4 Examples of Employer Branding Fails (And How To Learn From Them)

December 7, 2017

Having a strong brand identity is a crucial ingredient for long-term business success. And though most people understand this to be true from a sales perspective, it’s also especially true from a hiring perspective.

75% of job seekers research a company online before considering a job opportunity (more statistics on how employer branding impacts hiring here)…what do you think people will find about your company when they research you online? 

While most companies have the best of intentions when presenting their employer brand to the public, branding flops happen. Learn from the mistakes in these 4 major employer branding horror stories to give yourself an advantage in protecting your own company’s reputation.


Cinnabon Makes Poor Use of a Tragic Story

With the rise of social media advertising campaigns, seizing a cultural moment can quickly make your brand go viral. As a result, marketing teams must swiftly create and execute ideas, looking to attract energy for the brand. Sometimes, though, these efforts are a little too hastily executed. Take, for example, Cinnabon’s Tweet following the death of Carrie Fisher, of Star Wars fame: “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy,” with a picture of Princess Leia with a cinnamon roll hairdo.

Twitter users quickly fought back against Cinnabon capitalizing on a tragedy to generate profits, and the company was forced to take down the Tweet and issue an apology. Similar branding fails have occurred around the death of David Bowie, the anniversary of 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Superstorm Sandy.

The moral of the story? Never try to turn a tragedy into a viral sensation for your business.


United Fails to Understand the Power of a Viral Moment

United Airlines gained worldwide attention in April 2017 when video footage emerged of a passenger being dragged from his seat. As details emerged, it turned out that the passenger had done nothing wrong. The flight was overbooked and he declined to seat, so he was forcibly removed. This created a press nightmare for United as subsequent incidents of passenger mistreatment were posted to social media.

The take-home message here is simple: always act as though someone is watching. In United’s case, the flight crew actually acted within the company’s policy (they were honoring an upper limit on the incentive that can be offered to rebook passengers on an overbooked flight). However, a greater emphasis on the company’s core values of respecting passengers could have averted this disaster.


Uber Develops a Negative Image among Exiting Employees

Several tech companies have made headlines lately, but not for their technological innovations. Numerous Silicon Valley organizations, including Uber, have been faced with lawsuits from women alleging a hostile work environment or sexual harassment. Some of these claims go to the very top of the organization. This raises a critical issue (beyond the obvious one of treating all employees with respect): consider what an exiting employee would say about your company.

No matter how lofty your corporate values or mission statement, if those values don’t trickle down to the everyday worker, you may be faced with problems. Nobody wants to work for a company with high turnover or multiple harassment lawsuits. How you treat your employees now could make the difference between retaining world-class talent or being forced to go with second- or third-tier candidates the next time you’re hiring.


BP Forgets that with Apologies, Sincerity Matters Most

Remember BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf? VP executive Tony Hayward apologized on behalf of the company for his own idiotic statement that went something like: “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

With those few sentences, he solidified BP’s reputation as tone deaf, self-centered, and oblivious to the impact of its actions.

Here’s how to use this as a lesson: rather than issuing a generic apology in the face of a crisis, brainstorm ideas to truly change your organization. Get your top executives on board with changing corporate culture, creating new employee programming, or donating proceeds of a campaign to a relevant charitable organization.


Let’s hope that you can avoid any similar situations like these when it comes to your company’s employer brand. For good measure, here are some key takeaways to always keep in mind as you guard your employer brand:

    • Being topical can make your content go viral, but make sure you stay focused on generating positive news.


    • Always act within your company’s values, and teach others to do the same. Even when you think no one is looking, a bad move on the part of an entry level employee can still look terrible for your organization.


  • Ensure your company treats its employees with dignity and respect. Offering incentives is a great way to boost your brand’s image.




Linda Le Phan
Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu.

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