When executed well, there’s nothing more effective and impactful than a company using a pop-culture reference for an advertising campaign, especially ones that are launched on social media and allow instant feedback. But when executed incorrectly? Well, it’s about as cringe-worthy as your racist uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. Here are a few examples of the biggest brand snafus over the past year.


  • Cinnabon “Honors” Carrie Fisher
    When Carrie Fisher passed away last December, news and corporate outlets took to social media to express their condolences. Among those was Cinnabon — you know, the bakery chain known for its cinnamon buns — which posted a photo of Princess Leia drawn in a cinnamon outline and a Cinnabon in her hair. The since-deleted tweet read: “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.”


While many were offended by the off-color post, others agreed that the eccentric Fisher would probably have found it amusing.

  • Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad
    Pepsi was accused of appropriating and exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year, when the company released an controversial ad starring Kendall Jenner to YouTube back in spring. The video clip—which bore a stark resemblance to demonstration footage seen across the U.S. over the last few years—follows Jenner as she ditches a photo shoot to go join a protest in the street. The ad culminates with Jenner walking up to a policeman and handing him a Pepsi, while a woman wearing a nose-ring and a traditional Muslim headscarf takes a photograph. If only life were actually this simple.
  • Adidas’ Boston Marathon Email Fail
    Sometimes even the most well-intentioned marketing tactics can get brands into hot water. Just ask Adidas, who got in trouble last April for a thoughtless email sent to finishers of the 121st Boston Marathon. Upon completion of the race, runners received a message from the company with the subject line: “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” This might have been received better had it not come after the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, which killed three and injured more than 260 others. Recipients quickly took to Twitter to express their disapproval.
  • McDonald’s Hacked Tweet at Trump
    In March of this year, McDonalds started a Twitter flame war with President Trump, angrily tweeting at him: “You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have Barack Obama back, also you have tiny hands.” The post was quickly deleted and McDonald’s claimed their account was hacked. The damage, however, was done.


The tweet was met with mixed reactions by the public, ranging from disgust to amusement. While McDonald’s never confirmed exactly who “hacked” their social media account that fateful morning, many suspect it was somebody in their social media department going out in a blaze of glory.

Although the above brands all missed the pop-culture mark in some capacity and were mocked, their fails gained national attention.

Which kinda makes you wonder: Who really got the last laugh?