The 5 Worst Marketing Failures in History

We know a lot of our readers come to this website looking for advice or ideas about marketing, and we do the best we can for them. This article, however, is not full of great advice or ideas.

It’s full of the exact opposite. We’re going to take a look at some of the worst marketing failures in living memory.

Why are we doing this? To highlight a fact that a lot of people sometimes forget. It’s impossible to get it right all the time when it comes to marketing. You can do all the research you like, and collect all the feedback you desire, but you’ll still sometimes make mistakes.

Even the world’s biggest companies can get it wrong on marketing, and when they do, we all stand back and ask how they could possibly have misjudged their audience so badly.

In every failure, though, is an opportunity to learn. We’re not just going to list these marketing failures; we’re going to look at why they failed, and see what lessons can be learned from them.

By doing so, even though we can’t prevent every marketing mishap you may encounter in your career, we might be able to help you avoid the really big ones!

Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Error

This is one of the more recent examples of marketing gone wrong and an expensive mistake on Pepsi’s behalf.

We suspect that hiring the services of Kendall Jenner for filming didn’t come cheaply, and so a lot of money went down the drain when the advert was pulled after a flood of complaints.

For some reason, Pepsi decided the best way to boost their sales was to offer their drink as a solution to the standoff between black citizens and the police that was happening in the United States at the time.

The advert was seen as trivializing the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and the issue as a whole and serves as a reminder that marketing should always steer clear of contentious social issues. People want Pepsi because they like soda, not because they want a lecture on morality.

New Coke

Staying on the topic of soda, Coca Cola had an outright disaster in the mid-1980s when Pepsi started encroaching on their territory.

Pepsi’s famous ‘taste test’ challenge appeared to show that people preferred the drink to Coca Cola’s own. Instead of falling back on their century of success, Coca Cola panicked and changed their whole formula.

The result was ‘New Coke,’ a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, and a flavor that nobody wanted. New Coke was a disaster. After only a few months of plunging sales and bad press, Coca Cola went back on the decision and returned its original product to the stores.

What’s the lesson we can all learn from this? If your product works, stick to it. Don’t change your strategy based on what your competitors do. Doing so is giving your product a vote of no confidence in the most public way imaginable.

Starbucks Tackle Race

Do you remember the Starbucks: Race Together campaign? Probably not, it only ran for a month before the coffee giant realized they’d made a huge mistake.

Almost unbelievably, Starbucks genuinely wanted customers to come into their stores, buy a coffee, and talk to their staff about the state of race relations.

Their staff even underwent special training to prepare them to deal with the issues they would encounter.

To say this was a strange gamble would be an understatement. Gambling is a good metaphor—all marketing is a gamble to an extent. Imagine a mobile slots website that offers Irish themed games.

Now imagine that same mobile slots website offering a forum to discuss social and religious issues in Ireland at the same time as providing access to those games.

Customers wouldn’t want that – they would just want to play slots casino. If anything, customers go to Starbucks to take a five-minute break from the state of current affairs; they didn’t want them ramming down their faces along with their coffees and cakes.

The moral of this mistake is that you should never try to offer your customers something they didn’t ask for and haven’t shown any sign of wanting.

Budweiser Promote Drunken Liaisons

Alcohol lowers our inhibitions. We all know that, and that’s why we should avoid drinking too much of it in one sitting. A little alcohol can loosen you up and help you to party, but too much will lead to you making bad decisions.

Budweiser was already playing with fire when they started a campaign with the hashtag #UpForWhatever, but they intended it to mean that Budweiser can help you to have more fun.

They might have gotten away with it had they then not started printing the slogan “this beer removes ‘no’ from your vocabulary” on the side of their bottles.

That was seen as a step too far, and the drinks brand found themselves accused of promoting date rape. The outcry was huge, and the campaign was quickly dropped.

From this mistake, we should all learn never to go ahead with a slogan that could be misinterpreted or misrepresented.

Hoover’s Ticket To Bankruptcy

This was the most self-destructive promotional campaign of all time. Hoover is a British company that sells vacuum cleaners, and in 1992 they had too much old stock on their hands.

They wanted to clear it quickly and so one of their marketing team came up with the idea to offer two airplane tickets to the USA for every £100 (around $135) they spent on outdated Hoover stock.

That employee had got their math badly wrong. Two plane tickets to the USA cost around five times that amount. Hoover was inundated with people buying their stock who didn’t even want vacuum cleaners—they just wanted the tickets.

Nearly a quarter of a million people took them up on the offer, and Hoover had to honor the promise to all of them. In total, they lost $68m and became insolvent.

The company was ultimately sold to an Italian rival. Always check that your promotional offers make good business sense. When you’ve done so, check again just to make sure, and then get someone else to check the figures for you, too!

While we can all laugh at these marketing disasters now, they were anything but funny for the companies involved at the time so make sure we don’t put your brand on this list next time we publish an article on marketing mistakes!

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