Making mistakes is an inevitable part of being human. Everyone falls for them. But when it comes to marketing, mistakes can be expensive, charging defamation and millions of dollars.
Implemented with the knowledge of science, psychology, sociology, and economics, marketing serves as an essential tool that predicates the success of a brand.
However huge or small, every company spends a considerable portion of its revenue on advertising which if rightly executed can do wonders for it. Conversely, these same companies are liable to make mistakes and contribute to the ever-growing list of marketing blunders.
The central aim of a marketing strategist is to make you spend your hard-earned dollars. These schemes on being launched can either work as milestones or backlashes.
Consumerism and digital media have increased the visibility of both of these occurrences, more so in the case of backfire on the company that forgets its target audience and falls prey to racist, sexist, unethical, or stereotypical societal beliefs.
To validate the argument mentioned above and showcase the hilarious blunders that some of the top-notch companies have made, we have curated a list of the top 10 marketing disasters of all time.
Heinz QR Code Catastrophe
Heinz ketchup company launched a ‘spread the word with Heinz’ campaign from 2012 to 2014 as a product promotion strategy. They released a QR code on its ketchup bottle that was supposed to redirect the customer to an online portal on scanning it through a smartphone. This website helped the customers to design their personalized label for the bottle.
The idea sounds perfect, but Heinz became negligent after initiating this campaign. They failed to renew their registration for the domain name that got reassigned to a porn website. The revelation of this disaster by Daniel Korell, a customer in Germany, was followed by enormous concern, outrage, and hilarity on social media.
Dove Needs To Change Its Definiton of Real Beauty
The ‘Real Beauty Campaign’ launched by Dove in 2005 to support body image positivity faced a massive backlash after releasing its ‘Real Beauty Bottles’. Dove ventured to promote diversity in female bodies through the limited edition packaging of varied shape bottles compared to female figures.
These bottles, designed for women to choose according to their body shape instead of receiving applause, invoked rebuke and criticism as it did not empower rather made them self-conscious. Women felt being labeled and identified by their body image.
Another blunder unleashed by Dove was the Facebook ad of 2017 with a four-panel image featuring an African woman removing her T-shirt over four panels transforming into a white woman over the fourth one. This advertisement received a well-deserved outrage on Twitter while Google search displayed it as “Dove’s racist ad”, outrightly calling out Dove as racist in its marketing schemes.
Sony Chose the Racist Path To Display Color Contrasts in Its PSP
In 2006, Netherlands Sony released an advertisement for Playstation Portable (PSP) featuring a confident and angry-looking pale white woman seizing a submissive-looking black woman by the jaw flashed with a slogan, “Playstation Portable, White is coming.”
Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) of Europe defended the advertisement by stating that it solely aimed at highlighting the contrast between the colors available for their PSPs but the blatant racism portrayed by the picture cannot be ignored. This advertisement went viral on social media with a tweet by enmet (@emmetbroaders) receiving over 20000 retweets and 29000 likes.
Coca-Cola’s ‘New Coke’ Launch Failed
23rd April 1985, famous as the day of infamy in the history of the marketing industry, recorded the release of Coca-Cola’s sweeter formula for the ‘New Coke’ to lure young customers who were inclining towards Pepsi in large numbers. The customers received this declaration with anxiety such that people gathered stacks of Coke for future usage.
Coca-Cola has always sold its product under the tag of “Real thing.” The idea that Coke which is the “original,” “the real thing,” was launching the “new real thing” sounded bizarre and led people into an outrage. This initiative was confronted with criticism, revolt, and even boycott by customers.
The ‘New Coke’ failed in earning the trust of its customers that the ‘Coke Classic’ or ‘Old Coke’ has gained over 100 years. People were not ready to trade their most loved ‘Coke Classic’ for something unproven. The result of such outrage was that Coca-Cola dropped down its new formula and reinstated its ‘Coke Classic’ in less than three months of its launch on 11th July 1985, charging Coca-Cola a lot of wealth and bad press.
LG Should First Convince Its Employees To Use Its Product
According to a Korean news journal LG has established a history of ‘failures’ in product promotion because of its lack of execution and bizarre advertising strategies. In 2014, LG took a competitive move by unveiling its desire to overtake iPhones.
They mocked iPhone 6 on its trending allegation about bending in customer’s pockets through a tweet, “our phones don’t bend, they’re naturally curved.” The message culminated in laughter and amusement for the customers as this tweet itself was shared by an iPhone, shoving LGs hypocrisy in the limelight.
LG covered this embarrassing incident through a message clarifying that the tweet was made by its digital agency and not its staff, preserving the fact that if not its employees then LG’s digital agency team does not trust using its products.
Audi’s Commercial Objectifies Women
In 2017 Audi released a commercial comparing women to used cars. The advertisement streamed in the theaters and online platforms of China. According to automobile news, Audi had created the market of luxury cars in China more than two decades ago. However, after the release of this ad, it had struggled to repulse the competition from BMW and Mercedes Benz.
Set in a pastoral surrounding this commercial presented the groom’s mother interrupting the ceremony when the bride and the groom were about to take their vows. She rushed to ‘inspect’ the bride by pinching her nose, pulling back her ears, examining her mouth and breast. The advertisement then transfers from the pastoral setting to a picture of a red Audi sedan running along an empty highway with the slogan,” An important decision must be made carefully.”
This advertisement received a Twitter outrage that rightly labeled it sexist. The revolt met by this commercial for objectifying women made it an example of a disastrous marketing ploy.
Ford’s Marketing Failure
Ford’s Edsel car launch in 1956 was a complete failure. In the coming months, Edsel became synonymous with ‘unsuccessful’ and left the company embarrassed. The Edsel was released at an enormous price which did not align with the features offered by the car. It came with an installed front grill that resembled a toilet seat and became a subject of countless jokes.
The criticism received by Edsel pressured Ford to withdraw the car in 1959, costing them 400 million dollars. Not learning from their previous mistake Ford blundered with their another compact car launch, Pinto. Unfortunately, ‘Pinto’ meant small penis in Portuguese. The car also had a dangerous trait of exploding in rear-end collisions.
The outrage after this launch ignited when a Ford executive asserted that it would be cheaper to pay the amends to injured drivers than to pull back the vehicle. This message suffered a lot of trolls and backlash. Ford finally had to call back Pinto in 1980.
Calvin Klein’s Advertisement Sexualizes Women
In Calvin Klein’s 2016 campaign, the danish actress Klara Kristin posted her picture in an ‘up-the-skirt’ shot with a tagline, “I flash in my #Calvins.” This post was followed by a picture of Kendall Jenner in a suggestive pose squeezing grapefruit with the tagline, “I eat in my #Calvins.” This advertising trend continued with many models posting with similar taglines, “I seduce in my #Calvins”, I pulse in my #Calvins” and so on.
This campaign confidently progressed with objectifying and hyper-sexualizing women until Fetty Wap advertised with the tagline, “I make money in my #Calvins.” This post highlighted the misogyny and sexism ingrained in Calvin Klein. It unveiled the psychology of Calvin Klein marketing experts who propagated that ‘men make money while women get sexualized.’
In the 1995 ‘sex cells campaign’, Calvin Klein hired teenage boys to get photographed in suggestive poses crammed in unpleasant basement-like rooms wearing next to nothing. Further, in 1999, they worked with an even younger group of toddler boys capturing them in poses that to some extent resembled child pornography. These incidents ignited tremendous outrage from parents compelling the brand to bring down these advertisements in 24hours.
Bic’s Ridiculous ‘Lady Pens’
BIC, ‘for her’ pens became the center of attraction when Margaret Hartmann from Jezebel heard about these from a reader and posted them online. These pens helped to sustain gender stereotypes because of their pink and purple colors.
They were advertised with the tagline, “Look like a Girl” and “Think like a Man”, not only positioning male thinking on a higher pedestal but also compelling women to imitate it instead of cultivating their own.
BIC’s claim that these lady pens complemented female personality as they produced ‘beautiful smooth writing’ and ‘old, bendy designs’ received criticism and rebuke. The confidence with which BIC ignores the blatant misogyny in their product almost leaves a person in a shock.
Gap’s Logo Re-Launch Gone Wrong
One of the leading clothing brands, GAP launched its new logo in 2010 that resembled a word art default. Regrettably, their new trademark failed to rival the old logo that had brought laurels to the company.
It became apparent the company had not invested enough effort and time to produce its new logo. The lack of creativity and its rushed design disappointed the customers. GAP encountered criticism and ridicule on social media such that the logo was brought down in a week after the release.
This marketing disaster alerted the company to the importance of investing in good designers and marketing strategists. What GAP did right was to re-launch its original iconic logo. This somehow cooled the hate and disappointment that the new logo faced.
“Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.”Bill Bernbach
P.S. If you liked this article, check out our other blog where we discussed Some Of the Biggest Business Mistakes In History.