sold an "LGBT sandwich," which stood for the ingredients lettuce, guacamole, bacon, and tomato, and packaged it with a rainbow label. We've since seen rainbow-themed tote bags and Listerine mouthwash.

The main critique is that these are cheap efforts to show support for the marginalized community — and that they ultimately financially benefit the brands.

This year, Burger King Austria presented "two equal buns" in a hamburger for Pride Month — or hamburger ingredients sandwiched in between two Sesame top buns or two bottom flat buns. The German agency behind the idea, Jung von Matt Donau, said the gesture represented "equal love and equal rights."

Not only did the move fall flat, but members of the LGBTQ community pointed out that it gestures at some sexual innuendo. Jung von Matt Donau then apologized for the campaign and said it would do a better job consulting the LGBTQ community for future brand imagery.

"Our strongest concern is if we offended members of the LGBTQ community with this campaign," the agency said in a post shared on LinkedIn. "We've learned our lessons and will include experts on communicating with the LGBTQ community for future work as promoting equal love and equal rights will still be a priority for us."

Duolingo's Amber Heard TikTok comment

Hand holding phone with Duolingo home screen.
Duolingo waded into the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial earlier this year.NurPhoto

Duolingo has emerged as one of the savviest brands on TikTok, run by social media guru Zaria Parvez. The account jokingly threatens viewers to do their language lessons, leans into trends, and features uproarious appearances from its mascot, Duo the Owl.

But in 2022, the brand stepped into muddy waters via the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial, which was exploding on TikTok at the time. "Y'all think Amber watches TikTok?" the account wrote underneath a clip of Heard's testimony.

The comment was deleted, per the New York Post, after commenters slammed the company for cracking jokes about domestic violence.

"I made a mistake, it's deleted, and I'm listening," Parvez responded on Twitter. "I'm 24—a year out of college—managing an account that I didn't expect to grow how it did and learning social responsibility on a curve."

Later in the year, Duolingo again raised eyebrows, responding to an old video of Katy Perry being blasted by slime at Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards on Twitter, which it likened to the green owl mascot's ejaculate.

"Hold up is that my—," the company tweeted. "We're all thinking it, I just said it."

Elon Musk's chaotic Twitter takeover

elon musk
Elon Musk's Twitter takeover might be the media flop of the year.Muhammed Selim Korkutata/Getty Images

Perhaps there's been no more resounding social media fail this year than the chaotic acquisition of the site where so many flubs have occurred.

New owner Elon Musk has repeatedly incurred controversy both publicly on Twitter and behind the scenes, including gutting the workforce and demanding a "hardcore" work ethic from those who remain, for whom he has built in-office bedrooms.

Product releases have been similarly chaotic, including a verification scheme that was quickly rescinded.

Musk's tweets have also stoked discord. Recently, he called for the prosecution of Dr. Anthony Fauci while misusing gender pronouns, and suspended several journalists from the site amid false doxxing allegations.

The activity appears to have dented Musk's reputation in fresh ways. Musk said a disastrous appearance at a Dave Chappelle comedy show earlier this month in which the audience booed him was "a first for me in real life."

PBR's "poor judgment"

PBR Beer 2.JPG
PBR's Twitter account took things over the line.Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDER

When a social media manager or associate goes rogue, the whole company pays for it.

In January, beer company Pabst Blue Ribbon tweeted, "Not drinking this January? Try eating ass!"

The tweet was scandalous, considering it seemed to both be mocking those who are staying sober for "dry January," and dropping in a sexual reference just for shock value.

The tweet was quickly deleted, and the company apologized soon after.

"We apologize about the language and content of our recent tweets," Nick Reely, Pabst Blue Ribbon's vice president of marketing, said in a statement earlier this year. "The tweets in question were written in poor judgment by one of our associates."

Reely added that the company was handling the matter internally, and seemingly one employee was responsible for taking this ghastly social media risk.


RadioShack's edgelord stream-of-consciousness

Vulgar RadioShack tweet
A vulgar RadioShack tweet from June 2022.Twitter / @RadioShack

There is a limit to brand shitposting, and RadioShack's Twitter presence this year is where we can safely draw that line.

RadioShack, a legacy electronics brand that's had to file for bankruptcy twice in the last decade, is mad-grabbing for attention and relevancy by any means necessary. The brand's Twitter account has become a strange straight-guy edgelord's stream of consciousness. Or, worse, sometimes its tweets sound more like the drafts folder of a straight-guy edgelord's account.

In 2022, the brand tweeted all of the following:

"it's halloween but the only thing i'm scared of is women" (October 31)

"6 inches is enough" (October 17)

"saw her selfie and just moaned in front of the entire radioshack board of directors" (July 17)

"Theres a reason your dad left for milk 15 years ago and still hasn't come back. Bitch" (June 24, in response to a tweet that said, "there's a reason why your 98% of your stores closed down")

The whole strategy wreaks of, "We're a dying brand, so we have nothing to lose." The company said, fuck it, we won't hold ourselves up to any decent standards anymore. That can work with a subset of consumers who do identify with this depressing mindset. But it is mostly isolating a large swath of the public who don't understand or don't appreciate this humor. Its own business partners are turned off by the whole stunt.

Ábel Czupor, the chief marketing officer for RadioShack, doesn't seem to care that the brand is no longer respected. It's part of the strategy, even. He told Input Magazine that he'd rather have negative and troll-y engagements than have no attention on the brand at all.

"We would prefer to have that ratio instead of people not even knowing that you still exist," he said.

"If you look at any corporate accounts, all of them are pretty boring … That is not something people really engage with; that's more content people will be reading but not talking about."

Sherwin-Williams' belated TikTok aboutface

Screenshot of @SherwinWilliams' new TikTok account.
Screenshot of @SherwinWilliams' new TikTok account.TikTok / @SherwinWilliams

When paint company Sherwin-Williams finally embraced the reach and power of TikTok, it may have been too late.

The company created a TikTok account earlier this year after firing an employee in 2020 after his account became famous for mixing Sherwin-Williams paint. Tony Piloseno was a college student at the time, working part-time at a store in Ohio. He grew hundreds of thousands of followers by creating soothing videos of himself mixing different paint colors. He then pitched some of his social media strategies to Sherwin-Williams' headquarters.

Not only did they turn his ideas down, but they also turned their nose at him for using company resources during work hours. The company terminated Piloseno's job. The backlash against the paint company at the time worked in his favor, however, and he soon launched his own line of paint that was well-received by the public.

Two years later, he received a notification on TikTok that Sherwin-Williams had finally created a brand page, which he was tickled by. Sherwin-Williams employees told Insider under anonymity that they thought it was a little too late for the brand to get on board — and their content wasn't as creative as what Piloseno offered.

"Sherwin is trying to keep up [but] they're a little behind," an employee said in March. "People related to Tony's more because it was like watching a friend instead of him trying to sell you something. He was trying to build a culture around paint, like, this is how you make it, this is what makes paint fun."


Tampax's off-color menstruation joke

Two boxes of Tampax Pearl tampons are seen on a shelf at a store in Washington, DC, on June 14, 2022
Tampax said it "refused to let Twitter shut down" before sharing a wildly racy tweet.STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

In late November, Tampax tweeted a racy joke about its flagship product: "You're in their DMs. We're in them. We are not the same."

Amid Musk's new ownership of the platform, the joke was a hail mary of sorts, the company explained, saying it "refused to let Twitter shut down before we shared this tweet."

Borne of a 2019 meme, many Twitter users felt the tweet offensively sexualized people who menstruate. Unsurprisingly, the #BoycottTampax hashtag quickly followed, with Tampax subsequently removing the tweet and apologizing.

"We messed up," the company wrote. "We apologize to everyone we offended. Respect is central to our brand values - our recent language did not reflect that.  We have learned from this, and we will do better."

The company hasn't tweeted since.

Read the original article on Insider