Marketing 9 min read February 13, 2017

10 Worst Marketing Fails of All Time

Serpstat: Emoji маркетинг в вашей рекламной кампании: что, как и зачем​

Elena K
Editorial Head at Serpstat En
Everyone makes mistakes, such monsters as McDonald's and Coca-Cola are not the exception, so don't worry about your typo in the newsletter. Here are top 10 marketing fails to learn from and avoid repeating them.
People love watching other people struggling, YouTube is full of videos of different epic fails, where people fall, slip, get hit and so on. Multinational corporations also "fell" and "slipped" on their marketing way. But I don't want you to feel guilty about having fun while reading this. The main aim of this article is to show you that big corporations also make mistakes, so learn from them and don't make the same ones.

Fail #1: Illegal weapon from EA

In 2009 EA, one of the biggest American video game companies, sent out beautiful gold brass knuckles in a wooden box as part of a promo for video game Godfather II. The problem is they're illegal in many of the states that they were shipped to and even in California, where EA is based. EA soon realized the error in sending out brass knuckles, and all packages were sent back to EA.

Fail #2: Misunderstanding of trending hashtag

In 2014 there was a pair of Twitter hashtags #whyIStayed and #whyILeft, they're about domestic violence where abuse victims shared their stories in the wake of the Ray Rice abuse incident. Digiorno pizza misunderstood and used this trending hashtag to advertise themselves: #whyIStayed You had pizza.
In a while, they understood what a failure they turned into and deleted that tweet. They posted a new one where apologized for their fail:

Fail #3: Ambiguous hashtag

The previous example was about a misunderstanding of the existing hashtag, but there are also examples of failed newly-created hashtags. Susan Boyle, a Scottish singer, released a new album "Standing Ovation" in 2012. On this regard her PR-team to promote it, tweeted the following on her official page: "Susan will be answering your questions at her exclusive album listening party on Saturday. Send in your questions #susanalbumparty."


It was supposed to read as "Susan album party'", while as you may already noticed this hashtag can be read in some other way.

Fail #4: Expectation vs reality

Continuing Twitter topic, I cannot pass by the other example of an unsuccessful Twitter campaign. The NYPD (New York Police Department) asked people to use hashtag #myNYPD hoping to get a bunch tweets with photos of cops playing basketball with kids, at barbecues and picnics and so on.
But instead, they got photos of cops pointing guns at people, hitting people, officers strangling the citizens and so forth.

Fail #5: Inhumane marketing

A Texas mattress company used 9/11 disaster in its sales promotion. Miracle Mattress posted a video "Twin Tower Sale" on their official FB page where a woman offers to buy their mattresses for a twin price to better remember 9/11. Here it is:
After a while, the owner of a mattress store Mike Bonnano closed the store and apologized for what he called a 'tasteless' commercial promoting a 9/11 anniversary sale. In his apology statement, he also told that their "best path forward is to re-open the doors as soon as possible, following the hiring of new staff and training."

Fail #6: Pepsi's bad joke

In 1996 Pepsi ran a promotional campaign where it offered to exchange Pepsi points for different stuff such as a t-shirt, leather jacket, shades. The slogan of this campaign was "the more Pepsi you drink, the more great stuff you're going to get." The creators of this commercial decided to prank a bit and offered Harrier Fighter for 7 000 000 Pepsi points. They couldn't even imagine that someone would take it seriously. But, John Leonard did.

He noticed some fine print: in place of labels, consumers could buy Pepsi points for ten cents each. He quickly figured out that he need $700,000 to buy the 7M Pepsi points for the Harrier Jet. And he did it. Pepsi obviously refused to give Leonardo this prize. Finally, a court granted a summary judgment in favor of Pepsi and ruled that "no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier Jet."

Fail #7: Overconfidence effect

LifeLock, an American identity theft protection company, ran a provocative marketing campaign in 2006. Todd Davis, CEO of LifeLock, published his Social Security number on the official website to prove that his system works as "LifeLock makes your personal information useless to a criminal."
As you may have already guessed, it didn't work. He's been a victim of identity theft at least 13 times, according to the Phoenix New Times. Moreover, the LifeLock was fined $12 million in March by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising.

Fail #8: Unexpected outcome

In 1984 McDonald's ran a huge promotion for the Olympics. Customers got scratch cards with an Olympic event printed on them, and every time American athlete wins a medal, common Americans win as well. A cola for bronze, fries for silver and finally BigMac for gold. In 1976 the USA won only 34 gold medals and McDonald's probably expected something similar.

But, the USSR and other socialist countries returned the favor of 1980 and boycotted the 1984 Olympics. That's why the USA got 83 gold medals instead of 34 as it was expected. According to The New York Times, the fast-food giant had calculated that American athletes would do well this year. ''But without the Soviets, U.S. athletes have done very, very well,'' said Chuck Rubner, a spokesman for McDonald's in Chicago.

Fail #9: Ayds sounds like AIDS

Number 9 is not about marketing, it's more about how circumstances can lead to total failure. Ayds (pronounced as aids) – a candy company, which was very popular in the 1970s. There were lots of different unusual flavours and it also was special because it was "appetite suppressant candy." Here is it's commercial:
In 1980-s public awareness of the AIDS caused the problems to Ayds because of phonetic similarity of their names. Moreover, one of the AIDS symptoms is weight loss, while the Ayds was "appetite suppressant candy," so the product's concept became a cruel joke in more ways than just its name. Then the company name was changed to Diet Ayds, that was opposite of helpful. After a while, the company was eventually withdrawn from the market.

Fail #10: Old Coca-Cola is better than
a new one

Not only Pepsi underwent marketing failure, its main competitor Coca-Cola actually outstripped it. In 1985 Coca-Cola decided to change its 100-year formula. According to blind taste tests, Cola-Cola learned that customers prefer the sweeter taste of Pepsi. On this regard, Coca-Cola decided to improve and created "New Coke". It became a major marketing failure. People didn't like this new better formula and demanded the old one back. After a while, "New Coke" was taken off the market.

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