Marketing fails and how to avoid them

Written by Steven Johnson
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Originally published
October 9 2017,

With English widely acknowledged to be “the international language”, it’s perhaps surprising that there is no equivalent of the German word schadenfreude – that is, the pleasure derived by witnessing another person's misfortune. Perhaps we Brits are just too kind to acknowledge that such an emotion exists, but you only have to look to the wealth of TV shows and online videos of bloops, blunders and mishaps to realise that that really isn’t the case!

We marketers are certainly not immune. And high profile brands, those that definitely should know better, are the worst offenders for committing gaffes which leave us secretly smirking. Most of the recent ones we’ve come across have arisen from a combination of;

  • an arrogance on the part of the brand in their belief that consumers love them as much as they love themselves and
  • a meanness of the human spirit and and its unrelenting ability to find and exploit the weaknesses in a campaign.


Free the joy
There was doubtless little joy around for Cadbury’s marketing team after a decision to drop the word “Easter” from its chocolate eggs. It caused such a stir that both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury both publicly criticised the move. The brand countered by explaining that it wished “to embrace all faiths” but clearly misread the public’s attachment to Easter chocolate in the shape of rabbits, chicks and good ol’ eggs.


I’m lovin’ it
McDonalds marketing is a force to be reckoned with. But global domination in the fast food market also comes with its share of ill-conceived ideas. Remember #McDStories? Expecting that diners would share their happy memories and glowing reviews of the food and restaurants, instead thousands hijacked the hashtag to instead pan the brand and post horror stories of their experiences. An expensive and embarrassing lesson for them.


Spread the happy
Everyone young and old loves Nutella, surely?  Apparently not. The ability to personalise its labels, and in doing so create a great gift, back-fired when its online generator proved to have insufficient controls in place to prevent cheeky users, from creating labels with less than tasty words on them. Poop, being one. Enough to put anyone off their slice of morning toast!

Please, don’t let it be them
The National Lottery’s “Please, don’t let it be them” slogan came back to haunt it when a Social Media campaign, which allowed the public to upload their names and receive a personalised message from a Team GB athlete, went very wrong. A mass murderer, a disgraced TV personality and a recently deceased child were amongst those whose names were maliciously used.


We’re the personalisation people
“Plan for the worst but anticipate the best” has become our mantra. With personalisation in particular we never take risks and, while not all “screamers” are intentional, genuine errors can still cause offence at worst and disappointment at best. Profanity checks, rogue capitalisation and typo alerts, as well as lists of inappropriate words and word combinations (in a large range of languages) is the only fail-safe method. Annoying of course if your name really is Poop and, for that, we apologise!

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