Don’t make the same mistakes as the brands behind these cringe-worthy marketing fails.

  • Even the largest, most well-respected brands can fail at delivering a marketing message to consumers.
  • Marketers need to consider inclusivity, negative stereotypes, natural disasters, social justice issues and more when crafting campaigns.
  • Authentic messages and transparent communication with involved stakeholders enable brands and gracefully handle mistakes.
  • This article is for marketing professionals who want to learn from the mistakes other marketing teams have made for globally recognized brands.

Though teams invest significant time and effort into marketing campaigns for months before they go live, some completely miss the mark. Maybe a campaign’s message becomes misinterpreted, the tone makes light of a serious social issue or an honest mistake turns into an embarrassing viral video. To avoid these mistakes in your own business, here are some of the most cringe-worthy marketing failures that big brands have suffered through and what you can learn from them

1. Pepsi and Kendall Jenner miss the mark on social activism.

Pepsi’s infamous 2017 commercial with supermodel Kendall Jenner – pulled mere days after debuting – put itself in the crosshairs by completely missing the mark on its message of unity. In the commercial, Jenner notices a nearby protest amid her photoshoot. It’s unclear what the activists are marching for, but she joins them, takes a Pepsi from a cooler and approaches a police officer to hand them the can of soda. The officer takes a sip, someone snaps a photo and everyone cheers.

Public outcry, especially on Twitter, was so scathing that Pepsi had no choice but to issue an apology and pull the entire campaign from syndication. Pepsi also released a statement that read: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time a soda company tried to use protest movements to sell its product. In 1971, Coca-Cola adopted the “flower power” opposition to the Vietnam War in its “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” advertisement.

The lesson: Strive for authenticity in messages that involve hot-button social issues. Even if the campaign’s aim is genuine and positive, pull in focus groups to ensure the message lands the way you intend with the appropriate audiences. 

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