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10 Failed Marketing Campaigns

“Master the topic, the message, and the delivery.” — Steve Jobs, Co-Founder, Apple

When marketing campaigns go well they can be great for brands or companies. But, when they go wrong, it could ruin a brand's reputation.

Marketing and advertising campaigns are used by brands or companies to help promote or sell their products/services. This is typically done through a strategic and organised plan to help increase their sales.

However, things don’t always go to plan.

Here is a list of some marketing campaigns that didn’t quite reach the finish line.

1. Kendall Jenner & Pepsi - 2017

Kendall Jenner solves racism

In 2017, Pepsi released a commercial with Kendall Jenner to promote their product. However, it failed in a way that no one at Pepsi expected..

The video Ad showed Kendall spotting a protest in the middle of a photoshoot and going over, handing a police officer a can of Pepsi, seemingly stopping the protest.

Bad call.

Both Pepsi and Kendall got some major backlash for this Ad. Pepsi was seen as appropriating a racial movement (Black Lives Matter) to sell their products and Kendall Jenner also got criticised for going along with the campaign, not realising the issue it would cause. They both were seen as belittling the seriousness of why people protest and the real issues at hand.

"Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize," Pepsi wrote in a statement. "We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

2. Reebok - Cheat on your girlfriend not on your workout - 2012

Rebok's failed misogynistic ad campaign

Reebok showed poor taste in this advertising campaign in Germany.

A poster advertising Reebok at a gym affiliated with the brand in Germany, was intended to motivate its customers, with the slogan: 'Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout.' However, it was met with consumer backlash, this made the sportswear firm pull the ad and saw them acknowledge that it was 'offensive'.

Reebok released a statement saying, “We regret that some offensive Reebok materials were recently printed. The signs were removed as soon as we were made aware of them. I can assure you that Reebok does not condone this message or cheating in any way. We apologize for the offensive nature of these materials, and are disappointed that they appeared at all."

3. Sony - PSP White Is Coming - 2006

Sony's borderline racist PSP advert

This Sony advert left consumers wondering if there was a racial bias underto

In an advert for their new white PSP, Sony released a poster showing a white woman grasping the face of a black model, with the words, "PlayStation Portable White is coming". The ad split the comments section, with half of their consumers condemning Sony and the other half saying it was a harmless advert for a white PSP.

A Sony spokesperson came out with a statement justifying the ad saying, "All of the 100 or so images created for the campaign have been designed to show [the] contrast in colours of the PSPs, and have no other message or purpose."

4. Gillette - “The best men can be” campaign - 2019

The razor brand released a new campaign, replacing their original tagline, "The best a man can get", with "The best men can be”.

The new campaign advert was watched 2 million times on YouTube in the first 48 hours and sparked major debate.

Whilst some praised the company for their new forward thinking, others have referred to the company as now being “dead”.

In the ad it shows images of bullying, sexual harassment, sexist behaviour and aggressive male behaviour. It then displays these acts being stopped and prevented, for example, a friend stopping his other friend harassing a woman in the street. Many of the comments on the video are negative, with viewers and consumers saying they will never buy Gillette products again and that the company had fallen into "feminist propaganda".

Some have called for Gillette to make a formal apology, however, the brand is sticking to their beliefs. Gillette's President, Gary Coombe, said, “By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behaviour, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”

5. Innocent - Conker Milk - 2019

Conker Milk's failed ad

The drinks brand known for its playful marketing, decided to support its new range of nut milks with the announcement of a new seasonal addition, “Conker Milk” via its social media channels. However, the brand had to quickly release a thread of tweets to clarify that you should not eat or drink conkers.

“We didn’t think anyone would believe Conker Milk was real,” said the brand. “We reckon the best thing we can do is hold our hands up, admit we messed up, and say DO NOT EAT CONKERS. Over and over again. In big capital letters.”

They also released a video on their social media called, “A public service announcement about not eating conkers.”

A lot of social media users and consumers were still left confused, meaning Innocent replied to a lot of tweets telling people to not eat conkers.

The moral of this bad marketing campaign: don’t eat conkers.

6. Pure Gym - 12 years of slave workout - 2020

Pure Gym's racially insensitive advert

PureGym personal trainer Matt Simpson has come under fire for his latest workout.

The Assistant General Manager of PureGym Luton posted a '12 Years of Slave' routine to celebrate Black History month. In his Facebook post, he compared the workout to slavery, writing: 'Slavery is hard and so is this'.

The post was instantly met with intense backlash and was quickly deleted from PureGym's Facebook account, but not before it was seen by the public.

PureGym released an apology and said it was 'wholly unacceptable'.

7. Co-Op - Be a Good Egg - 2017

Co-Op's sexist advert

Co-op released a print ad in newspapers that invited people to reward their daughters with a chocolate Easter egg, for ‘doing the washing up.’

Unsurprisingly, they got backlash for it. They were called out for ‘outrageous sexism’ and quickly changed their advert. The supermarket chain quickly released an apology but the damage had already been done.

8. Paddy Power - ‘Immigrants, jump in the back (but only if you’re good at sport).’- 2015

PaddyPower's derogatory advert regarding immigrants

Paddy power missed the mark with this ad.

Not only was it released in the middle of an immigrant crisis in the UK, but it was also used on lorries which are often linked to the transportation of immigrants. Paddy Power released their ad which features pictures of British athletes born overseas with the slogan ‘Immigrants, jump in the back (but only if you’re good at sport).’

They were seen to be making light of the immigrant crisis in Calais and causing offence “merely to attract attention”.

A Paddy Power spokesman said: “We did not design the ad to cause offence or to be insulting to immigrants, rather we were simply referencing a long-running joke regarding Andy Murray’s nationality and it was just that – a joke. We regret any offence that was taken by the complainants.”

9. – ‘Inseparable’ - 2019

The genealogy website, released an ad that showed a white man and a black woman in a romantic relationship

This was seemingly harmless, however, it was set in the American South during the era of slavery. The message of the ad was not clear, and people didn’t like the fact that the company was seen as trying to romanticise slavery

10. Giant Foods - Thanksgiving Ad - 2020

Giant Foods' badly timed pandemic advert

During the pandemic Giant Foods released an ad for thanksgiving. However, the wording of the ad and the time it was released did not go down well. The ad said “Hosting? Why not plan a super spread.”

This was released at the time when big gatherings were advised against and the wording “super spread” reminds you of superspreading the virus. In addition, many lost their jobs during the pandemic, therefore could not afford to put on a thanksgiving let alone a “super spread”.

The company acknowledged their mistake and released this statement. "We apologize for our advertisement in Savory which used the language Super Spread to describe an abundance of food. While, in hindsight, the choice of words was a poor one, Giant had no intentions of insensitivity. We continue to encourage people to practice safe social distancing practices for celebrating the holidays in line with CDC recommendations. 2020 has been exceptionally challenging for so many reasons and this year the holidays will be celebrated very differently, but we hope that food can still be a source of joy and comfort and that the ad reflects that spirit."

What we learnt....

What we can learn from all of these marketing fails, is that when planning campaigns, they need to be thoroughly thought about. In your campaigns you need to be clear about what your intended message is and that it is coming across clearly.

Going viral or becoming a meme is great publicity for any business or brand, however, you want to be going viral for the right reasons.

The best way for your marketing campaign to be a success is with detailed planning and great ideas. At Dashing Duck we can help with all of these! If you want to avoid becoming a marketing failure, speak with us today.

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