Qantas, Optus, Andrew O’Keefe! It’s 2023’s Most Momentous F#ck Ups!

Qantas, Optus, Andrew O’Keefe! It’s 2023’s Most Momentous F#ck Ups!

It’s December, so what better time to reflect on the year that was – the highs, the lows, the bouquets and the brickbats.

Here at B&T we think the lows are often far more entertaining. So, with a large dose of schadenfreude in our hearts, we’re bringing you the 10 best media/marketing stuff-ups, calamities and court cases over the past 12 months.

And, yes, it was no easy feat whittling it down to a mere 10. Think we got it wrong? Post your suggestions in the comments below…

10) Images of Alan Jones in blackface emerge

Controversial radio broadcaster Alan Jones is never too far from the press’ attention and he again found himself the centre of things in October after images – albeit from 27 years ago – resurfaced of him wearing blackface. The then rugby coach was captured behind the scenes at a Wallabies team function impersonating 1920s vaudeville singer Al Jolson during the team’s 1986 tour of New Zealand where the Aussies famously won the series 2-1. Luckily for Jones, the condemnation and pitchforks were minimal with many supporters – most of them former senior Wallabies – jumping to his defence, saying it was a private function and it reflected the norms of the time. While others suggested the leaked images were a vendetta against the former radio man.

9) GroupM exec banged up in China

Things can be vague when it comes to dealing with China, however, it came to light in October when a GroupM employee was imprisoned and subsequently sacked for bribery in Shanghai. At the time, local police said that it had detained a senior WPP executive along with two others. Based on a preliminary investigation, the trio were suspected of taking bribes from 2019 to February 2023, police said. According to a story published by Chinese state media in July, GroupM was expecting China’s total advertising revenue to increase by almost eight per cent to $US150.6 billion this year.

8) Ben Roberts Smith/Bruce Lehrmann defamation cases

In a year where defamation cases became the norm, the ex-SAS soldier and former Liberal party staffer dominated the front pages. Roberts-Smith, of course, sued Nine and the Canberra Times over editorial claims he was a war criminal, only for the subsequent court case to find he was, in fact, a war criminal. Interestingly, the former soldier was offered an undisclosed sum to settle, something he refused. Roberts-Smith’s legal bill is now reported to be nudging $25 million as he mounts an appeal. Equally, Bruce Lehrmann was offered $235,000 to settle his defamation case against Network 10 over the Brittany Higgins rape allegations. Lehrmann refused the offer and the whole sordid case continues.

7) Tsingtao urine disaster

In October, the third biggest selling beer brand in the world, the Chinese-owned Tsingtao, went into serious damage control after video of a worker at one of its breweries appeared to show the man urinating into a fermenting tank. Management at Tsingtao Brewery Co said it immediately sealed off the affected batch when the video came to its attention. However, since the video went public, shares in the brewer have plummeted almost eight per cent on the Chinese stock exchange. The video has caused quite a stir in China where the brew is not only one of the country’s biggest sellers but also a source of national pride. The story was also big news in Korea, where the beer is the number one imported beer, with reports local bars and restaurants had stopped serving Tsingtao and they were now demanding refunds from distributors.

6) Elon botches Twitter/X

Where to start with old Elon? He was widely considered to have the Midas touch before buying Twitter. But that reputation went out the window some time ago. He bought Twitter for a frankly staggering $US44 billion (around $AU66 billion) last year and proceeded to make a complete and utter hash of its day-to-day operations. First came the outages and bugs that plagued users. Then came the hare-brained idea to let users pay for verification, rather than earn it, which led to some hilarious cases of mistaken identity and social satire. Then, he decided to change the name from Twitter, which everyone knew and loved for its accepting and inclusive demeanour, to the comic book-y sounding X. Then he started getting really weird. When presented with evidence that his stance on free speech had ushered in new levels of hate speech on X and that advertisers weren’t best pleased, Elon countered by telling them to leave before, in no uncertain terms, telling them to “Go Fuck Yourselves”. Net result? Ad revenue on Twitter, or X if you really must, is down by more than half from when Musk took over.

5) Qantas

If there was ever an example of a board acting solely in its and shareholder interests it would have to be Qantas’ shonky behaviour in 2023. Among a host of scandals, the trouble-plagued national carrier saw its disgraced CEO, Alan Joyce, flee the country with a $21.4 million payout. It was later busted by the ACCC for refusing to honour some 8000 flights. Adding to a string of woes, it was caught breaching workplace safety laws, Anthony Albanese’s son got embroiled in a Chairmans Lounge row, while Joyce’s replacement, Vanessa Hudson, omitted her predecessor had so neglected replacing old planes, the airline needed some $12 billion in replacements. The brand got smashed on just about every “most/least” trusted list, leading to calls to sack board member and former ad man, Todd Sampson, who many blamed for its reputational woes.

4) Optus

If there’s a brand in Australia that’s become synonymous with fuck ups, it’s arguably the Singapore-owned Optus. A string of mishaps culminated in the brand’s greatest clanger – the now infamous nationwide outage on the 8th of November which left its 10.2 million customers without mobile data and affected businesses and services including hospitals and public transport. The stony silence from management exacerbated the problem. CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin was promtly summoned to a Canberra Senate enquiry nine days later where she was lambasted for her buck passing and not being more honest with customers. Two days later the besieged CEO fell on her sword, tendering her resignation from her $5.15 million-a-year role.

3) Andrew O’Keefe

Once the darling of the Seven Network, O’Keefe’s life unraveled in 2021 when he was arrested and charged with domestic violence and common assault against his partner. Unfortunately, the 52-year-old former game show host also happened to be a former chairman of the domestic violence charity White Ribbon. Seven had no choice but to immediately sack its wayward star while, following his departure, allegations arose of rampant drug use on set that led to his prickly, difficult demeanour. Things deteriorated further and O’Keefe was filmed yelling obscenities from the back of a police van which ultimately led to his imprisonment and even a stint in a psychiatric ward. Any likelihood of a TV return seem remote at best, as O’Keefe is still awaiting other charges including domestic violence, drug possession, resisting arrest and drug driving.

2) The Voice Referendum ad campaigns

A vote for Indigenous recognition in Australia’s Constitution saw Aussies off to the polls in mid-October to vote on legislation that over half of voters admitted they didn’t even understand. And, if there was ever a time for adland to shine and change public perceptions, now was it! Alas, both the YES and NO factions delivered rather uninspired, insipid, forgettable campaigns that ultimately saw the NOs triumph in an overwhelming 60-40 victory. Polling via research firm Pollinate found that The Monkeys’ John Farnham-lead “You’re The Voice”/YES campaign actually made 34 per cent of people who viewed it want to vote NO. A further 55 per cent admitted it had no impact on them whatsoever. The campaign came with a reported $4 million price tag. Clemenger BBDO’s ‘Yes Makes It Possible’ also failed to sway voters.

1) Bud Light

When it comes to cataclysmic marketing fuck ups, Bud Light’s 2023 efforts take some beating. The brand’s ill-fated partnership with trans activist and comic Dylan Mulvaney and the subsequent backlash saw the brand lose its #1 title in the US and saw sales dive by a reported $US400 million ($A605 million) in a mere six months. Bosses at Bud’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, back-pedalled and flip-flopped throughout the crisis, a hole they can’t get out of till this day. Loyal Bud customers boycotted the brand in droves and even gay bars began boycotting Anheuser-Busch products, believing the brewer hadn’t done enough to support Mulvaney. “Go woke, go broke” entered the marketing vernacular and saw marketers everywhere (including our own involved with the YES campaign) become increasingly cautious about promoting positive causes. Its final legacy? It’ll live for time immemorial in any marketing textbook written from this day forth.



Please login with linkedin to comment

    Latest comments
    1. ”….(including our own involved with the YES campaign) become increasingly cautious about promoting positive causes”… u believe u were promoting a “positive” cause??
      LOL…u and Albo and the woke whackers of Oz just ”don’t get it”.

Andrew O'Keefe Bud Light Optus Qantas

Latest News

“Cornerstones Of Community Strength”: CARE Spotlights Vital Role Of Women To Overcome Poverty & Recover From Conflict & Disaster
  • Campaigns

“Cornerstones Of Community Strength”: CARE Spotlights Vital Role Of Women To Overcome Poverty & Recover From Conflict & Disaster

This International Women’s Day, CARE Australia will celebrate women as global change-makers amid increasingly frequent conflicts and climate-related crises, with Ashleigh Streeter-Jones, Natalie Kyriacou OAM, and Justine Cullen spearheading the initiative as ambassadors. Lead image: Ashleigh Streeter-Jones In its third consecutive year, the ambassadors will champion CARE Australia’s Her Circle initiative, which recognises that: when […]

Avid Collective Nabs Niki Jones From Junkee Media As New Head Of Enablement & Operations
  • Media

Avid Collective Nabs Niki Jones From Junkee Media As New Head Of Enablement & Operations

Avid Collective has officially announced the appointment of former Scout Publishing and Junkee Media executive Niki Jones (lead image) as its new head of enablement operations. In the newly created role, Jones will be responsible for overseeing operational activities across various arms of business with a focus on partner engagement. “Niki’s appointment comes at an […]