Electric Sheep

When Marketing Goes Wrong (and How to Prevent It)

Marketing can be a risky business. Great ads will grab attention and grow a business. But get it wrong and the results can be catastrophic.

There have been some hilarious and cringey examples in the past, so we thought we’d revisit them and investigate where it all went wrong.

Heineken’s Controversial ‘Lighter is Better’

In 2018, Heineken released an ad promoting their light beer. The video followed a bottle slide past three black people before stopping in front of a lighter skinned woman who is deciding whether to choose a glass of wine. The caption ‘sometimes, lighter is better’ follows.

The ad instantly caused uproar and was accused of being racist. Heineken apologised saying they ‘missed the mark’.  The ad was pulled off air and amended to show a new finishing line of ‘lower calories, great taste’.

What can we learn from this awkward blunder? The marketing industry needs to create an open environment where every voice from every background is heard. If you’re not open to criticism and different perspectives, you could be the next brand to face an angry response.

Susan’s Hitting a Bum Note

Remember Susan Boyle? Way back in 2012, the singer’s PR people were promoting her latest album event on Twitter along with the hashtag #SusanAlbumParty… Do you see it? We’ll say it again… #susanalbumparty. Whoops! Well, at least it got SuBo in the press again.

It’s pretty simple what could have been done differently here. Just give your posts a once over and check your hashtags don’t create inappropriate new words.

AirBnB’s Poorly Timed Email

Airbnb sent a seemingly harmless email in 2017 called ‘floating world’ which promoted some of their beautiful water-themed houses and featured phrases like ‘stay above water’. Even though the email was planned in advance, unfortunately, it launched when hurricane Harvey was engulfing Houston.

How could this have been prevented? Proofreading the content itself wouldn’t have helped but it was all in the timing. A similar blunder was narrowly avoided in the Electric Sheep offices recently. We had a pre-scheduled social media post on how important good content is, named ‘King of Content’ which was speedily rescheduled following the sad news of the late Queen’s passing. Pay attention to current events and keep your marketing agile and responsive.

Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Protest Party

In 2017, the year of marketing fails it seems, Pepsi released a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner watching a marching protest and then joining in. It ends with her handing a can of Pepsi to a police officer as a peace offering and everyone cheers.

Although the intention was to celebrate unity, peace and understanding, it immediately struck the wrong chord with audiences who found the ad insensitive and said it trivialised serious matters such as the Black Lives Matter movement by making the protest seem like a party. The daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, tweeted ‘If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.’

Pepsi apologised and pulled the ad off air within 24 hours. So, what went wrong? It seems obvious but using controversial or social issues to promote your product is a serious no-go. Marketers can capitalise on trending topics but do your research and check you’re not going to be missing the mark. Supporting these issues isn’t the problem but using them to sell products isn’t on, folks.

Dove’s Misguided Diversity

Also in ill-fated 2017, Dove posted a brief Facebook video of three women of different ethnicities. The intention was to celebrate diversity and convey that Dove’s body wash is for everyone.

However, as each woman took off their top in the video, it looked like a black woman transforming into a white woman as a result of using the body wash.

Outrage followed, with the ad being called inappropriate and racist, to the extreme of people boycotting Dove products.

Dove were quick to remove the video and apologised saying they ‘missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully’.

So, what can we learn from Dove’s mistake? This isn’t a sign to stop celebrating diversity in marketing. But maybe run content containing sensitive topics by as many people as possible to make sure you’re not unintentionally causing offence.

Bloomingdale’s Yuletide Blunder

Come on, guys! Check, check and check again. Always.

Back in 2015, Bloomingdale’s published an ad in their Christmas catalogue of a stylishly dressed man looking at a laughing woman with the caption ‘Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.’

People were quick to spot the inappropriate ad and Twitter was soon full of tweets about ‘Bloomingdale’s date rape ad’.

Bloomingdale’s, of course, did apologise but the ad was already in print and could not be pulled. But it makes you wonder, at what point of the editing process should someone have noticed this ad was in poor taste?

There are two things we can learn from Bloomingdale’s: 1. Social media posts can be deleted, printed material can’t, so always triple check for errors including offensive material and 2. If you mess with controversial or sensitive topics, you’re playing with fire!

Brands that Turned Marketing Mistakes into Positive PR

Sometimes, a business can make a complete U-turn on their marketing slip ups and turn them into a positive.

Take Innocent Smoothies launch of their new drink, ‘Bolt From The Blue’, in 2019. Their tweet mentioned the colour blue no less than six times, causing a heated debate that many think the colour of the drink is green. It was like the blue and black or gold and white dress photo all over again.

But Innocent’s cheeky social media team were quick to join in the debate with witty comebacks playfully arguing that the drink IS blue. The tweet received millions of impressions in just one weekend.

When Waitrose asked shoppers to ‘finish the sentence: I shop at Waitrose because…’ #WaitroseReasons’ in 2012, internet users jumped at the excuse to mock Wairose’s image of being posh and expensive, with one tweet saying ‘I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people.’

This response probably should have been predicted, yet Waitrose was praised for turning the disaster into a success due to their good humoured response, thanking everyone for ‘all the genuine and funny #WaitroseReasons tweets.’

At Electric Sheep, we’re a team of perfectionists who just love a challenge. From social media advertising to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), anything and everything digital marketing is what we do. If you want to ensure the success of your business, but without the above blunders, speak to us. We’re always happy to talk through and help you achieve your business goals and dreams.


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