9 of the Worst Marketing Mistakes of All Time

Online Marketing

In an attempt to create buzz and reach out to their target audience, marketers can sometimes go overboard.

The result?

Offensive and out of place marketing messages that alienate customers from the brand.

Here is a list of some of the most epic marketing and branding fails ever seen and some lessons to learn:

Victoria’s Secret Perfect Body

At a time where the female empowerment and body image conversation is catching on all over the world, brands marketing to women need to take notice. Unfortunately, Victoria’s Secret did not. In its recent bra campaign, the brand used the slogan “The Perfect Body.” This campaign received a very strong backlash from women who felt the campaign was misrepresenting what the real body of a woman looks like. Eventually, the brand changed its campaign tagline to the more appropriate “A Body for Every Body.”

Lesson:  Be cognizant of the contexts of your marketing campaigns. Pay attention to what is going on especially the issues that are affecting your target market, to avoid looking as if you do not understand their concerns.

Gap Logo Flop

Gap, the high-end fashion retailer changed its logo to something that its customers were unfamiliar with. The company received a huge backlash on social media with users poking fun at the new logo, which many said resembled an unprofessional WordArt insignia. The company had spent a considerable amount of money changing its well-known white on blue logo, but they had to scrap the new logo and keep the old one.

Lesson: In the world of social media, it is an added advantage to consult with your customers about significant changes such as a logo redesign.

Pepsi’s Scary Promise

When Pepsi went into the Chinese market, they failed to do their research on the meaning of their slogan. The slogan, ‘Pepsi brings you back to life’ translates to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” in Chinese. A pretty gory promise. This campaign was a complete flop for the global drinks brand, because the message turned off the Chinese consumers.

Lesson: Put in a lot of research before expanding your marketing campaign to international markets, so you can understand the cultural and linguistic nuances of your target market.

Ford’s Nasty Mistranslation

Although Ford is one of the most prestigious and much-loved car brands, it had many false starts that threatened to damage the company’s reputation. Ford launched its small, two-door car in 1971 and named it Pinto. The car was marketed as compact and superfast, as the name ‘Pinto’ was derived from the pinto horse, known for its speed. However, the car did not perform well in the Portuguese and Brazilian market where the word ‘Pinto’ refers to male genitalia of a small stature.

Lesson: Ford could apply the same lesson as Pepsi… research before expanding your marketing campaign to international markets, so you can understand the cultural and linguistic nuances of your target market.

Coca-Cola’s Rebranding Faux Pas

The white on red carligraphed Coca-Cola logo is a classic, and Coke drinkers the world over love it.  However, in 1985 Coca Cola underestimated the love people had for its classic logo and decided to change it to ‘New Coke’ in an effort to compete with Pepsi. This move caused an unprecedented reaction with customer boycotting the new drink and others selling hoarded stock of the old Coke at exorbitant price. Coca-Cola had no choice but to revert to its old, classic logo and to continue with its much-loved secret recipe, but after considerable monetary losses.

Lesson: Understand your customers’ needs before creating a new product or changing a product they are already using.

DiGiorno’s Pizza Blunder

DiGiorno is fantastic with its Twitter humor. And with pizza too. But when they piggybacked on the wrong hashtag, their Twitter marketing campaign was no longer as delicious as the pizza they were looking to promote.

DiGiorno rode on the viral hashtag, #whyIStayed, used by victims to share their reasons for staying in an abusive relationship, following the much-publicized Ray Rice domestic violence scandal .

Imprudently, DiGiorno tweeted: #whyIStayed. You had pizza.

After receiving thousands of angry comments, DiGiorno claimed that they did not know what the hashtag meant, and removed the tweet, after an hour!

Lesson: Be extra-cautious with your social marketing to avoid offending users and eroding your brand’s reputation.

Unilever’s Expletive Food Campaign

Unilever in Germany got it very wrong with its ‘Fuck the Diet’ campaign for its Du Darfst food products. The company and the ad agency behind the campaign assumed that the word ‘fuck’ would be taken with a pinch of humor and casualness in Germany as it is in the U.S. The campaign has been a talking point and Unilever in Germany is undergoing a tussle with a section of German consumers who are demanding for the expletive ads to be pulled down.

Lesson: Be prudent with the wording of your marketing and advertising messages. Just because a word works with a particular market does not mean it would work in each market.

Kurl-On Mattress’ Bad Joke

Kurl-On is an Indian mattress company whose intended funny campaign offended users, not only in East Asia but in western markets as well. The advertisement features a cartoon image of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenage activist and Nobel Prize winner, who was shot at by the Taliban for her education activism.

The ad shows the girl being shot in the head, somersaults in the air and falls on the Kurl-On mattress before bouncing back from the mattress alive, to espouse the campaign slogan – ‘Bounces back.’ Consumers have called the ad ‘shocking and insensitive’ and are demanding for it to be scrapped off air.

Lesson: Avoid newshacking that pokes fun at otherwise serious or grim events, unless you are VERY sure your audience will understand the joke.

Esurance bad insurance advice

Esurance, a well-known U.S. insurance company had to take down its new campaign slogan “Cover your home in a click,” because users complained that from a distance the words ‘click’ seemed to converge to read ‘dick,’ and consumers felt this was quite obscene.

Even worse, Esurance replied to a tweet a user had posted of a photo-shopped version of the slogan reading, ‘Cover your home in a dick’. Esurance apologized about the slogan but failed to clarify to other social media users that this slogan posted on Twitter was not the real one and that it was photo-shopped. This lack of clarification left consumers confused about the real Esurance slogan. In the end, the insurance company had to take down its billboards to adjust the typography of the controversial slogan.

Lesson: Pay attention to your typography and the way it may affect your marketing message. In addition, have a solid social media strategy for addressing issues with your brand in a prompt and professional way. 

Lessons from Marketing

Marketing is a dynamic process that requires you to keenly understand your target market in order to convey your message successfully. The popularity of social media combined with a savvier consumer, makes it imperative for marketers to be extremely careful with each aspect of a marketing campaign.

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