Successful marketing campaigns take a creative mind, and an exceptional knowledge of the brand. However, not all creative efforts become a success and can sometimes turn into cringe worthy marketing fails. Marketing failures can happen to anybody. The most well-known and respected brands aren’t exempt from failing to deliver the desired message.
In this article, we will reveal the seven biggest marketing fails of all time. We’ll also discuss the reasons they failed and some key lessons we can take away from each one. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
The 7 Most Significant Marketing Fails and Key Lessons
1. Burger King’s Women’s Day Tweets
In March 2021, on Women’s Day, the UK division of Burger King posted a tweet that sent the marketing world into a spiral of outrage. They posted a succession of three tweets, the first of which said “Women belong in the kitchen”. This tweet was followed by a second one that claimed “If they want to, of course”. It also made mention of the gender differences in the restaurant industry.
This fiasco ended with a third post that presented their culinary arts scholarship for women. While the first tweet was intended to attract the attention of their followers, it came across as overly sexist, especially considering it was Women’s Day. So, instead of its intended result, the campaign only ended with the angry backlash of their readers. Some of which even pointed out the damage such a tweet would cause to the fight for women’s rights.
Soon after the uproar had gone viral, Burger King deleted the tweets and apologized for their lack of sensitivity.
What We Learned
From what has been one of Burger King’s most cringe worthy marketing failures, here is one of the most important lessons we have learned. The different social media platforms should not be approached in the same manner. This is because what may work well on one platform can crash and burn on another.
It is important to choose the wording of social media posts very carefully, and never post something that may seem controversial as a way to catch your readers’ attention. As in this case, they could misinterpret your intention, which could lead to angry backlash and the loss of followers.
2. Audi’s Infamous Wedding Commercial
Another one of history’s most infamous marketing fails, was an Audi commercial (believe it or not). In the commercial, a bride’s soon to be mother-in-law interrupts the wedding as the bride and groom were about to take their vows. As soon as she reaches the couple, she starts inspecting the bride’s teeth, ears, and nose, in the same manner one would inspect livestock. As the woman nods approvingly, the scene turns to a red Audi and a male voice saying that an important decision must be made carefully.
While Audi’s intention was to introduce viewers to the inspection process of their secondhand cars, it came across as an objectification of women, comparing their value to that of a used car. This sent social media platforms reeling with disgust, especially when it became known that the ad was directed to Audi’s Chinese market. This resulted in an apology from Audi, and the removal of the ad from the airwaves.
What We Learned
The most important lesson to be learned from one of Audi’s rare marketing failures, is that not all viewers will understand the message you are trying to convey. This is why you should always have different groups of people view your ad before releasing it into the wild.
Doing this will ensure your presentation is always appropriate and won’t be misunderstood. It is also important, as with the first of the marketing fails of this list, to avoid controversial subjects or topics that are too sensitive. This can help to avoid future marketing failures that could affect your brand.
3. American Airlines’ Multimillion Dollar AAirpass Loss
During the 1980s, American Airlines was dealing with financial difficulties and was looking for a way to raise money relatively quickly. This led to the creation of the AAirpass, which was an unlimited first class flight membership that sold for a $250,000 flat rate.
While the idea seemed good on paper, the sheer volume of flights taken by AAirpass holders led the company to lose millions of dollars almost right away. When the company tried to cancel these memberships, they were sued by outraged customers, going down in history as one of the most costly marketing failures ever.
What We Learned
Offering incentives that have a high value to your customers should always include a set of conditions. These conditions should prevent you from suffering losses due to the abuse of those who have received them.
It’s also important to perform adequate testing and research before you launch a new incentive or campaign. Many people refer to this as a “pilot” or “trial” program. Testing the incentive on a smaller number of consumers will help you make more informed decisions when the larger campaign launches.
4. Pepsi’s Social Activism Faux Pas with Kendall Jenner
In 2017, Pepsi released a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner who joins a protest and hands a can of Pepsi to one of the police officers blocking the protesters. Because of the political innuendo, it was considered as a trivialization of the Black Lives Matter movement, by turning the protest into a party.
Source: New York Times
Marketing fails like this hit hard, and this specific one led Martin Luther King’s daughter to say “If only Daddy had known about the power of Pepsi”. The uproar resulted in Pepsi pulling the ad and issuing an apology for missing the mark.
What We Learned
You shouldn’t use controversial topics to promote your products or services. It can result in the polarization of your audience, the loss of customers, and the loss of money. Yes, It’s important to keep your messaging creative. However, It’s even more important to maintain a positive brand reputation as you launch your marketing campaign.
5. Dove’s Body Wash Commercial
Marketing failures don’t only result from sensitive topics, but also because some messages perceived as racist. Such is the case of Dove’s body wash commercial, in which women of different skin colors took off shirts to reveal the next woman in the line. The way it was perceived was that by using the body wash, a black woman could turn into a white woman. This resulted in a massive boycott of all of Dove’s products.
What We Learned
Celebrate diversity, but to get it right, test your ad with different groups before you release it. Consider the various audiences that will see the commercial, and think about how they might feel when viewing. Stay considerate of any groups that may find the messaging you publish as offensive.
6. 1985 Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” Flavor
This marketing campaign has gone down in history of marketing fails as one that not only backfired on the company, but also forced them to retire an entire flavor. The ad suggested that over 50 percent of customers preferred New Coke over the original flavor.
When the product hit the market, consumers hated the taste. They flooded Coca-Cola with calls and letters demanding the return of the original flavor. This led to what is now known as “Coca-Cola Classic.”
What We Learned
The lesson here is simple: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. You may find that your new and improved product will not elicit the same response from your customers as you thought it would.
7. “The Dad Test” by Huggies
Huggies launched “The Dad Test” campaign showing how the exasperated “Dad” could succeed with the diapers. It portrayed inexperienced fathers who didn’t have the experience of parenting using the diapers and the diapers still getting the job done. Unfortunately, the messaging poked at the fact that Dads weren’t as experienced and needed help.
Many people (mainly dads) were upset with the messaging and signed petitions on change.org to protest the ads. Huggies listened and apologized to any viewers who took offense to the ad. Instead of completely removing the content, Huggies shifted the messaging of “The Dad Test” to show strong, confident Dads that would appreciate the quality of the product.
What We Learned
If you are planning to use a fun marketing campaign, avoid stereotyping groups of people. This could hurt your customers’ feelings and turn them off to your products. If possible, shift your messaging to promote and encourage different groups of people. This can put a more positive spin on your advertising – helping to improve your overall reputation.
Further Lessons to Learn from Marketing Fails
Lesson #1: It’s Hard to Anticipate Trends, But Important to Prepare
Of course you can never anticipate every trend that’s going to happen. Things catch us by surprise all the time in ways that we could never expect. Even though you can’t anticipate trends, you can take lessons from past successes.
It’s important for companies to rely on past successes. If it’s worked well for you in the past, there’s a good chance that it will work well again in the future.
Lesson #2: Don’t Waste Time with Failed Campaigns
In this it’s important to learn the art of the scramble in marketing. Several times throughout any career, people will realize they’ve missed the boat in one way or another. Immediately jumping and trying to solve the problem with just a band-aid solution doesn’t actually solve the problem.
Customers, clients, and the general public see through that more often than not. And at the end of the day, the company is still having to solve the bigger problem. Think through solutions. Put yourselves in the shoes of your customers and think about what they really want from your business.
Well thought-out solutions – even if they take a little longer to execute – will prove much better for all parties. Customers get what they want, and companies are able to provide the solutions their customers are looking for. And even if your company is a little slow in coming up with the right solutions, own up to it. Those honesty points often win more faith with customers than anything else
Lesson #3: Own Your Space and Do the Best at What You Can
For every business out there, they must have a reason for doing what they do. And generally, it’s because of a passion for what they do, trying to do it better than anyone else. Despite the challenges and mistakes that will inevitably come with any business, it’s possible to come out on top.
For local businesses, own your brand, engage with customers through social media and other marketing platforms. Work hard to be the best at what you do, and the customers will follow. Very rarely is a mistake so drastic that it can’t be overcome.
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