Lessons From The Top 3 Social Media Debacles of Q1 2017 [Opinion]

Monday marks the official end of the first quarter of 2017, and it’s been anything but predictable thus far. As President Donald Trump rounds out his first 100 days in office, the world is gripped by discussions surrounding rising political tensions between the West and the East. All the while, brands are seemingly forgetting the very basics of marketing, public relations, and customer service.

It’s a maddening world out there, but none quite as scary as what is occurring on social media. With so many controversies to choose from, how does one choose their top three? Well, today I plan to outline my absolute favorites just due to the level of discourse that they have generated and the greater takeaways that both brands and consumers can gain from them. Let’s begin!

Number 3 – Kendall Jenner and Pepsi #Resist Tone-Deafness

If you still haven’t seen what was arguably the most controversial ad for Q1 2017, then you are really missing out. The banned ad depicts a modeling Kendall who joins a protest to show her solidarity and offers an ice-cold Pepsi to an officer. Many critics have argued whether the ad should have received the level of criticism that it did. Fellow Inquisitr writer Hasan Tariq sums up the issues very well. What I wanted to remark on was the fact that more and more advertisements are aiming to resonate with larger ideas and audiences than the product would ordinarily reach. While not new or novel, what is concerning is the extent to which pain, suffering, political agency, or lack thereof are being used for capitalist means of acquiring wealth.


Even with an official apology, the damage has been done. What will brands think of next? Will we be expecting to see the crashing of a gay wedding by a non-accepting parent, only to be made supportive after eating a Snickers bar? That just doesn’t even make sense, and that’s where the problem lies. To piggyback off wider messages and audiences, brands are trying their best to tie loose associations with their products, which can only be seen as desperate in the short term and detrimental in the long run. Some brands get it right, or at least they can engender enough support from social media for their advertising campaigns.

Heineken has learned from Pepsi’s debacle and has already received accolades from people on social media. I mean it’s a well crafted and succinct message. The ad itself allows for everyone, regardless of viewpoint, to feel respected and instead of the product being a cursory object, Heineken was able to make it the focal point. I’d give it an A+. But getting back to our main takeaway, consumers should put more than just a post indicating their outrage when brands are socially irresponsible. Consumers should truly express the concern through how they choose to spend their own money. Pepsi has learned from this debacle, but it will probably go down in history as the textbook case for tone-deaf advertising.

Number 2 – David Dao and the Brawl Aboard United Airlines

This case has been one that has been the topic of many an Easter conversation. Never in my life would I have imagined that in Q1 of 2017, United Airlines would be “dragged” so heavily across the internet. That pun was meant with the best of intentions. The video of Dr. David Dao being forcibly removed from his seat is very unsettling. What was even more unsettling was the response from United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, who seemed to not even care initially about the PR debacle his company was facing.

United brought us back to the whole issue of what defines good customer service and good public relations. In this case, it did not matter whether United had the legal authority to do what was done. No, this was a case of poor handling of a situation that could have been avoided. Many took to social media to chastise United, and others stated that they would have fought against the removal. David Dao’s ordeal spawned memes and discussions about the degree to which airlines overbook their flights in an attempt to maintain their huge profit margins.

That was perhaps one of the biggest lessons that airlines and passengers learned from this issue. Against the backdrop of calls to remove overbooking as part of the revenue model for airlines, there have been no major signs from the airline industry that the status quo is going to change.

“I have made the decision, the company’s made the decision, that we will cease to overbook going forward. We’ve been taking steps over the last several years to prepare ourselves anyway.”

Words from Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, who acknowledges the many dangers and challenges that overbooking presents to travelers. Still, if there is at least one good thing to come out from this entire debacle, it is the fact that consumers are now more informed than ever about their flying rights, and companies recognize that an apology is not optional when falling short of the minimum standards of human decency. Oh, and by the way, it’s never a good idea to blame the victim or bring up their past to try to gain sympathy for your actions.

Number 1 – The Most Lit Music Festival Ever, Fyre Festival

So, I must admit, I did not even know this event was going on until I was at a buddy’s house last night. Before I say anything more, I think you should see the trailer for what was supposed to be one of the greatest music festivals of 2017.

Welcome to the Bahamas, a picturesque Caribbean nation made up of several islands. Fyre Festival was to be the exclusive event that rivaled Coachella, but for the people with the larger wallets. Upon arrival, patrons were greeted to what could be best described as the catfish of all festivals.


Stranded on a secluded island, with cheese and bread to eat, lockers with no locks, and having spent in some cases $12,000, this sounds like a recipe for disaster. Promoter and co-host of the event Jah Rule, said that he never meant for things to happen like this. The real travesty in all of this is the number of brands who are now facing backlash for promoting this event, which became the greatest flop of Q1 2017. Irate festival goers took to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight the travesty that they were experiencing. In fact, if you want even more detailed info, just search for #fyrefestival. Depending on your personality, you may laugh or cry at the many Instagram models and affluent millennials who made their way to the Bahamas through Miami.

The reason I put this at number one is the fact that it will have such a profound effect on influencer marketing going forward. How are patrons to trust that when they pay for a ticket for an event that they will even get something remotely close to what was promised? What does that also say about celebrities that endorse products, services, or events that they might not actually use or attend? To me, it signals the real challenge that faces both companies and consumers. Trust. How can we establish better relationships of trust that benefit us both? Only time will tell but, I’ll be waiting.

[Featured Image by Andrew Toth/Getty Images]