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In Marketing by Olivia

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10 worst marketing fails of all time


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Creating a successful marketing campaign can be one of the most challenging aspects of running a business.

Campaigns that click with consumers require a sound knowledge of your audience, bucketloads of creativity and exceptionally emotive content that clearly conveys your brand message.

It’s therefore no wonder that some brands misfire and make monumental marketing errors that alienate their audiences, ruin their reputations and torpedo their turnovers. So let’s take a look at 10 marketing campaigns that went wildly wrong – you can capitalise on these clangers by noting what not to do.

1. Hoover – Airline tickets (1992)

In an attempt to boost sales, the British division of The Hoover company offered free airline tickets to people who spent more than £100 on their vacuums and washing machines. The campaign did indeed have the intended effect of increasing sales, but most people were buying the products purely for the plane tickets, which cost a lot more than the required minimum spend of £100. This calamity cost the company £50 million, resulted in numerous court cases and caused the dismissal of a number of company executives.

2. Proactiv – Acne campaign

Playing on people’s insecurities is a strategy commonly employed by skin care companies, but Proactiv took it one step too far in an advertisement aimed at people with acne. They used the slogan ‘Got acne? Just ask your boyfriend what to do. Oh, that’s right, you don’t have a boyfriend’, which had the effect of simultaneously capturing the attention of their target audience and insulting them. The advert was super controversial – in fact a Change.org petition was set up in protest.

3. Silo – Silo goes Bananas

Electronics company Silo paid the price for unclear advertising when it created an ad which stated that it was offering a stereo system for ‘299 bananas’. Some customers took this literally and turned up to the Silo stores armed with bulging bunches of the fruit. The company decided to honour its ad and lost $10,465 in these bonkers banana transactions.

4. New York City Police Department - #myNYPD

US police forces have gained a bad reputation over the years, with countless acts of police brutality going viral on social media. In an attempt to change this perception, the NYPD launched a Twitter campaign in which it asked people to post pictures of themselves with members of the police with the hashtag #myNYPD. The naive cops expected to receive positive photos but, rather predictably, ended up with snaps of officers behaving badly by the bucketload.

5. LifeLock – Social security

Sometimes marketing means taking risks and identity theft protection company LifeLock took an almighty gamble with an advertisement featuring CEO Todd Davis that displayed his real actual social security number. The aim of the ad was to demonstrate how robustly LifeLock products protect personal information. However, these bold claims fell flat when Todd fell victim to numerous identity thefts and the company was fined $12 million for false advertising.

6. Dove – Before and after

This 2011 advert by Dove could have been a major step forward for media diversity. The social media gif featured three women of different ethnicities, with each one removing a shirt to reveal the next – seems pretty harmless right? The problem was that the ad inadvertently conflated the process of cleansing with a black woman turning into a white woman, which understandably caused huge controversy.

7. Nivea – Re-civilize yourself

In an ad designed to promote male grooming products, Nivea showed a black man ripping off his ungroomed head (with Afro hair and a dishevelled beard) and preparing to throw it across a car park. This wasn’t so bad on its own – but the slogan ‘Re-civilize Yourself’ really did the damage by promoting the dated and racist idea of black people as uncivilised. This was compounded by the fact that this particular ad was the only one in the series to feature this particular slogan.

8. The Economist – Women aren’t people

This campaign by The Economist magazine was designed to help increase its female readership. However, like other examples in this list, they got tripped up by this ambiguous copy – ‘Why should women read The Economist? They shouldn’t. Accomplished, influential people should read us. People like you.’ The intention was positive but the poor wording inferred that that women weren’t even people and certainly shouldn’t be reading the publication.

9. Levi’s – Curve ID

The Curve ID campaign by Levi’s was intended to appeal to women of all shapes and sizes by showing the different types of bottom curves that their jeans can cater for. However, critics pointed out that if you were to cover the heads of the three women in the ad, it was impossible to tell them apart – they were all of a similar shape. The company tried to hit back at the haters by replacing the ad, but unfortunately it had the same failings.

10. Dominos – Too many tattoos

Tattoos inspire marmite-like polarity of opinion. And it was this division that Domino’s (Russia) was banking on when it offered a near to unlimited supply of pizza to people who got a tattoo of their logo. However, when you add pizza to the equation, it turns out everybody loves tattoos. Consequently, their social media was inundated with so many Domino’s tatt snaps that they hastily changed the criteria for valid tattoo sizes, then ended it prematurely.

Marketing is a tricky game, where the best of intentions can lead to the worst of outcomes.

But if you know your audience well and avoid groupthink by testing campaigns on people outside your own bubble before unleashing them on the public, you’ll avoid pitfalls, please punters and protect your hard-won brand reputation.

Need careful yet creative marketing? Call us on 01484 213 102

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