We’ve written a lot about what you should do to establish stellar marketing. However, you may be relieved to find out that it’s also not very easy to fail remarkably badly with your marketing. I’m talking about the kind of failures, which make even your not yet born grandchildren embarrassed. The kind of failures after which everyone refers to you only as “that big fuckup guy”.
Most of the time your bad marketing would go simply unnoticed - what a relief! However, it’s always curious to get to know about other people’s enormous failures, learn from it and take comfort in the fact that you were not involved in that. Hence we hope that you enjoy this selection of these huge marketing fuckups just as much as we did!
1. Adidas: Boston Marathon Email
A good marketer needs to always stay in the loop about the current events. When your marketing is timely and aware of the environment, your customers feel more connected to you. If you're not, it can backfire and might create a huge public backlash. This was the case for Adidas. After the Boston Marathon, the company sent an email to its customers which started with the headline “Congrats! You’ve survived the Boston Marathon!”. This kind of headline would be harmless in most cases. However, in this case the public was immediately outraged with this email because of its association with bombings on Boston Marathon of 2013. These bombings killed 3 and injured 250 people. This is a perfect example of why it's extremely important for marketers to always make their research. It’s very easy to cause a large damage not only with poor marketing, but also saying otherwise harmless things at the very wrong time.
2. Burger King: Smartphone Campaign
This campaign’s premise was smart, what ruined it was, well, the people. Burger King has set up a campaign in its restaurant, during which the visitors were directed to the wikipedia page which described the ingredients of its burgers. This worked well until that Wikipedia page was edited - to a rather disturbing variation. For one thing, it added cyanide to a list of its ingredients. Not something you’d be too thrilled to see as an ingredient of your hamburger, huh? The major takeaway from this failed campaign is to always think of as many ways as possible for your clients to misrepresent your message. Naturally, we all want customers to be open and welcoming to our offers. However, it might be too tempting for them to show off their sophisticated sense of humor and poke a joke on you.
3. Walkers: Selfie Competition
This UK snack company created a rather usual contest - it offered its participants a chance to win a ticket to a major sports event. For that, they needed to post selfies with a product. Then they would automatically share these entries across their channels. However, the company let one small thing slip during this campaign: they didn’t moderate submitted content. Therefore, people started submitting pictures of dictators, serial killers and criminals. Predictably, this resulted in a lot of negative publicity, forcing the company to withdraw the campaign and issue an apology. There is a valuable lesson here. Expect the best from your customers, however always be prepared for the worst! And never forget to moderate the content you share!
4. Pepsi: Lost in Translation
Some time ago, Pepsi’s slogan was: “Pepsi brings you back to life”. With this line, the company was expanding to international markets. However, in China it caused mass confusion. What their slogan conveyed there was best described as “Pepsi brings your ancestors from the grave” - a rather different unique value proposition. While it is a funny mishap, replacing these types of errors is extremely costly and time consuming. They also may make people remember you not for your offering, but instead for the error you’ve made.Therefore, when expanding internationally, never forget to double check what your marketing materials actually mean in the target language! Modern technologies are wonderful and simplify our life greatly. However, it doesn’t mean we should simply google translate everything - especially if you are a large multinational!
5. McDonalds: 1984 Campaign for the Olympics
Before the start of the Olympic Games of 1884, McDonald's ran a large promotional campaign for the occasion. The message was simple - as the American team wins a medal, every American wins something from McDonalds. A cola for bronze, fries for silver and finally BigMac for gold. Customers got scratch cards with an Olympic event printed on them to keep track. In 1976, American team got 34 gold medals in total, so that was the number the company based their calculation on. However, that year USSR and other socialist countries decided to boycott the games, returning the favour of 1980. This helped the US team to win a whooping 83 gold medals. Great news for the country - however, a big buck expense for McDonalds. What can you learn from this story? If you offer freebies to your consumers, always make sure that it won’t deplete your budget! Also, if you decide to use current events as a part of your promotion, try to consider even the least possible outcomes - the world is much more surprising than you think!
As funny or cringe-worthy these marketing fails are, they teach us valuable marketing lessons. There are many factors which can make a great in theory marketing campaign into a publicity disaster. Sometimes it can boil down to plain bad luck, however, a lot of the times disasters can be averted. We live in the world where diversity and cultural sensitivity have become the core values. Furthermore, information spreads as fast as ever. Therefore if you make a mistake now, people will know about it immediately. However, if you have a marketing team diverse enough to spot as many issues as possible, you will be likely to be fine most of the time! When you think about your marketing, always remember - good marketers know what to do, however excellent ones know what not to do!