When creating a marketing and ad campaign, there are so many things to consider. But one of the very most important things to consider to avoid a major marketing fail and huge PR nightmare, is the response of the public. You’d think that massive corporations with all their focus groups, big budgets, and access to celebrities would set them up for success after success. But time and time again, we see the opposite.

Creating an edgy campaign that grabs attention and potentially has a bit of controversy in it can really go far, given the right circumstance. But when the wrong circumstances are at play, the campaign can become a social media wildfire that is seemingly inescapable for the brand. And how many “we are deeply sorry for our oversight” apologies from companies can we really stomach?

We can learn what not to do, and what to consider when creating a campaign, from these epic marketing fails.

1. Kendall Jenner for Pepsi

Pepsi wanted to capitalize on the fact that 2017 was a huge year for activism, marches, people speaking up, and millenials establishing themselves as a huge voice in the political arena. So who better to bring in for an advertisement than Kendall Jenner?

While the marketing team at Pepsi may have had good intentions in trying to relate to the political climate, they also grossly offended an entire movement and people who have fought hard to gain equality. This ad had people on social media in an outrage that was based on inequality and white supremacy.

Pepsi removed the ad and issued a formal apology. But in all reality, they aren’t sorry for the ad, they’re sorry for the PR nightmare, outrage and backlash, and loss in sales. Major marketing fail.

2. Dove’s Black Girl Turning White Scandal

This ad was removed in its entirety, but some people managed to snag screen shots before it was wiped from the internet by Dove—and that made things even worse. While the campaign was meant to be geared towards an all-inclusive environment, the execution and final product had an entirely different outcome.

The ad starts with a black woman removing her shit to reveal a white woman, and then again to reveal another woman with brown skin. The inclusivity attempt in essence was great! But, being so close to the sausage during the making left a massive blindspot. The good intentions were chewed up, swallowed, digested, and barfed back up in a hurricane of outrage, again, spread like wildfire on social media (yes, a wildfire hurricane…it was crazy).

The screenshots of only two women, black “turning” into white were all the internet saw. And that was enough for the hashtag #BoycottDove to be trending on Twitter in no time.

“The short video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong,” Dove said in a statement to Reuters.

3. Adidas and The Boston Marathon

In 2017, Adidas was a partner of The Boston Marathon. To congratulate the participants, the company sent an email with the subject line:

“Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

While this phrase of surviving an arduous physical challenge, like the Iron Man or CrossFit, is very common, the pain and grief of the bombings in 2013 which killed three people and injured more than 250 were still deeply felt by all.

Adidas immediately issued an apology, but the damage was done and marathon participants were sharing screenshots on social media.

This obliviousness and complete lack of judgement left Adidas squarely in the path of the same wildfire hurricane for some time.

Another victim.

4. Gold’s Gym Sexist Ad

An Egypt location of Gold’s Gym offended the entire world with an incredibly sexist ad that caused huge waves.

It didn’t take long for social media to dive in and comment on the outrageous level of sexism, which was also linked to an ad from the 70’s. Leave it to the internet get forensic, unearth all the rotten body parts, and stitch ‘em back together. This franken-fail was fabulous.

Gold’s Gym Egypt, of course, removed the ad from that market and issued an apology. But like all the other examples for marketing fails here, the damage had been done—and on a global scale.

5. Facebook Virtual Reality in Puerto Rico

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Mark Zuckerberg used new virtual reality technology to transport himself to Puerto Rico. The goal was to show what Facebook was doing to aid relief — including donating $1.5 million and sharing data with the Red Cross. But what ended up happening was a cartoon Zuckerberg with a cheesy smile floating above incredible devastation and being completely tone def.

Facebook has been under fire for quite a few major “slips” in recent years and this was simply not something that the public could put up with. This cringeworthy display on insensitivity and exploitation of a large-scale tragedy easily takes the cake of this marketing fail roundup.

Marketing Fail Takeaway

As in life, you can’t expect to please everyone at all times with your marketing. But PLEASE keep these incredible fails in mind when creating your next campaign so you aren’t the next one on blast around the world. There are a million ways to advertise and promote something without crossing the line and deeply upsetting large groups of people…or the entire planet.

Think twice before hitting publish, and always look further than your computer screen at what the state of affairs are in the world. Great pain and PR nightmares can be avoided with a little awareness that even these huge corporations seems to be blind to.


You could disregard this entire article and live by the mantra of Mick Jagger:

“Love me or hate me, at least they’re talking about me.”

Mick Jagger

Thanks for reading.

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