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Even Big Brands have that Oops Moment in Marketing

The importance of marketing cannot be understated. Not marketing your product can shut you out from an entire consumer base, while marketing your product poorly can lead cause your product to not appeal to consumers or to not be accepted at all.

While it may seem that big brands know it all, the opposite is true. Big brands have failed, and frequently for not putting in the time and the time and consideration into developing a strong and successful marketing campaign.

Below are the brands that have make the greatest marketing failures in history. Hopefully, as a small or developing brand, you’ll be able to learn from their onerous mistakes.

Nike: Pistorious Can’t “Just Do It”

Choosing the right spokesperson and representative for your brand can make a big difference and in a very positive way. However, choosing the wrong spokesperson can also lead to a major disaster, just like the one that Nike brand faced a few years ago during the 2012 Olympics when it hired Pictorious to represent its show brand.

The problem wasn’t that Pictorious was an amputee; that in fact was the positive element of the campaign. The bad news was that Pistorious wasn’t only featured on Nike’s posters, he was also featured on worldwide news for killing his then girlfriend.

The result of choosing a killer to represent its brand was the loss of millions of dollars and a trashed campaign.

Coca-Cola’s “Poison in a Can”

No – don’t get the wrong idea, Coca-Cola did not market its brand as “Poison in a Can.” However, Coca-Cola did try to pull a marketing stunt that caused its advertisement to relate very close to poison.

In the 1990’s, Coca-Cola came out with what was known as the “Magi-Can.” This can, designed to resemble a Coca-Cola can, was a can that was filled with water to resemble a real can.

When you opened the can, a gift certificate would pop out as a perk. The bad news is that most people didn’t realize these were fake Coca-Cola used to market the brand and to appeal to mass audiences.

Therefore, people ended up drinking the drink and getting ill. The result was an investigation by health authorities and Coca-Cola quickly pulling the stunt off its shelves. So much for trying to be gratuitous to customers.

United Way: The Best Way to Make a Mess

It’s easy to realize that the city of Cleveland needs some good PR, but every time some effort is made, a disaster seems to happen. The most recent disaster was through United Way’s doing.

In 1986, United Way thought it would be a good idea to create family friendly day to promote its brand. The family friendly festivities included launching thousands of balloons.

Well, you’re probably thinking “what in the world could go wrong with that?” The truth is – a lot can go wrong with launching thousands of balloons into the sky and United Way found that out the hard way.

The day that United Way hosted its big event, rain peddled across the city, knocking down all the balloons to the ground. The city was littered with the balloons, and to make things worse, the airport shut down and Lake Erie turned into a rubber pit.

The point is – never choose a marketing ploy that you can’t keep under control.

Guns and Roses v. Dr. Pepper

It seems like the 90s were big years for companies in terms of marketing mistakes. The next big mistake teaches you to never make a promise that you cannot keep or that you have no idea how to enforce.

In 1994, Guns and Roses was severely delaying its new album Chinese Democracy. Well, Dr. Pepper decided to capitalize on the delay.

In order to appeal to fans, Dr. Pepper promised a free can of Dr. Pepper to every American if Guns and Roses released its album before the end of the year.

It seems to be a good idea for the company – it had the opportunity to show that it had a funny side, but Dr. Pepper also wouldn’t need to actually give out a free can because it didn’t seem like the album would come out.

Well, unfortunately, Dr. Pepper seriously miscalculated. Guns and Roses did come out with an album and Dr. Pepper suffered an inability to pass out its free drink.

To make matters worse, Guns and Roses sued Dr. Pepper for lying to Americans.

American Airlines: There is No Such Thing As Free

In the 1990s, American Airlines thought it would find a way to appeal to wealthier customer. The famous idea was to offer customers lifetime passes for $250,000 each and at an extra $150,000, you could bring a friend.

These passes allowed you travel anywhere worldwide and on first class. While American Airlines anticipated very wealthy Americans to purchase the tickets, it did not anticipate for less wealthy individuals to buy into the marketing plan too.

The less wealthy individuals smartly took advantage of American Airline’s new offer by flying far more than the airline expected.

The result was a botched campaign, millions of dollars down the drain, and the need to hire a frauds analyst to harass those who have bought the ticket in the hopes of finding a way to legally revoke it.

The moral of this story is to always plan out your marketing campaigns before you launch them. In addition, you should never offer something that is too good to be true, because in the end, the trouble may come back to you.

Turner Broadcasting – Cartoons Should Stay Cartoons

In more recent marketing disaster news, particularly 2007, Turner Broadcasting, which owns Cartoon Network launched a marketing campaign. Their marketing campaign was pretty bright.

To attract customers and to promote one of their new shows, Cartoon Network featured a new character from its show in LED lights throughout US cities.

However, city residents weren’t too pleased and failed to understand that it was a marketing campaign. Rather than buying into the show’s advertisement, some residents thought that the LED lights were bombs and a terrorist scare ensued.

The result of the marketing disaster was the head of Cartoon Network the lose his job and it also cost the company $2 million in compensation for the emergency response teams.

Kennith Cole Capitalizes on Egypt

In 2011, Kennith Cole launched its spring collection, which was also right around the time that Egypt launched its revolution.

Rather than saying nothing or expressing solidarity with the Egyptian people, Kennith Cole decided to capitalize on the revolution and tweet, “Millions are in uproar in Cairo. Rumor is they heard that our new spring collection is now available online.”

Clearly, this type of insensitive marketing campaign severely backfired. The company immediately received backlash from customers decrying the insensitivity expressed by the company. The tweet was immediately removed and Kennith Cole Brand had to make some serious damage control.

Gap: Gambling with a Redesign

Gap has made some recent marketing mistakes, but none were so serious as Gap’s attempt to redesign its logo. Gap has always appealed to customers that enjoy simplicity and comfort.

To continue appealing to its consumer base, Gap decided to simplify its brand some more by redoing the logo. Rather than receive positive feedback, the logo lasted for two days.

Customers decried Gap’s attempt citing that Gap was trying to fit in rather than stand out like it always has. After taking down the logo, Gap apologized to its customers and kept the old design.

Netflix: Qwikster a Quick Disaster

Netflix has always been a big and popular brand and has usually made some good marketing decisions for its company. However, in an attempt to appeal to more users and to make its brand more accessible, the company decided to outsource its DVD streaming through Qwikster.

Well, the result of this attempt was a quick disaster. The streaming service encountered dozens of problems and users were unhappy with the service that Netflix provided.

As a result, Netflix lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers and its stock price plummeted. When thinking of redesigning your brand to appeal to consumers, another consideration to take into account is whether your proposed marketing ploy is actually going to work.

The smarter solution would have been for Netflix to test out the service on a number of users before mass marketing it. The point is, before you mass market a revamped product on the market, send it out to a select number of users first.

This way, you can gauge how it operates and whether spending more money to mass market it is a good idea.


You don’t need to struggle when it comes to marketing your brand. The above situations demonstrate what big problems you should avoid when designing your next big marketing campaign.

Falling into a disastrous marketing situation can have severe consequences, and avoiding such messes can leave your brand in a much better position than any of the above brands were in.

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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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