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5 Marketing Fails and What You Can Learn from Them

Mistakes are just part of being human. They are naturally occurring, and how most of us learn. Oftentimes, failure is not devastating, it is a blessing in disguise because it forces us to grow, and keeps us grounded.

Even the best digital marketers deal with failure daily. Advertising campaigns crash, or brand messaging just plain stinks. Sometimes we think we got it right, but we still manage to post ablog that gains no momentum. Even when success is great and it is time to celebrate, never get too comfortable or complacent. That is an important lesson that failure has taught us.

When asked to name the biggest marketing errors or failures of all time, a LinkedIn group recently offered some interesting responses, some were depressing, other amusing, all were humbling. Some of the following responses stood out among the rest, others offered valuable lessons learned:

  1. Keep it Classy

Avoid using slang terms unless you fully understand how to use them correctly. McDonald’s marketing execs made a big error a few years ago. They seemed to think they were being hip, and appealing to a younger audience by implementing a phrase many teenagers like to use. The advertisement was for the chain’s dollar menu. It read, “double cheeseburger? I’d hit it…” The problem here is that the popular phrase refers to having sex with an individual, highly inappropriate for a family-oriented burger joint.

Moral: Get your facts straight and never use words or phrases if you don’t understand their true meaning.

  1. Proofread, Again and Again

If you have pored over that whitepaper or blog content a dozen times, or if you somehow missed your deadline, you still need to proofread. Never skip this step, always put in the time needed. This applies to just about every task you do that requires you to decide on something. Oftentimes taking the extra few minutes will save you a great deal of grief and precious time in the future. For instance, Scottish singer Susan Boyle, wowed audiences all over the world in 2009 with her amazing voice when she got so close to winning Britain’s Got Talent. The marketing error here was when it was time to release Boyle’s album, whoever was in charge did a poor job of choosing the best hashtag. Either the singer or her publicists went with #susanalbumparty. Hardly a winning post, it invited ridicule and mocking comments.

  1. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

The Hoover Company, famous vacuum cleaner and washing machine maker, made an offer to their UK customers. Buyers who purchased more than GBP 100 worth of Hoover products would be given two return flight tickets to Europe. The offer later included tickets to the U.S. Without many surprises, the company could not cover the enormous expense. In short, Hoover wound up being sued repeatedly across Britain.

  1. An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

Back in 2013 the marketing team for Canada-based Coca-Cola brand, Vitamin Water thought it would be a great idea to offer a mix of both French and English words on their bottle caps to accentuate the country’s proud bilingual community. The marketing fails the demeaning phrase,” you retard” showed up on the cap of a bottle opened by a young lady with a half-sister afflicted with cerebral palsy. The brand was very lax in its approach to provide a memorable customer experience. Their method backfired because the words on the caps were only reviewed by native French speakers. “Retard” is defined as “late” from the French perspective. Call it a hunch, but It appears they should have also consulted with English speakers.

  1. Some Marketing Ideas Aren’t Worth the Risk of Making a Mistake

Shutterfly, an online provider of photo-based gifts and keepsakes recently sent a marketing email to new mothers. The communication welcomed the new arrivals and provided a discount on infant announcements. Sounds innocent enough, but the problems arose when the email was sent unintentionally to a much wider audience than originally intended. Viewers on the distribution list provided a range of responses, they were either offended, confused or amused. One female customer who was accidentally sent the congratulatory correspondence found the email to be very insensitive, she was not able to bear children. Although the brand was by no means commenting on anyone’s ability to procreate or even if these customers had kids at all, unfortunately, the message came across that way.

Digital marketers can’t ever dismiss the fact that the internet is unforgiving and never forgets anything. If you send off an insulting blurb of copy or post an offensive tweet, whether it was intentional or not, viewers will read it, maybe even save it and judge your brand in the ruthless court of public opinion. Since this is not rocket science, it brings a few thoughts to mind.

Genius or Marketing Fail?

Are some of these marketing fails actual errors in judgment or brilliant strategies? Is it brand genius or an epic fail when a campaign is so horrible, or ridiculous, it leaves consumers wondering if this tactic was purposefully orchestrated. We all know that even bad press is good press.

Problems with grammar and spelling are unacceptable, this point is so fundamental it makes you question who is in charge or was this move done on purpose. Any ad used to market your product or service reflects your brand. Always proofread and double check your content before sending it out into oblivion.

Poorly placed ads can also lead to a marketing fail. When ads line up against one another, that can lead to pandemonium. Chaos ensues when marketers dish out lots of money and editors mess up.

Failure happens from time to time, we have all made errors. The important thing is to learn from these marketing mistakes so that success will come the next time you face a similar challenge. Have you encountered any marketing fails that you were able to turn into a triumph?

Lastly, let me know your thoughts and tips for marketing fails that has helped you. Leave a comment below and I look forward to hearing from you.


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About Sean Donahoe

Sean is one of the most recognized industry leaders in business and marketing. As a popular speaker, author, consultant he has helped over 50,000 students world wide find success in their businesses and has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and businesses of every size grow and thrive...

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