Illustration of the top 5 failed marketing campaigns.

Top 5 Failed Marketing Campaigns

Marketing is key to any successful business. Each year, companies spend big bucks on research and development to discover what makes their target audiences tick so that they can connect in unique ways. But what sounds great in the meeting room doesn’t always end up translating in the final marketing campaign. Details can get lost in production, and rather than being cutting edge, they end up crossing the line with customers. This is the danger of failed marketing campaigns.

A History of Failed Marketing Campaigns

According to a 1926 Associated Press article, a candy company in Berlin tried dropping foil-wrapped chocolates on its citizens to advertise their services.[1] Shortly after, police had to step in when they received complaints of injuries from the falling sweets. And while the toothpaste company Colgate has been a successful innovator with consumer health products, they made a hasty choice to enter the frozen meal space in 1982.[2] Countless commercials and coupons couldn’t convince consumers to stop associating the food with toothpaste.

To help you learn from other business’s mistakes like these, and avoid a PR nightmare of your own, check out these five marketing flops.

Picture of the Snapple logo.
By Porchista (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Snapple Fills the Streets

The Campaign:  In a marketing fail of epic proportion, Snapple tried to erect the world’s largest popsicle, made entirely of frozen Snapple juice, in New York’s Times Square in 2005.[3] The company was hoping that earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records would help promote its new line of frozen treats. Unfortunately, Snapple didn’t plan on an 80-degree day, and the tower – standing 25 feet tall and weighing 17.5 tons – melted, flooding the streets of downtown Manhattan with kiwi-strawberry-flavored fluid.

The Result:  Few people were able to see the frozen tower in its glory before firefighters were forced to close off several streets to hose away the sugary mess. A Snapple official said the company was unlikely to make a second attempt to break the record, which was set in 1997 by a 21-foot ice pop in Holland.

The Lesson:  Publicity stunts and other forms of experiential marketing take a great deal of planning. You can’t overlook even the smallest detail (in this case, the weather).

Picture of a Bud Light bottle on ice.
Source: Jhong Dizon – Budweiser (https://www.flickr.com/photos/japokskee/7059735175)

Budweiser Promotes Date Rape

The Campaign:  When it comes to ignorance and nonchalant attitudes toward sexual assault, Bud Light takes the cake. A controversial label containing the statement, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night,” went through no less than five rounds of approval before it landed on shelves in 2015.[4] It was one of about 140 labels in circulation in an “edgy” campaign dubbed “Up for Whatever.”

The Result: This marketing campaign failure launched a social-media storm among consumers who felt the slogan suggested beer is for a “certain type” of woman who gets drunk and doesn’t care what happens to her. The company stopped production of the label after two months, and Alexander Lambrecht, vice president for the Bud Light brand at Anheuser-Busch, said it was “clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it.”

The Lesson:  It’s possible to get edgy with marketing without being ignorant of social issues. Your marketing and advertising campaigns should represent who you are as a company. Using date rape to sell a product is not shocking; it’s distasteful and unethical.

Picture of a Pontiac
Analogue Kid at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pontiac Promotes Oprah Winfrey Over Itself

The Campaign: “YOU get a car! YOU get a car! YOU get a car! Everybody gets a car!” In 2004, Oprah kicked off the 19th season of her talk show by giving all 276 people in the audience a new car. But what car was it? Do you recall?  Everybody remembers Oprah Winfrey for her generosity and exuberant presentation, but they forget about Pontic, who came up with the idea for the giveaway of its G-6 model.

The Result: The free car was a hit for ratings, but some audience members claimed it was a bigger hit for their wallets.[5] While General Motors took care of the state sales tax and licensing fees, audience members had to pay federal and state income taxes on the value of their new vehicles. For Pontiac, the giveaway didn’t equal a boom in sales either. In 2004, Pontiac sold 474,179 vehicles, which was essentially flat compared to 2003.[6] And shortly before GM’s bankruptcy in 2009, Pontiac only had 178,300 vehicle sales.

The Lesson: While it can be useful to partner with a popular brand, you may end up becoming a prop in the shadow of their success without the right strategy.

Picture of a Sony PlayStation Portable
By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sony Seen as Phony

The Campaign: In 2005, Sony promoted its PlayStation Portable by employing graffiti artists to design and spray paint pictures of it in several locations throughout New York City.

The Result: Many people saw this marketing move as a blatant attempt to seem cool and get cheap labor from struggling teenagers and artists. An online petition was started with comments like, “Stop cynically exploiting graffiti artists for profit.”

The Lesson: While you may want to connect with a more youthful, urban demographic, remember to bring the authenticity. In other words, if you don’t have “street cred,” don’t pretend you do.

Picture of an IHOP storefront.
Source: Mike Mozart – IHOP (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/15262813211)

IHOP’s Marketing Lands Flat

The Campaign: IHOP has spent a lot of effort engaging younger consumers on social media, often sending out cheeky tweets to promote its pancakes. But one tweet missed the mark completely. In October 2014, they tweeted a photo of a stack of pancakes with the comment, “Flat, but has a GREAT personality.”

The Result:  Two hours after posting it, the company deleted the tweet amid the swift and well-deserved backlash. They also issued an apology, stating, “Earlier today we tweeted something dumb and immature that does not reflect what IHOP stands for. We’re sorry.”

The Lesson: Inappropriate humor has no place in marketing, even on social media. Just like the Bud Light ad, using women in a negative light to sell a product is just bad taste.

Better Planning. Bigger Impact.

While they do happen, marketing campaign failures don’t have to be a part of your business strategy. Before you go public with your creative, take the time to ask some important questions. Who is our target audience? What do they want from us? Are we speaking their language? Does our product or service deliver on our claims? Then, once you start crafting the content, be sure to schedule several check-ins along the way to ensure your message is on track. It doesn’t matter how unique your idea is, if your target audience doesn’t connect with it, or worse, gets offended by it, you can do serious damage to your brand.

At Mary Pomerantz Advertising, we understand the intricacies of building marketing campaigns that connect with consumers. From websites, print materials and social media to television, radio and direct mail, we can help you make the right impression on your target audience at the right time. Call 732-214-9600 to discover what we can do for you.