Some marketing ideas might have seemed amazingly brilliant when they were conceived in the conference room. But when they got translated into reality – the results were disastrous! In these situations, the brand’s storytelling doesn’t just fail; it blows up in the face and leaves its scars forever.
There’s something so bizarrely fascinating in witnessing marketing fails by other brands. And we’re here to give you just that odd satisfaction. Brace yourself for a LOT of cringe.
In this article, we break down 10 Epic Marketing Fails that’ll be hard to wipe off your memory:
Marketing Fail #1: Bloomingdale’s Promotes Date Rape
In 2015, Bloomingdale’s released a Christmas ad that had a deeply problematic, creepy caption.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the underlying message of the image. In the wake of a college rape epidemic in the country – this ad was blamed for being extremely insensitive. Many people failed to understand why the ad was even approved by Bloomingdale’s. Maybe it was an attempt to be goofy or quirky – but it backfired severely.
The Takeaway: Don’t support date rape (?!)
Marketing Fail #2: H&M Racist Fail
At the beginning of 2018, an H&M advertisement emerged that featured a black child as a model. Great for diversity, one might think. But H&M made a ridiculous decision when they got the black child to wear a shirt saying “Coolest monkey in the jungle”.
H&M took several actions to calm the situation down. They issued a public apology on their website, and claimed to have hired a ‘diversity leader’ to oversee their campaigns. The damage, however, was done.
The Takeaway? If you’re using diversity to sell – make sure it’s not tone-deaf and racially insensitive!
Marketing Fail #3: Facebook Exploits Puerto Rico Disaster
Facebook has been embroiled in a whole bunch of controversies over the past few years. So it wasn’t a good reflection on their image when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a virtual visit to Puerto Rico while it was still recovering from Hurricane Maria. There was something odd about the idea itself – but it was made even worse when Zuckerberg chose to use cartoonish, goofy avatars of himself strolling around the ramshackled island.
Zuckerberg spent too much time raving about the VR technology, instead of communicating some empathy for the destruction around him.
Screenshots of the bizarre broadcast circulated all around the Internet – leading to ridicule and criticism of what seemed like an exploitative move. The whole incident now seems to resurface everytime Facebook makes a public apology for anything.
The Takeaway? If your brand is interacting with a tragedy, do it with some sensitivity!
Marketing Fail #4: Dolce And Gabbana Calls Customers Fat
Stefano Gabbana, co-founder of Dolce & Gabbana is already notorious for his controversial statements. But he made a whole new addition to his repertoire in 2017, when his Fall Sneakers Collection was launched.
Customers were offended by the shoe’s loud statement “I’m thin & gorgeous!” – saying it excluded people who did not have the “ideal” body. As if everything leading to this wasn’t bad enough – Gabbana fueled the anger by interacting with his followers and sending them derogatory comments. All of this reflected poorly on the company’s vision and values. And made Gabbana look like a d-bag!
The Takeaway: Don’t get into keyboard feuds with your loyal customers – even when they’re furious!
Marketing Fail #5: Pepsi’s Political Protest Ad
The most controversial ad of 2016? We can safely say it was that hilariously ridiculous Pepsi Ad with Kendall Jenner. The ad showed protest imagery and portrayed what seemed like a Black Lives Matter protest – which somehow culminates in Kendal Jenner handing the policeman a Pepsi bottle, and apparently restoring world peace with this Noble gesture.
The ad was widely criticized for its tone-deaf message, especially in the wake of recent police brutality protests. It was eventually pulled down from YouTube – and Kendall Jenner later issued a tearful apology for her part.
The Takeaway? Never use the imagery of social movements to make a foolish statement!
Marketing Fail #6: Braille Bookstore’s Website Description
We get that this is probably intended for people buying on behalf of those without sight – but is it really a good idea to use such contradictory wording in your website description?
We can safely say that the company’s web developer was fired after this meme-worthy screenshot went viral in 2018 – eventually leading the company to change the text altogether.
The Takeaway: READ your own website’s description. At least once!
Marketing Fail #7: Bootea Shake’s Instagram Fiasco
If there’s something Social Media has taught us – it’s that Influencers are the Gods of promoting brands that they have zero knowledge about. A great example of this was in 2017. Scott Disick, a reality TV personality, was so invested in promoting his beloved Bootea Shake that he……copy-pasted the brand’s instructions into his Instagram caption, including their request to post exactly at 4 PM EST! The result was the travesty of a post you see below.
The post was quickly taken down – but we all know everything on the Internet lives forever.
The Takeaway: Don’t always expect Influencers to be the best endorsement for your brand!
Marketing Fail #8: Warburtons Hijacked By Furries
The Internet has always been a hotbed for weird fetishes, kinks and fandoms. But Warburtons, a British baking company, had to find this the hard way. Warburtons is a family-friendly company with their cutesy ads about crumpets. In 2017, this company had a bizarre crossover with none other than……furries!
If you didn’t know already – Furries are an online community of people that often have a fetish for anthropomorphic cartoon animals.
What exactly happened? The company launched the hashtag #CrumpetCreations, which was inadvertently hacked by the Furry Community. This meant that anyone looking up the Warburtons hashtag would be linked to the Furry……content.
Not a good look for the wholesome little company that is Warburtons. The good thing is, this has gone down in marketing history as a bizarre marketing fail that no one saw coming!
The Takeaway: do SOME research on your hashtag before launching it into the wild!
Marketing Fail #9: Mickey Mouse Makes A Mistake
On August 9 2015 – Disney Japan shared this seemingly sweet image on Twitter. The image seems harmless until the context comes into the play. This picture of Alice saying ‘A very merry unbirthday to you!’ was shared on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombings!
The disturbing connotations of the tweet, along with the caption (which translates to Congrats on a trifling day), led to a backlash by people in Japan. The Disney account quickly removed the tweet and apologized for the ill timing of their message.
The Takeaway? Check the date before you tweet!
Marketing Fail #10: Quiznos’ Leaves The Kids Terrified
In 2004, the sandwich chain Quiznos decided to use animated, rodent-like creatures as the brand’s new mascots for the children. The creatures were called spongmonkeys and urged everyone to try Quiznos with their off-key singing, screeching and creepy dancing.
The whole campaign backfired hilariously when kids were left absolutely terrified by the spongmonkeys. Even the adults were disturbed by this creepy content – many reporting it directly to the company. The campaign failed to sell any more sandwiches, and the spongmonkeys were dropped within a few months.
The Takeaway: Don’t use horror movie tactics to attract children!
The consequences of a marketing fail can have irreversible consequences for any brand. We hope you’ll learn from these epic marketing fails from the past — and hopefully use this knowledge to avoid making similar mistakes!