An idea can sound great in the conference room, but when you get it out there… not so much. Sometimes what you thought was a great idea can go terribly wrong in so many ways.
Whether it’s how it’s executed or how it’s perceived, the end result can be a complicated mess that can hurt your brand.
Today, marketers are exploring new channels and new media. Competition is intense and as you chase after that viral video or trending tweet, marketing fails happen. In fact, even the biggest, most recognizable brands make them. And these blunders can be incredibly costly.
Why Do Marketing Campaigns Fail?
The most straight forward answer is marketers forget who they’re advertising to.
A lot of blunders can be accounted by the fact that marketers sometimes take their eye off the prize and focus on being “creative” or “unique” rather than reaching their target audience.
Creating campaigns that stand out is an important part of the process, but an effort to be ostentatious should never come with the compromise of alienating your buyers.
Some organizations simply don’t have realistic goals for their campaigns or they just got the timing wrong. Admittedly, a campaign can flop by sheer bad luck. But there are still certain precautions you can take to minimize the risk.
Marketing campaigns are meant to communicate the value your business can provide. What needs can you meet? How do you do it different from others? Share a bit of personality and set the tone of your brand.
If your campaigns are lacking the purpose of uplifting your brand and drawing in customers, then it’s pretty much set to fail.
10 Worst Marketing Fails of All Time
In an age of consumerism and digital media, all eyes are locked onto a brand’s every move. That’s great for product launches and brand awareness, but it can easily backfire on a company if they miss the mark. Here are some examples of marketing fails that made us wince:
1. Pepsi: Kendall Jenner TV Spot
We’d have loved to have been in on this creative meeting. The end result of which was arguably one of the most spectacular marketing fails of the year.
Pepsi wanted to equate their product as a culturally unifying force. OK, not a bad goal for your campaign. But what happened next must have been fun to see…
“Hey, let’s get reality show star Kendall Jenner, and we can have her settle a Black Lives Matter standoff between protestors and police by offering a police officer a can of Pepsi…”
The result? Outrage.
The spot was ridiculed on social media, parodied on SNL, and quickly pulled. Advertising agencies used it to eviscerate Pepsi’s in-house ad group by saying the fiasco never would have happened if only they’d used an agency.
Six months later PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman stepped down, telling Ad Age the spot was “the most gut-wrenching experience of my career.”
2. Dove: Body Positive Packaging
Dove had a win with the positive body image “Real Beauty” campaign featuring real women in a positive light. It was an empowering campaign.
In fact, the campaign has been running for 15 years and is widely noted as one of the most successful marketing campaigns. The company is striving to help reinforce a positive body image for women.
Then, Dove got their hands dirty. In England, they released limited edition packaging designed to present diverse representations of female bodies. Their packaging compared women’s figures to abstract, shapeless soap bottles.
Simply put, the packaging sent the wrong message.
The release became a punchline and a source of genuine concern on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. They only released seven different shapes to choose from, forcing women to choose the bottle that matched their shape.
Instead of reinforcing a strong body image, it ended up increasing self-consciousness.
3. McDonald’s: UK TV Spot
Seems like advertisers in the UK took a lot of heat for a bunch of really bad marketing ideas in 2017! This time it was McDonald’s.
It’s hard to offend anyone with fast food, but McDonald’s pulled it off with spectacularly bad taste.
The spot shows a young boy talking with his mother about his dead father. Well, it turns out that one of the things they both shared was a love for filet-o-fish sandwiches.
McDonald’s took a lot of heat from haters on social media who accused them of “exploiting grief to sell sandwiches.”
4. Ford: Print Misfire
In the year where the misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo dominated the news, Ford ran the worst possible visual for their ad campaign. It featured three women who were bound, gagged, and stuffed in the trunk of their new Ford hatchback.
The ad was pulled, and Ford had to issue a public apology because many people rightly found the ad offensive and felt that it encouraged violence against women.
5. Sony: “Racist” Print Ad
This Sony ad ran in 2006. It was promoting Sony’s white Playstation Portable device.
Sony decided to promote the new product in a… well, questionable way. On the giant ad, a pale woman with white hair is seen grabbing a black woman by the face.The white figure looks upset and determined while the black figure looks very submissive.
The text reads “Playstation Portable. White is Coming.”
There are tons of better ways to promote the launch of your new product. Sony was quoted as saying, “The images that were used in the campaign were intended solely to highlight the contrast between the different colors available for the PSP.”
6. Burger King: Smartphone Campaign
In what was initially a great marketing idea, Burger King created a campaign to run on smart devices that activated the device to read a list of burger ingredients posted on Wikipedia, the crowdsourced online encyclopedia.
This was a great idea before hackers altered the Wikipedia post to include ingredients like cyanide.
As a result of the hack, the campaign was pulled, and a potentially innovative marketing channel was temporarily sidelined. This is particularly unfortunate because the concept of this campaign was pretty smart.
7. Audi: Chinese Wedding Commercial
It’s always important to check out a car before you purchase it. Audi turned this idea on its head.
In the commercial, the groom’s mother walks up to the altar and starts checking out her soon-to-be-daughter-in-law. She pinches her lip, pulls on her ears, and looks at her teeth and tongue, before giving a nod of approval to her son.
Then, the tagline reads, “An important decision must be made carefully.”
Unfortunately, this commercial misses the mark by objectifying women and reducing their value to that of a vehicle. It was far more offensive than it was humorous.
8. Adidas: Boston Marathon Email
Customers who participated in the Boston Marathon in 2017 received a very poorly worded email from the major shoe and sports attire company.
The subject line simply read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”
In the context of any other fitness event, this might seem harmless. In fact, many people use this kind of phrasing when they refer to completing an event. For example, some might say they survived their first Crossfit class.
But this message was sent on the heels of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and injured more than 250 people. Needless to say, many people were offended.
They immediately issued an apology, but the damage was already done.
9. Airbnb: Floating World Email
This is another marketing fail that was caused by bad timing. Airbnb launched their ‘floating world’ marketing campaign, which included an image of a water-themed house sitting on the surface of water.
The copy included, “Stay above water,” and “live the life aquatic with these floating BTCC合约交易所homes.”
Well this campaign launched on August 28, 2017, when Hurricane Harvey was engulfing Houston.
10. Ink Coffee: Gentrification Sign
What started out as a simple joke on a sign outside of a Denver coffee shop lead to a national uproar. The owner of the cafe put out a sign that read, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.”
The issue is that gentrification also leads to displacement of residents, typically lower income minorities. Ink Coffee was met with big crowds of protestors and even vandalism.
10 Social Media Marketing Fails
It’s a pretty big deal when marketing misses the mark on television or in print, but it can be just as harmful when it’s on as small a screen as a smartphone. Here are some of the worst cases of social media flubs made by popular brands.
1. Dove: “Racist” Facebook Ad
Unilever had a bad year in 2017. Another Dove ad posted on Facebook was a four panel image showing a young African American woman removing her shirt over three panels.
The fourth panel shows a young white woman. Oops!