Digital Marketing Redux   //   December 6, 2023

FabFitFun founders apologize after a profane X ad caused subscribers to cancel

Some FabFitFun users are saying they’re canceling their subscriptions after the brand posted a profanity-laced ad on X — the social media platform formally known as Twitter — that appeared to align itself with billionaire owner Elon Musk. Now the cofounders are apologizing and attempting to assuage customer concerns in a members-only community forum.

FabFitFun is an early hit from the subscription box era that has become popular among millennial women. Since 2013, the company has sent out quarterly boxes of curated seasonal products, like handbags, candles, skincare or wine glasses. It doubled from 1 million users in 2018 to at least 2 million in 2022, according to a recent Forbes article. Part of the brand’s appeal has been its online loyalty. Its official Facebook community boasts more than 1 million followers, and numerous other non-official groups boast thousands of members. The subscriber community often shares screenshots of their selection picks, chatting about product in the brand’s hosted community forum or selling duplicates goods in buy-sell-trade groups on Facebook.

But on social media, purported users now say they are leaving after the company ran a now-deleted X ad earlier this week that read:

“Happy Holidays! FabFitFun is pledging an additional $100K of X advertising in support of its free speech ideals. And to all of you looking for a perfect gift this holiday, we’re giving a free $300+ gift with your first box for new annual X users.”

The ad then instructed people to “Use code: GoFuckYourself.”

It was paired with an image that said “Saving money just feels better on X.”

A request for comment sent to the FabFitFun press team from Modern Retail was not immediately returned.

A screenshot of the X ad

The promo code references a mic-drop moment from Musk at the recent Dealbook conference. Advertisers like Disney and IBM have pulled advertising from X since Musk supported a post saying that Jewish people “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” Musk, in a reply to this post, wrote that it was “the actual truth.” The New York Times estimates X could lose up to $75 million as a result of the boycott.

But when asked during an on-stage interview last week about the advertiser exodus, Musk told companies to “go fuck yourself” if they didn’t want to post on the platform anymore.

Following this, FabFitFun started running the ad that riffed on Musk’s comment by the following Monday, according to timestamps on screen shots. And by Tuesday, outraged FabFitFun users took notice of the ad and started sharing screenshots around Reddit, where fans have created a subreddit with over 17,000 users. In the comments of these posts, alleged current FabFitFun users shared recaps of conversations they were having with customer service reps to cancel their orders, along with screenshots of text messages. On Instagram, some users referenced the ad in comments of an unrelated post from FabFitFun.

FabFitFun was co-founded by brothers Michael and Daniel Broukhim, alongside Katie Echevarria Rosen Kitchens. The company first launched as a lifestyle website in 2010, and rolled out its product boxes in 2013. Early investors include NEA and Upfront Ventures, with later support from Kleiner Perkins in its $80 million series A in 2019. The following year, it was rumored to be mulling an IPO, and it’s currently listed on the Crunchbase “Unicorn Board” as a brand valued at at least $1 billion.

After the X ad incident, founders Broukhim and Kitchens spent Wednesday morning active in the brand’s community forum, which can be accessed by paying subscribers, where they confirmed the ad been taken down. They responded to users directly, calling the ad “dumb” and a “mistake.”

“The ad we created was ham-handed and the profanity it introduced, particularly without the relevant context, is both out of place and out of character for our brand. For all that, we apologize,” Michael Broukhim said.

Users responded by pointing to past posts from Michael Broukhim’s social media accounts in which he recently indicated support for Musk and his visit to Israel. “Imagine being more worried about profanity than vocal and financial support for a dangerous neofascist,” one Reddit user said.

Mark Nicastre, founder of PR and crisis communications firm Fitler Square Strategies, said that the ad was “an unforced error on a  platform that really doesn’t natter to them.” With an audience of millennial women, advertising on X — or even referencing Musk’s controversies — doesn’t make much sense, he said. 

But when brands find themselves backtracking from a public statement, it’s important that they share their values and process, Nicastre said. 

“There needs to be larger questions and a recognition for the organization,” he said. “What does this mean for the founders, for leadership, and how do they bring customers back?” 

Lia Haberman, a social media marketing expert and professor at UCLA Extension, said the ad could go on to become “a case study” in how not to use social.

“It’s wild and it’s over the top,” she said. “It’s such a lapse in judgement.”

Part of what was so shocking about the ad was that it was clear there was intention behind it, Haberman said. Campaigns on platforms like X requires copy, images, a budget and someone to put all of that in the ads manager tool to get it running.

“I don’t think this was something they just stumbled into it,” she said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the brand hadn’t posted anything on its owned social channels about the ad. On X, FabFitFun’s brand account has started replying to people who have threatened to not renew their subscriptions. Yet as the backlash grew, the brand started playing defense on its community forum. The community lead posted an apology dated Tuesday: “We’ve circled up with teams internally and believe the execution of this campaign was in poor judgment. The advertisement in question has been taken down, and we apologize for any offense it created. Please know that we’re listening and very grateful for our community and all of your feedback.” The lead also said she was removing posts that were “unnecessary to the conversation” or “rude.”

The bulk of the communication has continued on the brand’s community forum for paying subscribers. In one response, Michael Broukhim said, “We do not intend to politicize FabFitFun — that’s always been our intention, to make this an inclusive community that transcends a lot of society’s divisions. This ad was a miss on that mark.”

He also acknowledged the ad was “dumb (and divisive).”

In another post, Kitchens explained that the brand hadn’t advertised on X “for a very long time,” but wanted to test out performance with a proposed $100,000 budget — which gave rise to the copy around spending money on X.

“Unfortunately because of the ill-advised stunt in place, this test was then lumped into the ad creative and I agree that it made it worse,” she said.

As to how the idea for that ad originated, Kitchen said that the team who drafted it “thought that it could be so outrageous that it could go viral.”