marketing disaster

How to Avoid Marketing Mistakes + The Top 10 Marketing Failures

We know that everyone makes mistakes, even big companies with thousands of employees. In this article, We are going to talk about 10 of the worst marketing disasters in human history. But first, let’s see why do some marketing campaigns fail.

Why Do Marketing Campaigns Fail?

The most straightforward answer is marketers forget who they’re advertising to.

A lot of blunders can be accounted for by the fact that marketers sometimes take their eye off the prize and focus on being “creative” or “unique” rather than reaching their target audience.

Creating campaigns that stand out is an important part of the process, but an effort to be ostentatious should never come with the compromise of alienating your buyers.

Some organizations simply don’t have realistic goals for their campaigns or they just got the timing wrong. Admittedly, a campaign can flop by sheer bad luck. But there are still certain precautions you can take to minimize the risk.

Marketing campaigns are meant to communicate the value your business can provide. What needs can you meet? How do you do it differently from others? Share a bit of personality and set the tone of your brand.

If your campaigns are lacking the purpose of uplifting your brand and drawing in customers, then it’s pretty much set to fail.

10 Reasons Why Your Marketing Campaign Might Fail

A strong marketing campaign will connect you with the right customers, help you avoid a marketing disaster, get people talking about your company, introduce your product or service to the media, and set up your business for financial success. Thoughtless marketing, however, can do the opposite.

A Marketing disaster in your campaign can cost your business quite a lot in lost revenue and other expenses. In some cases, marketing errors may even cause a public relations problem.

Are you making any of these five common marketing mistakes? If you are, there’s still time to turn things around. Most marketing errors can be avoided with careful planning. 

Lack of Research and Testing

kipping research and testing is one of the most common marketing mistakes that companies make and can lead to an expensive marketing disaster.

Market research and testing save time and money by predicting how your products and promotions will perform before you launch a single campaign. They give you a snapshot of how the public will respond to your marketing campaigns, which can help you flag ineffective or unpopular ideas before you go to the expense of putting them into practice and cause your company a marketing disaster. To understand how consumers will respond to your marketing efforts, do your due diligence. Develop multiple offers, prices, packages, and promotions, then see how potential customers react to each. 

You Didn’t Identify the Proper Persona

One of the most important questions you will ask yourself throughout a marketing campaign is, “Who is our target consumer?” Get this answer wrong, and success is all but impossible. Your campaign will fail and it’d be a huge marketing disaster! Identify

ing the proper persona takes a lot of research. You’ll need to consider factors such as who your product appeals to, what solution your product is offering, and how much competition is in the market. Once you have a general idea of your market, you need to get more specific. Create a story, or persona, around your target consumer and get to know their interests, challenges, habits, and purchasing decisions. Knowing your persona will help you better target your marketing campaign and avoid a marketing disaster.

You Had Insufficient Research

For the most part, marketers are a creative bunch who get the most thrill out of coming up with ideas and concepts for creative assets. Unfortunately, this may mean that research does not get the attention it deserves. Ample research is crucial to the success of a marketing campaign. Devote the time (and staff) necessary to learn about your consumer and the market space you’re stepping into. To avoid a marketing disaster, You should be looking at external and internal databases, as well as conducting your research through surveys and consumer panels.

You Didn’t Have Correct or Realistic Success Metrics

There are many indicators of a successful marketing campaign, including increased brand recognition, increased sales, improved consumer interaction, and increased conversion rates. If you look at just one of these categories, you’d get closer to avoiding a marketing disaster. it may appear as though your campaign was a failure when perhaps it wasn’t as bad as you think. For instance, your campaign may significantly increase traffic to your website, but a greater number of visitors (even if it leads to more sales) may still result in decreased conversion rates. Look at all of the metrics of success before you launch a campaign and come up with realistic, attainable goals for your marketing campaign.

You Created the Wrong Message for Your Audience

Marketing is a field that is dependent on audience reaction. It doesn’t matter how creative or original an idea maybe if it misses the target with your audience. When you are brainstorming and discussing strategies for your marketing campaign, make sure you are always keeping your consumer persona in mind because it’s the primary thing that keeps you from a marketing disaster. Your message and content should speak directly to their needs/interests/wants.

You Delivered Content at the Wrong Time of the Buyer’s Journey

Unfortunately, even if you create the perfect message, it won’t lead to success if it’s not delivered to the consumer at the right time. But when is the “right time?” Answering this question with any degree of certainty requires an understanding of your consumer and their purchasing patterns, which, of course, requires research. You should be tracking and analyzing consumer interaction to understand the buyer’s purchasing journey. If this journey takes place online, consider Google Analytics, heat maps, and other analysis tools. Understanding the buyer’s journey will give you a better idea of when you want your content delivered.

You Didn’t Give the Campaign Enough Time

When you don’t get the results you want from a marketing campaign it can be disheartening, to say the least. And the last thing you want to do is sink more time and money into a failing campaign. But at the same time, you need to ensure you give your marketing campaign enough time to succeed. The best way to do this is to set goals and timelines before the campaign launch. Start at your desired result and work backward. This will help to ensure that your campaign is given ample time for success, and will also give you pre-determined goals by which to measure that success.

You Failed to Meet Regulatory or Brand Compliance Guidelines

Marketing compliance guidelines should be taken very seriously, as failing to meet these guidelines can ruin your reputation with your consumers and can lead to campaign failure. These regulations are always changing, and not everyone on your marketing team can be expected to keep up with all the ins and outs of these standards. However, everyone should maintain a basic understanding of these guidelines so that your campaign delivers a clear and honest message that is consistent with your brand.

Your Product Fell Short of Your Claims

Don’t over promise and under deliver. As great as your marketing campaign may be, if consumers buy the product and are disappointed in its performance, that word is going to spread quickly, and sales will drop. As a marketer, you may not have control over product quality, but you do have control over how to represent that product, which ties back into meeting regulatory guidelines. Make sure you understand your product and are not overselling it or making promises that you can’t deliver.

Any of these mistakes can significantly impact the success of a marketing campaign. However, if you understand the reason for your campaign’s failure, you can make the adjustments that are necessary to ensure success in your next campaign launch.

Lack of Focus on Potential Customers’ Needs 

How well do you know your customers and the problems they want to solve? Surprisingly few businesses take the time to figure out exactly what their customers need and want.

The secret to avoiding this common error is simple, but not easy: find a need that you can fill, then fill that need better than anyone else.

To understand those needs, you’ll need to do some research and testing. Once you know what customers want, you can create a profitable USP, which will position your brand within the overall market. And with a strong understanding of what your customers need and want, you’ll have no trouble attracting repeat buyers.

10 Worst Marketing Fails of All Time

Pepsi: Kendall Jenner TV Spot

marketing disaster one

We’d have loved to have been in on this creative meeting. The result of which was arguably the most spectacular marketing disaster of the year.

Pepsi wanted to equate its product as a culturally unifying force. OK, not a bad goal for your campaign. But what happened next must have been fun to see…

“Hey, let’s get reality show star Kendall Jenner, and we can have her settle a Black Lives Matter standoff between protestors and police by offering a police officer a can of Pepsi…”

The result? Outrage.

The spot was ridiculed on social media, parodied on SNL, and quickly pulled. Advertising agencies used it to eviscerate Pepsi’s in-house ad group by saying the fiasco never would have happened if only they’d used an agency.

Six months later PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman stepped down, telling Ad Age the spot was “the most gut-wrenching experience of my career.

Dove: Body Positive Packaging

marketing disaster two

Dove had a win with the positive body image “Real Beauty” campaign featuring real women in a positive light. It was an empowering campaign.

The campaign has been running for 15 years and is widely noted as one of the most successful marketing campaigns. The company is striving to help reinforce a positive body image for women.

Then, Dove got their hands dirty and caused a marketing disaster! In England, they released limited edition packaging designed to present diverse representations of female bodies. Their packaging compared women’s figures to abstract, shapeless soap bottles.

Simply put, the packaging sent the wrong message.

The release became a punchline and a source of genuine concern on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. They only released seven different shapes to choose from, forcing women to choose the bottle that matched their shape.

Instead of reinforcing a strong body image, it ended up increasing self-consciousness.

 McDonald’s: UK TV Spot

marketing disaster three

Seems like advertisers in the UK took a lot of heat for a bunch of really bad marketing ideas in 2017! This time it was McDonald’s.

It’s hard to offend anyone with fast food, but McDonald’s pulled it off with spectacularly bad taste.

The spot shows a young boy talking with his mother about his dead father. Well, it turns out that one of the things they both shared was a love for filet-o-fish sandwiches.

McDonald’s took a lot of heat from haters on social media who accused them of “exploiting grief to sell sandwiches.”

 Ford: Print Misfire

In the year where the misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo dominated the news, Ford ran the worst possible visual for their ad campaign. It featured three women who were bound, gagged, and stuffed in the trunk of their new Ford hatchback.

The ad was pulled, and Ford had to issue a public apology because many people rightly found the ad offensive and felt that it encouraged violence against women. What a marketing disaster!

 Sony: “Racist” Print Ad

marketing disaster five

This Sony ad ran in 2006. It was promoting Sony’s white Playstation Portable device.

Sony decided to promote the new product in a… well, questionable way. In the giant ad, a pale woman with white hair is seen grabbing a black woman by the face. The white figure looks upset and determined while the black figure looks very submissive.

The text reads “Playstation Portable. White is Coming.”

There are tons of better ways to promote the launch of your new product. Sony was quoted as saying, “The images that were used in the campaign were intended solely to highlight the contrast between the different colors available for the PSP.”

Burger King: Smartphone Campaign

marketing disaster six

In what was initially a great marketing idea, Burger King created a campaign to run on smart devices that activated the device to read a list of burger ingredients posted on Wikipedia, the crowdsourced online encyclopedia.

This was a great idea before hackers altered the Wikipedia post to include ingredients like cyanide.

As a result of the hack, the campaign was pulled, and a potentially innovative marketing channel was temporarily sidelined. This is particularly unfortunate because the concept of this campaign was pretty smart.

 Audi: Chinese Wedding Commercial

It’s always important to check out a car before you purchase it. Audi turned this idea on its head. 

In the commercial, the groom’s mother walks up to the altar and starts checking out her soon-to-be-daughter-in-law. She pinches her lip, pulls on her ears, and looks at her teeth and tongue, before giving a nod of approval to her son.

Then, the tagline reads, “An important decision must be made carefully.”

Unfortunately, this commercial misses the mark by objectifying women and reducing their value to that of a vehicle. It was far more offensive than it was humorous.

Adidas: Boston Marathon Email

marketing disaster eight

Customers who participated in the Boston Marathon in 2017 received a very poorly worded email from the major shoe and sports attire company.

The subject line simply read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

In the context of any other fitness event, this might seem harmless. In fact, many people use this kind of phrasing when they refer to completing an event. For example, some might say they survived their first Crossfit class.

But this message was sent on the heels of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and injured more than 250 people. Needless to say, many people were offended.

They immediately issued an apology, but the damage was already done.

Airbnb: Floating World Email

marketing disaster nine

This is another marketing disaster that was caused by bad timing. Airbnb launched its ‘floating world’ marketing campaign, which included an image of a water-themed house sitting on the surface of the water.

The copy included, “Stay above water,” and “live the life aquatic with these floating homes.”

Harmless right?

Well, this campaign launched on August 28, 2017, when Hurricane Harvey was engulfing Houston.

Ink Coffee: Gentrification Sign

marketing disaster ten

What started as a simple joke on a sign outside of a Denver coffee shop lead to a national uproar. The owner of the cafe put out a sign that read, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.”

The issue is that gentrification also leads to the displacement of residents, typically lower-income minorities. Ink Coffee was met with big crowds of protestors and even vandalism.

Social media fails. We’ve all been there. Every year brands make significant mistakes on social media, proving that it’s easy to go viral for all the wrong reasons.

Businesses utilize social media to grow brand awareness and create an engaged community of devotees. However, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. A tweet or a social media marketing campaign can overreach cultural bounds and make audiences cringe and rage.

For big corporations, a stumble on social media can impact their share price, and for smaller companies, they can become a laughing stock online.

Yes, it turns out, there is just such a thing as bad publicity. We’ve seen plenty of great moments in social media, but there’s nothing worse than a social media fail.

However, as you’ll see below, bad press and social media backlash tend to last a short period, because it’s only a matter of time before another business is on the hot seat for their blunder.

Aldi’s #AldiPoorestDayChallenge

marketing disaster  eleven

Aldi in the United Kingdom paid an Instagram influencer to participate in a “challenge” where she fed her family for £25.

The marketing disaster, #AldiPoorestDayChallenge, centered around January 24th, commonly known as the poorest day of the year as people overspend during the festive season and need to tighten their budgets in January.

The challenge was deemed offensive and in poor taste, using a middle-class influencer who had no understanding of the struggles lower class people deal with, especially considering who the Aldi target audience is. It also plays on the myth that poor people are not trying hard enough.

Domino’s Nice Karen Campaign 

marketing disaster twelve

“Karen” is a pejorative term that gained popularity in 2020 to refer to white, middle-aged women who appear to be obnoxious or racist.

On Domino’s Australian and New Zealand Facebook pages, the pizza chain asked those called Karen to tell Dominos in 250 words why they’re a “nice” Karen and offer them a free pizza.

This was criticized online with people pointing out the hypocrisy that Dominos was actually rewarding more privilege to a very privileged group in society and was also a terrible marketing disaster.

OneUnited Bank’s Harriet Tubman Card

marketing disaster thirteen

OneUnited Bank is the largest black-owned financial institution in the United States. In celebration of Black History Month, the bank released a Harriet Tubman debit card.

Harriet Tubman was a political activist who freed slaves after escaping from slavery in the 19th century.

OneUnited Bank described the debit card as a “symbol of black empowerment”. 

The campaign was a huge marketing disaster, it was heavily criticized on social media, with people pointing out that using the name and image of a woman who fought slavery to promote capitalism.

Walkers: Selfie Competition

marketing disaster fourteen

Walkers is a UK-based snack company that implemented a social media campaign where customers submitted selfies for an opportunity to win tickets to a major sporting event.

Unfortunately, some people submitted pictures of dictators, serial killers, and criminals.

The end result of their failure to audit the pictures before publishing them created a PR nightmare for the company.

Wendy’s: Twitter Meme


marketing disaster fifteen

Wendy’s got into a tweet battle with customers over whether they really use fresh beef. At first, it wasn’t a big deal, but it eventually escalated.

Then, Wendy’s responded by posting a meme. No big deal right?

Except for the meme they posted was “Pepe the frog.” If you don’t know what that is, Pepe was used by white supremacists in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

The images were pulled, but not before screenshots were taken, and while Wendy’s quickly realized their mistake, the damage was done.

10 Common Marketing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Making assumptions

Assuming that you know your customers, their preferences, their loyalty to you, and the competitive environment in which you operate are some of the most costly mistakes you can make. In most cases, you’re likely wrong.

With all the research and feedback tools available today to help you monitor the voice of your customers and their real needs and attitudes, there’s no reason to ever assume anything. Regularly survey your customers to see what they like and don’t like about your brand, your products, and your service. Do surveys to update your Net Promoter Score (NPS) as well. During transactions, ask for individual feedback and engage in social listening. Analyze results to identify trends and things you can do to maintain and increase satisfaction and avoid causing your brand a marketing disaster.

Ignoring customer complaints

With all the social media channels available, unhappy customers can share a bad brand experience with literally thousands of people in a matter of minutes. In addition to their Facebook, Twitter, and other social accounts, they can quickly post negative reviews about you and/or your products on Yelp, Google, Amazon, and other sites that masses of consumers browse daily.

Faking popularity

Just like all the “fake news” on social media channels, there’s often also a lot of “fake likes” which can kill your brand as a marketing disaster. Just look at your Twitter messages; chances are you have an offer from someone trying to sell you “followers.” Like fake news, this isn’t acceptable by any business standards because you’re portraying your brand as more popular and successful than you are and misleading consumers about your market position.

Using dirty data

Nothing’s quite like getting a great offer from a brand you’ve been loyal to for years only to find out that the great offer applies only to new customers! When this happens, it’s often the result of a brand not cleaning up its data to sort out prospects and customers. With all the customer relationship management (CRM) and data management systems available today at many price points, there’s no excuse for this anymore.

Customers expect personalized communications about their relationships with you and rewards for their loyalty, and when, after years of giving you their business, non‐customers get a better offer than you’ve given them, you can damage that relationship beyond repair.

Competing on price

Discounts and price cuts have their place but only temporarily, such as when you’re trying to stimulate first‐time trial and build a base of customers for future email or social media campaigns.

Keeping prices low for an extended period of time or offering low prices frequently just puts customers on notice to hold off and never pay full price. You quickly position your brand as the budget option, which limits your appeal, and once you lower a price, you’ll have a hard time ever raising it again. Although reducing prices to meet sales goals may be tempting, keep in mind that repeated price promotions can erode brand value and create fickle customers who abandon you for the competitors’ promotions.

Ignoring the emotional drivers of choice

90 percent of people’s thoughts and behavior are driven by their unconscious minds. People respond more to dopamine rushes that make them feel euphoric and unbeatable and oxytocin that makes them feel connected, accepted, and loved than they respond to clever ads or blow‐out pricing specials. When you tap the emotional drivers that influence how people feel about themselves and the world around them, you influence behavior. All you do should be based on creating positive feelings and on building trust. Without trust, you can’t tap into much of anything else.

Forgetting to edit

If your letter, email, website, print ad, sign, or billboard has a typo in it, people remember that goof and forget the rest. Not only can sloppy mistakes make a bad first impression among prospects, but they can also make people question the amount of attention you pay to detail when producing your products, managing your invoices, and executing on customer service. Edit carefully and get someone else to look over your shoulder to make sure nothing slips by. Your brand is only as good as your reputation.

Offering what you can’t deliver

When you make promises you’re not sure you can deliver on, you put yourself in the category of bad salespeople who can’t be trusted. In addition, if you try to roll out a product that doesn’t work yet or before you’ve worked out all the details for execution, service, and troubleshooting, you set customers up to have a bad experience with you. Either way, you lose trust and potential sales. In most, if not all cases, those disappointed customers can find another supplier from whom to purchase and to whom to assign their loyalty.

Treating customers impersonally

Every customer is a person who likes to be treated as such. No one likes to be a number. Today, with all the CRM technology, you can usually identify who is on the other end of a phone call. When you can, you should address that person by name, thank her for her business, and ask if you can do anything else to make her happy.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and take a hard look at all your customer interactions. Are they as personal as they should be? If not, invest in better list‐checking, a central database of customers, training in how to pronounce customer names, and whatever else it takes to allow your business to treat all customers like important individuals.

Blaming the customer

It’s easy to think that an irate customer is out of line and overreacting. But regardless, you need to take the high road and let the customer be right — within reason, of course. As Neiman Marcus is famous for stating, “The customer is always right” when it to comes to how she feels she should have been treated or the ­quality of product she thought she was buying.

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