We all make mistakes at work, but not often are our mistakes broadcasted to millions of people to be judged and ridiculed. Marketing is certainly a tricky game to play. It requires lots of planning and research to make something look good, but many times do companies get their audience dead wrong. From bad timing to tone deaf messaging, here are 10 of the most iconically bad marketing campaigns ever.
1. Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad
Do you remember where you were when this tone deaf ad dropped? The year was 2017. After years of protest had rocked and polarized the U.S. along came model Kendall Jenner to save us from our political division. The simple solution? A can of Pepsi. Long story short Pepsi pulled the ad from YouTube not even 24 hours after posting it. The ad even elicited a response from Bernice King, daughter of the late Martin Luther King.
2. Burger King’s Women’s Day Tweet
If you ever want to stir up controversy look no further than Twitter. They say any publicity is good publicity, but that may not be the case if you’re a corporate Twitter account. Take Burger King UK’s 2021 Women’s Day tweet for example. With just five words, the account stirred up a hornets nest of criticism.
The seemingly misogynist tweet was accompanied by two progressive statements but thanks to formatting, some users never saw the followup tweets. Many called the tweets tone deaf and they were subsequently deleted following an apology.
3. New Coke
Though its no longer recent memory, Coca-Cola’s New Coke campaign has to be the mother of all marketing blunders. After testing out a new sweeter flavor of Coke, the company decided to change the age old recipe in 1985. Even though 53% of drinkers liked the new flavor over the old one in a blind taste test, customers instantly hated the change.
Coca-Cola was slammed with over 400,000 complaints before they switched back to the old formula which actually drummed up even more business and buzz. So in a way, it was the failed marketing campaign that sort of worked out in the end.
4. LifeLock’s Failed Hacking Challenge
Your social security number is a very private piece of information; plastering it all over the country for millions to see seems to be the last thing you’d want. But that is exactly what LifeLock CEO Todd Davis decided to do. In 2006, the data protection company challenged hackers to try and steal its CEO’s social security number as proof of their product.
The end result? Davis became the victim of identity theft 13 times. The blunder was humiliating for the company which was also hit with a $12 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising. Ouch!
5. Peloton’s “The Gift That Gives Back” Commercial
Now there’s nothing exactly offensive about this commercial its just…well, kind of off. This 2019 ad featured a thin woman’s journey to get even thinner for her husband. Sure, its quite out of touch but what grabbed everybody’s attention was the woman’s face who looked like she was taken hostage and forced to exercise against her will. The end result was a commercial that was awkward at best and downright creepy at worst. I mean, just look at that face. She looks just charmed to get back on that bike!
6. Dove’s Diversity Campaign
For a company that specializes in skin care, Dove has a habit of being tone deaf on racial issues. This failed 2017 ad campaign is a prime example. The company posted a three-second ad on Facebook that was instantly met with scorn.
In the clip, three women each remove a shirt revealing another woman underneath. The message of the ad was that Dove was an inclusive brand meant for people of all colors and shapes. But what the public perceived was the image of a black woman becoming a white woman after washing herself with the Dove product. Customers called the ad prejudiced and even called for a boycott.
Dove quickly pulled the ad and issued an apology.
7. H&M’s “Coolest Monkey in The Jungle” Hoodie
Another racially insensitive corporate debacle! In 2018, clothing retailer H&M ran this ad with a black child wearing a hoodie that said “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” on the front. It didn’t take long for black consumers to sneer at the slogan. The company was slammed by Twitter users while singer The Weeknd decided to cut all ties with the retailer.
8. Hershey’s Logo Redesign
Who doesn’t like Hershey’s kisses? The classic candy has seldom changed over the years while the company’s name is now synonymous with chocolate. But back in 2014, the company decided to shake up its logo a bit. Hershey’s switched their classic 3D Hershey’s logo with a flat geometric design. The concept was simple but in execution the logo suggested a steaming pile of, well you get the idea! Consider this snafu a lesson in graphic design.
9. Starbuck’s #RaceTogether Hashtag
Starbuck’s billionaire CEO Howard Schultz has never been one to shy away from social topics. In 2015, the chain encouraged its employees to write #racetogether on customer’s cups to encourage conversations on race. How and why this was supposed to help is anybody’s guess, but the company was met with criticism and ended the campaign days after it started.
10. AAirpass by American Airlines
In the 1980’s American Airlines tried to drum up some business with a rather ridiculous idea. They offered customers a once in a lifetime offer; unlimited first class flights for $250,000. Now a quarter of a million dollars is a chunk of change, but the unlimited flights is a deal that pays for itself rather quickly. The airline was surprised by the immediate response.
The company foolishly failed to put any limits on the amount of air travel and was forced to honor the AAirpass which cost them more in the long run. The company discontinued the deal but their 65 AAirpass recipients have costed the airline over $50 million to this day.