Marketing Fails: 5 Campaigns That Showed How Not To Do Marketing

marketing fails

You may have the best product in the world and the best services to offer but if people don’t know you and what you are all about it’s not going to matter. This is why marketing is important. Marketing is what helps your product or service reach your target audience. Without this process, you will not be able to generate any ROI.

So, the goal is to effectively market yourself in order to create a positive outlook in the eyes of potential consumers. Having said that, you need to keep in mind that the entirety of your brand’s image has the capacity to market itself. What do we mean by that?

Simply, your brand’s image is out there on display every time you market your product or service. How you market, what you market has the potential to make or break your brand’s image. A lot of brands have faced this at least once in their lifetime where one wrong marketing gimmick went bad. These kinds of marketing fails can do serious damage to a brand’s image.

 The best way to avoid these marketing fails is to learn from others. So let’s take a look at some big-timers who got it all wrong.

5 Examples That Teach You How Not To Do Marketing 

1. Sony PSP White is Coming Billboard

In 2006 Sony was about to launch a PSP device. What they wanted to advertise was that the new device would be white instead of the usual black. From a marketing angle, this is a great approach because there would be a color choice and options always help increase sales. 

So, during this campaign, they put up the above billboard design in the Netherlands regarding this new release. As you can see the billboard features a pale white woman who has an aggressive look on her face holding by the neck a submissive-looking black woman who looks faded into the background. And the caption reads white is coming? Is that a Game of Thrones reference? No one knows. 

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out what’s wrong here. And as you can imagine it was not received well by audiences. Especially the Americans deemed it racist and Sony had to pull this advertisement.

The fact that Sony was this tone-deaf is surprising because these are common social issues that are extremely sensitive. To feature a white woman overpowering a black woman is not a good design concept at all. There are so many other routes they could’ve chosen to depict this. 

Marketing fails like these show that playing on racism is never a good marketing strategy. Global companies should learn this lesson soon enough. So many of them have done the mistake of incorporating racist innuendos and sadly still continue to do so. It’s always good to be highly considerate and thoughtful when designing racially sensitive campaign material.

2. Colgate Frozen Lasagna Stunt

Whenever we see or hear the word Colgate we’re reminded of oral hygiene products. It’s a very personal brand and those who closely associate with the brand can think of nothing else than the toothpaste, toothbrush, or mouthwash in their own bathrooms. 

That’s why it was an unpleasant surprise for many consumers when Colgate decided to go for unlikely product diversification. Now product diversification helps businesses enter a new market and thereby increase sales. 

But In 1980, the Colgate marketing team thought it a good idea to enter the food market. They introduced a line of frozen lasagnas. They thought that it would be a great marketing strategy to associate their existing brand with food. The idea was that whenever consumers ate their frozen lasagne they would then use their toothpaste to brush their teeth. What a weird marketing pitch. It almost sounds childish! 

Product diversification is good so long as there is some sort of correlation between the products introduced. While food and oral healthcare seem to have a similarity, in a much more realistic sense no one likes to talk about oral health when consuming food. It’s just distasteful and cringy. 

Marketing fails like this is a result of not being aware of their own product and how it relates to people. When marketing new products to increase consumer reach, it’s crucial to do your research and add a dash of common sense to it.   

Here’s a mockup of the food package featured at the 2017 exhibition of the Museum of Failure.

3. Mastercard Corporate Logo Change

Mastercard’s logo with its 2 overlapping circles is such a familiar sight. We see it almost every day on storefronts and in other common shopping apps. Loyal consumers were concerned when in 2006 they opted to change this logo due to an internal business direction. They also added a tagline that read Mastercard Worldwide to co-relate with their new business strategy. 

A third weird circle had been added to the front as you can see. They claimed it stands for the 3-fold business model of the company to the skepticism of many. 

The reason that this didn’t bode well with some people is that they’re loyal to the brand’s former identity. It has obviously been around for a long time. Suddenly when they introduced a new and more complex design they felt like they didn’t know them anymore. 

Plus, on the design side of things, it had poor use of gradients and looked cluttered as opposed to the former minimal logo. It had no balance and looked heavier towards one side. Most rebranding campaigns go from complex to minimal, trying to adapt to modern times but for some strange reason, Mastercard went in the opposite direction. 

And what remained was a decision made by those sitting at the table, without accounting for the brand loyalty of countless people. 

This is yet another example of how you shouldn’t change where change isn’t necessary. Even if you do need to change something opt to make more nuanced and practical changes or it’s going to end up on someone’s list of marketing fails.

Thankfully, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut came up with a genius upgrade to the logo and salvaged it from its fallen state. 

4. Dove’s Body Shaped Bottles

Dove is known for its promotion of real beauty. In fact, their Real Beauty campaigns have been such a success.  Moving from the stereotypical portrayal of women in beauty advertisements to a more natural appeal, they have really made an impact on the way advertising is done in the beauty sector. It’s sad that they had to go and overdo it.

In one of their campaigns, they introduced a new series of bottles where the bottles came in different body shapes. Their campaign came with the slogan “Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes”. While the sentiment is to be praised they didn’t account for the different emotions surrounding the sensitive matter and it ended up being one of Dove’s marketing fails. 

Women don’t like talking about body shapes. And making a purchase of one of those body-shaped bottles publicly meant they had to decide if they were going to go for the bottle that represented their shape or for the bottle shape they wished they had. It means that they had to confront their fear about how they perceived themselves. It’s just too personal. 

That is why this is a really bad marketing stunt and has made it to our list of marketing fails. When advertising products centered around women, it’s always good to practice restraint and avoid sensitive issues no matter how much you’re trying to be helpful. 

5. Gerber 

Gerber as we all well know is an American baby food company. It serves a vast variety of food for babies and for a busy mom, it’s the ideal resource. As a result, it was successfully distributed in the US. With this success, they took to exporting this product to different other countries as well. 

Now the package features a Caucasian baby that we all think is so cute and adorable. But when the product reached Africa, there was a huge problem that no one foresaw. Do keep in mind that this incident happened even before the 80s.

It was a common practice in Africa to feature a picture of what was in a jar on the outside label. When the local people saw that there was a baby featured on the label, guess what they thought? Yes! They thought that the contents inside were ground-up human babies. You can figure out what sales may have been like. 

What went wrong here? One of the main things marketers need to remember is to be culturally sensitive. It’s a lot to think about but, if you’re planning on spreading your reach globally it would actually save you from the problem of losing money. If your marketing strategy is lost in translation it’s without a doubt going to be a marketing fail. 

If they had done their research right they could have made changes to the design in an appropriate fashion and used images that suited the African consumer context and not made into this list of marketing fails. 

What do we make of all of this?

Marketing fails are that pain point that all brands wish to avoid. However, sadly almost all of them keep falling into this pit from time to time. Based on the mistakes that the above brands did, we’ve listed a set of points to be attentive to when marketing.

Keep these pointers in mind when attending to your marketing campaigns and learn from the mistakes mentioned here. You could avoid big marketing fails if you do so. 

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