21 Biggest Marketing Failures of All Time

Shikha Tyagi Shikha Tyagi
Apr 6, 2022 11 min read
21 Biggest Marketing Failures of All Time

Advertisement failure can be a nightmare for a company. It may occur due to more focus on creativity than the product itself. Other reasons may include an improper tone or just the wrong timing.

Advertising your brand is the best way to reach your customers. It helps to communicate the details of your product and increases brand value. It brings the attention of your target audience to your company.

In short, it helps bring more money to your business. This makes advertising a very useful and powerful tool.

In today’s world, it has become really easy to advertise your brand. There are several platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. that are free. You can advertise your product here without spending much.

However, with this ease and availability of advertisement options, the frequency of advertisement failures has also increased. We often become an audience to such incidents. These blunders can cost a brand its goodwill and an ample amount of money.

In this article, we bring for you the biggest advertisement failures of all times and the lessons to learn from them.

1. Pepsi: Kendel Jenner Protest
2. Dove: Body Shape Bottles
3. McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish Burger
4. Ford: Figo India Poster
5. Sony PSP White Billboard
6. Burger King: Smartphone Campaign
7. Audi: Chinese Wedding Commercial
8. Adidas: Boston Marathon Email
9. Airbnb: Floating World Email
10. Ink Coffee: Gentrification Sign
11. Dove: Racist Facebook Campaign
12. Bud Light Beer: Removing NO From Your Vocabulary
13. Blackberry: Tweet From iPhone
14. Kurl on: Malala Poster Ad
15. KFC: Oprah Winfrey Free Chicken Giveaway
16. Walker’s: Selfie Competition
17. Facebook: VR Puerto Rico Tour
18. Nivea: Invisible Deodrant
19. Snapchat: Would You Rather!
20. Starbucks: Blonde Espresso
21. Bootea Shake: Copy and Paste Caption

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1. Pepsi: Kendel Jenner Protest

An advertisement of Pepsi casting Kendel Jenner was released on 4th April 2017. In the advertisement, Jenner is shown resolving the issues of black people by handing over a can of Pepsi to a Police officer. The tagline of the advertisement was “Live Bolder”.

Although, as per Pepsi, the purpose of the advertisement was to show Pepsi as a unifying tool for different people, the audience did not feel the same. There was a lot of outrage regarding the advertisement which was finally pulled back by the company.

2. Dove: Body Shape Bottles

Dove Body Shape Bottle
Dove Body Shape Bottle

Dove as a brand has been appreciated a lot for its real beauty campaigns. The company is a part of Unilever and has brought a great difference to the meaning of beauty for people. The company runs reality-based advertisements casting real-life women.

They have always claimed that their motto is to celebrate body diversity and also, to spread the beauty confidence in women of all shapes. However, a 2017 advertisement of the company became a huge controversy.

The company decided to launch a limited edition of body wash bottles in different shapes resembling women of different sizes. But, the campaign did not go as expected and was ridiculed a lot.

It was said that choosing one out of different shaped bottles made women more self-conscious. Even Kristen Bellstrom of Fortune’s broadsheet newsletter criticized the advertisement.

3. McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish Burger

On May 12, 2017, McDonald's launched an ad that showed a boy trying to find similarities with his dead father. In the end, the boy is seen happy as he finds that his father liked the same burger as he does.

The ad was highly criticized and called upsetting. McDonald’s was accused of exploiting the misery and pain of children by selling food. Later, an apology was released by McDonald’s in which they said “This was by no means an intention of ours. We wanted to highlight the role McDonald's has played in our customers' everyday lives - both in good and difficult times.”

4. Ford: Figo India Poster

In 2013, Ford launched a poster campaign in India for its Figo car. It was produced by JWT India and focused on the larger trunk capacity of the vehicle. The tagline was “Leave your worries behind with Figo's extra-large boot (trunk).”

The advertisement showed caricatures of three tied and gagged women in the trunk. The caricature of Ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was shown in the driver's seat. Berlusconi was charged and was known for his many affairs.

As a result, Ford faced a huge backlash. Ford Marketing chief Jim Farley officially apologized publicly. Also, it resulted in the termination of a few employees at JWT India.

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5. Sony PSP White Poster

Sony PSP White Poster
Sony PSP White Poster

In 2006, Sony launched a printed ad in Netherland to promote its white-coloured Playstation Portable. The tagline was “Playstation Portable. White is Coming”.

The poster showed a massive white woman with aggressive expressions tightly holding the face of a black woman, who looks scared. This was called the racist ad and was criticized a lot.

Sony later withdrew the campaign and issued an apology saying:  “The images that were used in the campaign were intended solely to highlight the contrast between the different colours available for the PSP.”

6. Burger King: Smartphone Campaign

A smartphone campaign was launched by Burger King that let users see their menu and ingredients on their smart devices. They made use of Wikipedia as a platform. Although the campaign in itself did not have any issue, it was hacked by someone who altered the name of ingredients including poisonous substances such as cyanide. This caused an overnight panic. Finally, the company had to shut a potentially innovative marketing channel.

7. Audi: Chinese Wedding Commercial

A commercial was aired for the promotion of used Audi cars in 2017. The tagline was “An important decision must be made carefully.”

The ad begins at a wedding scene and shows an old woman is seen running to the altar where his son is getting married. The woman checks the nose, ears, teeth, and other body parts of the bride. After which she gets down giving an okay sign. The campaign was highly criticized for objectifying women.

8. Adidas: Boston Marathon Email

Adidas was the sponsor of the 121st annual race in Boston, named Adidas Boston Marathon. A congratulations email was sent to all the Marathon finishers. The subject of the email read “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

Adidas Boston Marathon Email
Adidas Boston Marathon Email

This might seem like a normal fun-filled heading. However, people were deeply offended owing to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing case. The incident had caused the death of 3 people and injured around 250.

An official apology was issued by Adidas. In a statement to TIME, they said “We are incredibly sorry. Clearly, there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. We deeply apologize for our mistake.”


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9. Airbnb: Floating World Email

On August 28, 2017, Airbnb sent an email to its subscribers. It was themed “Floating homes, waterfall slides, & more reasons to travel”. Also, the email said, “Stay above water, live the life aquatic with these floating homes.”

Airbnb Floating World
Airbnb Floating World

Although it appears as a harmless email, it came at the time Hurricane Harvey was still creating havoc in Houston, Texas. Obviously, it was not taken with ease and faced criticism.

10. Ink Coffee: Gentrification Sign

A coffee shop located in the north of downtown Denver suffered huge backlash and even vandalism owing to a signboard placed in front of the shop.

ink Coffee Gentrification Board
ink Coffee Gentrification Board

The board stated, “Happily Gentrifying the neighbourhood since 2014.” The founder and owner of the coffee shop Keith Herbert faced huge crowds of protestors. He later issued an apology saying, he was not exactly aware of the issues related to gentrification.

11. Dove: Racist Facebook Campaign

Once again in 2017 Dove landed into controversy owing to its Facebook ad. It was a four-panel image that had a black woman wearing a dark-coloured T-shirt in the first two panels. However, as the woman removes her T-shirt a white woman in light colour T-shirt comes out.

Dove Facebook Campaign
Dove Facebook Campaign

The complete ad was a GIF featuring three women. The next woman was revealed as the earlier one who removed her T-shirt. As per the Company, the idea was to show “the diversity of beauty”. However, the ad was highly criticized for its racist nature. Dove removed the ad and apologized through Facebook.

12. Bud Light Beer: Removing NO From Your Vocabulary

All the bottles of Bud Light Beer released in April 2015, had a tagline printed on the label. It said “The perfect beer for removing “NO” from your vocabulary for the night # up for whatever”.

Bud Light Beer Label
Bud Light Beer Label

People felt that the campaign was promoting rape culture and neglecting the power of consent. The certainly was a misleading advertisement.

13. Blackberry: Tweet From iPhone

A new smartphone was launched by Blackberry in 2015. For the promotion, a picture of the phone was shared on Twitter. Although the new smartphone appeared smart and sleek, problem was that the picture was taken using an iPhone.

BlackBerry Tweet from iPhone
BlackBerry Tweet from iPhone

The picture was removed but, it had already got noticed with screenshots taken. This invited a lot of trolling for the company.

14. Kurl on: Malala Poster Ad

A print ad was released by Kurl On, a mattress brand in India. The ad showed a caricature of Malala Yousafzai being shot and different stages of her recovery. Then, she bounces back on Kurl on the mattress to receive the international award.

Kurl-on Poster
Kurl-on Poster

The ad was one in a series of three. The other two featured Mahatma Gandhi and Steve Job. Although, the company meant no harm, using a sensitive incident like that of Malala disturbed public emotions inviting criticism.

15. KFC: Oprah Winfrey Free Chicken Giveaway

At that time, Oprah’s show was quite popular in the US. KFC saw this as an opportunity to advertise their newly launched Kentucky Fried Chicken. They offered a free meal to the viewers of the Oprah show by using a coupon that could be downloaded from the Oprah website. However, little did they know that the plan would backfire.

KFC Free Chicken
KFC Free Chicken

Over 10.5 million people downloaded the coupons and applied for a free meal. The company finally had to cancel the deal under the reason of overwhelming response.

16. Walker’s: Selfie Competition

Walkers Wave Campaign
Walkers Wave Campaign

In 2017, a UK-based Snack Company named “Walker’s” started #WalkersWave campaign on Twitter. The visitors were asked to share their selfies. Through this people could participate in a lucky draw to win tickets to the Champion’s League final. However, the issues arose some miscreants instead of selfies shared pictures of serial killers and other criminals. These pictures appeared in an auto-generated video.

17. Facebook: VR Puerto Rico Tour

Facebook VR
Facebook VR

In 2017, a hurricane hit Puerto Rico. Mark Zuckerberg used the VR app of Facebook (Now Meta) to visit there through an NPR-produced 360-video of Puerto Rico. The idea was to tell people about the help Facebook has been providing in the disaster-struck country. However, the cartoonish avatars used in the video looked funny and this, Facebook was condemned for its insensitivity. The video appeared more of a show-off of the VR capabilities of Facebook. An apology was issued by Mark Zuckerberg clarifying his intent.

18. Nivea: Invisible Deodrant

Nivea launched a range of transparent deodorants in 2017. The ad campaign featured a woman, with her back facing the camera. She had black hair and wore a white-coloured dress. The tagline was “white is purity”. The advertisement was criticized for its racist nature.

Nivea White is Purity
Nivea White is Purity Ad

19. Snapchat: Would You Rather!

An advertisement was launched on Snapchat for a game named “Would You Rather?”, in 2018. The ad presented the users with the question “Would you rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown?” This was a disaster owing to the much highlighted 2009 domestic violence case of Chris Brown and Rihanna.

Snapchat Would you rather ad
Snapchat Would you rather ad

Later, the ad was pulled off. Snapchat issued a public apology using its competitor app Instagram.

20. Starbucks: Blonde Espresso

Starbucks launched a new blonde espresso in 2018. This was a gentle drink and was said to be more suitable for the new coffee drinkers. However, the advertisement to promote this espresso was mocked owing to the vague language used. The landing page read Also, the coffee name like “Tall blonde” appeared weird to people for placing an order.

21. Bootea Shake: Copy and Paste Caption

In 2016, the shake company asked Scott Disick, a social media influencer, to promote their brand through Instagram.

Scott Disick Bootea Shake Caption
Scott Disick Bootea Shake Caption

Well, he did what he had to. He copy-pasted the caption along with the promotional photo clicked for the post. However, he accidentally also pasted the instructions received from the company. Both the Company and Scott were heavily trolled.

Lessons to learn from these advertisements

  • Choose the tone and timing of your advertisement carefully.
  • Keep political and social scenarios in mind while creating an ad.
  • It is better to focus on the product itself instead of trying to be creative.
  • Double-check your work before you finally release it to the public.
  • Be cautious with who you partner with. The influencers and celebrities that align with your work should be clear on what they are expected to do.

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Conclusion

Advertising is a double-edged sword. It is capable of creating an extremely positive or exceptionally negative image of a brand. We sincerely hope this article helps you choose your advertisement wisely.

FAQs

What are some marketing fails?

Pepsi: Kendel Jenner Protest, Dove: Body Shape Bottles, Airbnb: Floating World, Nivea: Invisible Deodrant, Sony PSP White billboard, and Adidas: Boston Marathon Email.

What is the most successful ad of all time?

Apple – “1984”, Wendy's – “Where's the Beef?”, Tootsie Pop – “How Many Licks?”,  Coca-Cola – “Meet Joe Greene are some of the most successful campaigns of all time.

Why do most marketing campaigns fail?

Unrealistic expectations, Less research, not targeting the right audience, and delivering a wrong message are some of the common reasons why most marketing campaigns fail.

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