8 Greatest Failed Marketing Campaigns of All Time

8 Greatest Failed Marketing Campaigns of All Time

‘To err is human’ is a very famous quote. Yes! We are humans and we do make mistakes. It doesn’t matter whether you are the CEO of multi-million dollar organisation or a small businessman, things can go wrong. The world has witnessed many failed marketing campaigns. These marketing blunders can be helpful to a budding entrepreneur who wants to start their journey.

The main reason behind this article is to tell you that doing mistakes is common and will be useful only if you don’t repeat it and learn from it. So, here we have listed some failed marketing campaigns of famous brands.

Before proceeding, you can check this out to further reduce your chances of failure:

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8 Greatest Failed Marketing Campaigns

Failure of Gillette
Failure of Tata Nano
Hoover's Free Flight Loss of $50 Million
Red Lobster's All-You-Can-Eat Promotion Failure
Lifelock – The Story Of An Irony
McDonald’s Free Treat Offer Failure
KFC Free Chicken Offer Failure
Disaster of Panasonic

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Failure of Gillette

Gillette is a famous brand but when Gillette launched Vector razor in India, it was one of the biggest failed marketing campaigns in India. Here is where they went wrong. Before launching vector they did some market research and found that in India men had thicker and longer hair as compared to Americans. Keeping that in mind to unclog the razor while shaving they included a plastic piece that could slide down.

The biggest mistake Gillette did was that they didn't conduct the research in India. They simply researched with Indian students at MIT. So, they missed out on the biggest problem of Indian men, which is, access to running water while shaving. That is why unclogging the Vector razor while shaving isn't possible in India. This ultimately led to its marketing failure in India .

Failure of Tata Nano

For a middle-class Indian family, buying a brand-new car meant only three options: - Maruti 800, Alto or WagonR. Tata with a dream to provide the happiness of buying 4-wheeler to every family, came out with the cheapest car – NANO worth only INR 1 lakh.

When Ratan Tata's Tata Nano was launched it was considered as "the cheapest car" and marketed as one as well. But the word "cheap" prevented it from flourishing. It became one of the greatest failed marketing campaigns in India. It is a great example of famous products that failed in India and that all publicity is not good publicity.

Failure of Tata Nano - Failed Marketing Campaigns in India
Failure of Tata Nano

Hoover's Free Flight Loss of $50 Million

It is a common practice of giving an offer on products which are old-fashioned, not in use or gathering dust in warehouses. This American based company which sold washing machines and vacuums began with a marketing promotion in 1992 with an offer to gift trip tickets to Europe on the purchase of $100 or more.

The company wasn’t expecting a huge response but they were well adorned by a flood of customers all across the world. This led to a whopping loss of $50 million. This shows that even if you want to lure the customer by giving an offer or a discount, make it realistic. This was one of the biggest losses of a failed marketing campaign of all time.

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Red Lobster's All-You-Can-Eat Promotion Failure

You might have witnessed many restaurants where if you finish a special dish within a time-limit, you get a reward at the end of it. This leads to a good attraction of customers because very few can complete this challenge but everyone wants to participate. In 2003, Red Lobster also thought this and launched a promotional campaign named "Endless Crab".

The idea behind this was that Red Lobster was sure that people in America would either not be able to sit long just to eat or they would not be able to finish more than  a couple of plates at one go. This is because even though Crab is delicious, it is salty and rubbery making it hard to consume.

But here is a catch, Red Lobster never met Americans and after a few weeks of the launch, they realised that they were losing money on each order. The average customers were able to eat at least 2 dozen. Not only this, but the US government also capped on the number of crabs hauled from the ocean. This left the company with a net loss of $3.3 million. This definitely makes it on the list of worst marketing campaigns on all you can eat food challenges.

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Lifelock – The Story Of An Irony

Lifelock is an American company that provides identity theft protection. It was co-founded in 2005 by Todd Davis and Robert J. Maynard. When Lifelock began promoting its services in 2006, they were so confident in their product that, as a symbol of trust, CEO Todd Davis’ Social Security number was displayed on its advertisement.

In 2007, their security system was breached, and Todd Davis himself became a victim of identity theft. The crime was discovered when a company called on his wife’s cell phone regarding an unpaid debt. Upon investigation, it was found that someone used Todd Davis’ identity and obtained a loan of $500.

Four months later, Davis’ identity was stolen again. The person who stole it used it to open an AT&T/Cingular wireless account and racked up a sum of $2,390 which remains unpaid. Later, Davis’ identity was stolen 11 more times resulting in losing the trust of people in his company. This proves that ad campaigns about security should not be done lightly and with great precaution or it might just backfire like in this case.

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McDonald’s Free Treat Offer Failure

In 1984 Olympics, McDonald's offered free burger, snacks and soft drinks for every medal US win. It worked like this, if a customer buys anything from McDonald  they would get a scratch-off card with an Olympic event on it and if the US wins the customer will get free food.  If the U.S. team won gold in that event, the customer would get a Big Mac. If the team won silver, the customer got french fries and Bronze meant a free soft drink. The motto was "U.S. Wins, You Win."

But they didn't realize that two strong opponents of US in the Olympics, Germany and Russia and other communist countries were not participating in the sports event. This resulting in the US winning 174 medals with 83 gold. This was McDonald's greatest failed marketing campaign.

KFC Free Chicken Offer Failure

Whenever we think of any fast food restaurant, the picture of KFC comes to our mind. But when thinking about failed marketing campaigns by fastfood restaurants, then also the picture of KFC ought to come to mind. KFC's biggest failure in marketing happened on the popular TV show Oprah. They started an offer, promising viewers a free coupon for a 2-piece chicken meal with two individual sides and a biscuit. The only condition was that the users have to download the coupon from the Oprah website.

KFC clearly hadn't done any research before the promotion and here is what happened. Millions of people coupons amounting to 10.5 million coupons downloaded. People from all over the US rushed to the KFC counter to get their free treat. KFC gave away almost $42 million free food but still couldn’t deliver what they had offered. They were then left with no other choice but to apologized to Oprah and their customers. So the moral of the story is to always, always, conduct a thorough market research before launching any marketing campaign.

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Disaster of Panasonic

Coming up with product names is admittedly difficult but it is hard to believe that no one realized this mistake before it was out into the world. Panasonic which is a famous electronics brand launched a new PC named "Woody - the Internet pecker". Woody means male erection.

To make matters worse, they didn't realise the mistake and went on to rename it as "Touch Woody" to highlight the touch screen feature of the PC. This is one of the greatest fails done by a brand on naming their products.


Even after these failed marketing campaigns, these brands are doing well because they have learned from their mistake. That is what every human being and all the businesses should do. Don't repeat your mistake, learn from them and keep improving. And always remember that every failure is a door to a new opportunity or idea. And most times fear of failure stops us from creating anything new. So our advise is to do thourough market research and not skip over or skimp on this step as most of these fails could have been avoided with a couple more hours of research or meetings put behind the campaigns. Let us know which failed ad campaign shocked you the most or if you want to add anything else to this list. Untill next time!

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Why do marketing campaigns fail?

Most of the marketing campaigns fail due to a lack of research before the product launch. Other factors that can also lead to failed marketing campaigns are not focusing on the right direction, copying from others, budget, and timing.

What are the most successful marketing campaigns?

Some of the most successful marketing campaigns of All time:

  • Idea cellular: What an Idea.
  • Vodafone 'ZooZoos'
  • Fortune Oil- Ghar Ka Khana.
  • Ariel Matic – #ShareTheLoad.
  • Fevikwik- Todo Nahi Jodo.
  • Surf Excel- Daag acche hain.
  • Coca Cola – Small world.
  • Meri Maggi- Me and Meri Maggi.
  • The "Share a Coke" campaign, Coca Cola.
  • The “Real Beauty” campaign, Dove.

How do you know when a campaign has failed?

When a company or brand does not receive the response that they were expecting after marketing their campaign, or when a company loses money from a campaign instead of earning a profit, then it s evident that their marketing campaign has failed.

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