10 years of the hashtag: hashtag fails

It’s surprisingly easy to create a full-blown horror story for yourself in just 140 characters, especially when the trusty hashtag is in tow. As the symbol nears a decade, our very own Social Media wizard Caron relives a few of her favourite times it managed to make more than a hash out of a campaign.  

Happy 10th anniversary to the hashtag on Twitter.

What a 10 years it’s been, rising from the keyboard to become the most recognisable symbol on social media. To marketers (when proof read…) the hashtag is your friend, creating a trackable tool that allows effective monitoring of campaigns, promotes your brand, and generally creates conversation. However, the internet can be a cruel mistress, and hashtags can be quickly hijacked, spiralling out of control and inviting the type of unwanted viral fame unforeseen when you first pitched #SusanAlbumParty…

Potential pitfalls aside, we’ve looked at some of our favourite hijacked #Bashtags.


Inviting the Twittersphere to tell you their brand ‘stories’ is a risky move for even the most loved corporation but, when 90% of your menu is made up of ‘meat’, you’re playing with fire. When McDonald’s decided to run #McDStories, we’re sure the marketing team envisioned warm, fuzzy, family-fun filled stories of shared Happy Meals but, instead, an onslaught of horror stories that would make even Ronald McDonald bin his Big Mac ensued.

Hashtag Fail McD Stories


My personal favourite, and up there with the worst hashtag fails of all time. Intended to promote Susan Boyle’s hotly anticipated new album, the hashtag promoted a party that was probably (hopefully) very different to the one planned. Spreading like wildfire, this hashtag quickly started to trend before the PR team could hit delete.

#RIPPRINCE & #WhyIStayed

Not so much a hashtag fail, but more a tale of brands jumping on trending hashtags that have little or no relevance to their offering.

On the day of musical icon Prince’s death, Homebase wished everyone a ‘…happy Friday’ before randomly tailing with #RIPPRINCE, just to boost exposure. Pizza brand DiGiorno tweeted using #WhyIStayed with ‘…because he had pizza’, without realising the hashtag was in reference to a high-profile domestic violence case. Not only is this lazy social media management, it can be seriously offensive and result in a slippery slope to a PR crisis.


Fat-shaming is not acceptable, period. But it’s especially poor taste when you’re a global beauty brand built on the message of female positivity, inclusion, and empowerment. Benefit Cosmetics upset a lot of customers by joining in a fat-shaming hashtag #MakeAMovieAFatty, designed to incorporate derogatory terms into popular movie names. Not only did this spiral into a Bene-bashing session on Twitter, but the story got picked up by a number of tabloids, not helped by a tweet from Benefit defending their involvement using the hashtag #LaughterIsTheBestMedicine *facepalm*


A lesson in rolling with the punches. When a scheduling error resulted in “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzered” popping up on the American Red Cross’ Twitter feed, it was the quick reaction from the brand that helped avoid a bashing.

Meant for the Social Media Manager’s personal account, the culprit quickly tweeted from her own profile, taking responsibility for the mistake. The Red Cross acknowledged the Tweet in a humorous way (without deleting it), with Dogfish Brewery using their own platform and the #gettngslizzered hashtag to drive donations to the Red Cross. #Teamwork

Unfortunately, it's the nature of the internet that at least one person is going to be offended at everything shared, and mistakes do happen. Take the time to evaluate your campaign’s hashtag, and follow our tips below to avoid creating a potential #Bashtag;

  • Read your hashtag out loud (obvious, but often overlooked)
  • Search for the hashtag on all social media platforms, not just Twitter
  • Get a few fresh pairs of eyes to look at it
  • Spell it out in lower case, few Twitter users actually capitalise letters in hashtags
  • Check if any words within the hashtag could be commonly misspelt, resulting in disaster
  • Create a crisis strategy for the slim chance your campaign flops

#SusanAlbumParty to celebrate anyone?


Happy 10th Birthday Hashtag

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