Misguided Marketing Campaigns

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Marketing is a hard, hard game. No one can predict what will work, and what won’t. Anyone who says otherwise is either a liar, delusional, or both. Marketing execs and creative directors can go their whole careers without hitting one out of the park. And if they’re lucky, they’ll go just as long without a campaign blowing up in the face. That can happen, too.

Marketing is supposed to appeal to us, and endear the brand to us in some way. It might be entertaining, pull at the old heartstrings, or make us rethink our preconceived notions. One thing that each and every marketer out there is NOT going for, though, is anger and ridicule. And yet…;

The marketing world is full of blunders, missteps, miscalculations, and mistakes. It might be something as simple as a cultural misunderstanding for a product or brand entering a new market. Language issues can and do arise when translating a successful campaign from one language to another.

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  • In English: “Pepsi brings you back to life.” That makes sense…the cola invigorates and stimulates you. Good slogan.
  • Translated into Mandarin: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Um…huh?! Probably not what they were going for.

Or how about Coors…

  • In English: “Turn It Loose” from Coors Brewing Company works. People like it.
    Translated into Spanish: “Suffer from diarrhea”. No. Just no I am not drinking that beer.

Sadly, though, not every marketing faux pas can be blamed on a lost in translation situation. Sometimes, the campaign is doomed from the start in its country of origin. Do marketing personnel take a leave of absence from common sense? Is stupidity contagious and blind (similar to love)? It would seem so.

These campaigns were misguided at best, and horribly offensive at worst. They’re not the first ones to offend and elicit giggles and boycotts, and they won’t be the last, either. For every successful and popular campaign out there, there’s at least one that the ad firm wishes it could erase from our collective memories (but until that’s possible, they’ll live on in infamy).

See Also: 10 Worst Marketing Mistakes

1. Bic Pens

How many times have you, as a woman, wished there was a disposable pen designed by and for women? Probably a million, right? Regular pens for men just don’t appeal to a female demographic. They’re too blue. Or black. And not designed with the female executive in mind. Am I right, ladies?

The answer to your pen dilemma has arrived: Bic For Her. Pens that meet the growing demand of women unwilling or unable to use regular Bic pens. These ones are pink! And purple! And they have a retractable ballpoint tip with a fun, comfort grip. Say it with me: finally! You can give the gift of written expression to all the ladies in your life. It’s about freakin’ time.

Public backlash was quick and merciless. The reviews on Amazon were less than glowing. And Bic was left looking more than a little stupid with this just slightly sexist marketing campaign.

2. Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret has been accused more than once of perpetuating the false and unattainable image of a modern woman. Regardless of size or sex appeal, everyone needs underwear.

So was anyone really surprised when their “The Perfect Body” campaign hit the market? No one should have been…but many people were nonetheless. Released in 2014 for a new bra, it was a rather brazen campaign. It featured a long line of thin, toned, and primarily caucasian group of women. The slogan? The Perfect “Body.

People – men and women – were understandably upset. Victoria’s Secret argued that people misunderstood their meaning. The “body” referred to the bra itself and how it conformed to a woman’s chest. But the poster and billboards didn’t really convey that. It showed thin models and “Perfect Body” in big, bold letters. Social media was quick to respond. Tens of thousands signed petitions to change the campaign and/or boycott the company. In the end, Victoria’s Secret changed the slogan to “A Body for Every Body”…but the damage was already done.

3. Huggies

As a new parent, diapers are a part of life. You’re going to spend a lot of time buying diapers, changing diapers, and disposing of diapers. Your life revolves around poop. But because you love your little poop machine more than life itself, that’s okay.

In the diaper game, Huggies is one of the big boys. But a recent campaign missed the mark by about a thousand miles.

In it, they instructed you to “Put Huggies to the Dad Test.” And just what is the “dad test”, you ask? Ineptitude. Incompetence. Inattention. And neglect. The ads implied that Huggies could survive baby’s day out with dad…and his unwillingness or inability to change a diaper. No worries. No matter how long dad ignores the full diaper, Huggies will be there to keep the poop and pee under control. Because dads suck.

Aside from being incredibly insulting to fathers, the campaign completely ignored the changing face of families. Gay couples. Stay-at-home dads. Equal and contributing fathers. Gone are the 50s television sitcom days of dad arriving home at 6pm to find his wife at the door with a martini and his slippers. Remember how hilarious is was whenever a dad tried to be a caregiver? They had no freakin’ clue! Today? Not so much.

4. Kurl-On Mattresses

An Indian company, Kurl-On had the “misfortune” (through their own damn stupidity) of trying to hawk mattresses using the tragedy of Malala Yousafzai. You remember Malala. She was gunned down by the Taliban for daring to seek an education. She survived her attack and has gone on to inspire millions as an activist and Nobel Prize winning spokesperson.

So, of course, Ogilvy India thought she could inspire people to buy mattresses in a “clever” (i.e. insulting) cartoon. In it, Malala is shot, complete with blood, and tumbles down the page. She bounces off a Kurl-on mattress at the bottom, ricocheting back to the top to receive a humanitarian award. Makes sense, no?

Ogilvy India had to issue a hasty apology and promise to investigate how it had slipped through their strict guidelines and commitment to excellence in advertising. Good luck with that.

Wow. Just wow. Sometimes, stupidity is awe-inspiring in its scope.

5. McDonald’s

Social media can be precarious. It’s live. It’s out there for everyone to see. It’s a gamble to play the hashtag game with members of the public. But McDonald’s thought they would be different, and they invited people to share their stories and thoughts about the fast food chain using the hashtag #McDStories. No doubt they thought they’d be swimming in glowing recommendations and love stories. Instead, they were inundated with anecdotes, questions, and accusations regarding the nutrition, manufacturing, and presentation of their food. It was not pretty.

It went from hashtag to bashtag. And fast. A few examples:

  • #McDStories I lost 50lbs in 6 months after I quit working and eating at McDonald’s.
  • Ate a McFish and vomited 1 hour later…;.The last time I got McDonalds was seriously 18 years ago in college…;..
  • One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up.

Probably not what they were thinking when it was pitched at the marketing meeting.

6. Levi’s

Taking a cue from Victoria’s Secret, Levi’s attempted to promote a more inclusive and realistic body image with their “Hotness Comes in All Shapes and Sizes” campaign. Their heart was in the right place. Meant to generate awareness for their new Curve ID jeans, you would think the campaign would have featured beautiful women of all shapes and sizes.

And you would have been wrong. Instead, Levi’s went with exclusively skinny models. Super skinny. Unrealistically skinny. Bravo Levi’s! You managed to alienate and piss off the very market you were trying to celebrate.

The public was less than impressed. Nice to add “real” clothing to their line. Stupid to once again dress it up in body shaming and antiquated ideas.

See Also: How to Avoid Small Business Marketing Mistakes

Some marketing works and increases sales and revenue. And some does the exact opposite. These campaigns, though, should have seen the trouble coming from a hundred thousand miles away. They all fall squarely under the “what were they thinking?!” category of media foul-ups.

What’s the worst campaign you’ve ever seen or heard about? Leave your additions in the comments below…

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