4 Biggest Marketing Blunders


It's incredible how some businesses today can fail so spectacularly in their marketing strategy. With bad example after bad example, you think that companies would learn from each other and know exactly what not to do by now.

But, when companies get sloppy, it shows in the quality of their marketing campaigns. They don't understand their audience. They misread the seriousness of a situation. They don't take the time to think about how their ad could potentially be interpreted wrong. Or, they aren't able to correctly anticipate the reaction from their audience.

In an age of internet and social media, these marketing blunders never go away. Screenshots, youtube videos, and twitter posts live on as these companies try to bury their mistakes.

Here are some of the biggest marketing blunders we've seen, spanning from the 80s to now.

Pepsi's Kendall Jenner Ad

When I think of marketing fails, I think of the 2017 Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner. The ad was meant as a call for peace and unity during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

It depicted a march where protestors held signs inviting others to join the conversation. Many of them were laughing or smiling. It seemed like they were having fun. The commercial ends with Kendall Jenner offering a police officer a Pepsi and everyone smiles and cheers.

This ad was an enormous flop. Protestors involved in the Black Lives Matter movement felt that it undermined and misrepresented their efforts. Protests aren't full of smiling people. This ad also received a call out from daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bernice King, on Twitter. She said, "If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi."

Pepsi not only misunderstood its audience but misunderstood the nature of protests in general. Implying that everyone should just lighten up and share a soda was 100% the wrong angle to take.

If you want to engage with your audience by discussing current events, make sure that you have people on board who understand the nature of these events. Also, if you find yourself referencing social issues surrounding the death of one or many individuals, take a step back, maybe don't roll it out.

New Coke

New Coke has become something of a poster child for failed marketing attempts. In the 80s, Coke was not as successful as it is today. At the time of launching New Coke, Coca-Cola had been on a downward trend for 15 years.

New Coke was a new formula that was created and tested by almost 200,000 consumers. It was intended to replace the original formula. While it did well in the testing phase, it flopped at launch.

Calls to Coca-Cola offices quadrupled in the months after it was announced. Consumers were buying out any of the original Coke that was stocked at grocery stores, some even went directly to the bottlers so that they could hoard the old formula and ration it for the years to come.

After only 79 days, "old" Coke was put back on the shelves. Coca-Cola underestimated the brand loyalty that they had in their audience. While they were trying to shake things up and bring in new people, they ignored the needs of their current audience.

According to Digital Authority Partners, successful marketing teams focus on marketing in a way that carries out their mission (increasing sales) while also providing for the needs of their audience (a reliable product).

Dove's Racial Insensitivity

In 2017, Dove posted a Facebook ad of a GIF where a black woman pulls her brown shirt off over her head and reveals a white woman in a light-colored shirt. It seems impossible that the creators of this ad didn't realize how this would come across, and the backlash came quickly.

The racist ad implied an old trope that black people are dirty. It didn't take Dove long to issue an apology. They claim that the ad was meant to encourage diversity by showing women of different ethnicities, but many people didn't buy it.

Though Dove's intentions may have been innocent, it's important to look at all marketing content with a critical eye. Could it be interpreted in a way other than you originally intended? It's essential that businesses are aware of these potential issues.


In the 80s, American Airlines was struggling to stand out from its competition. To draw in higher sales fast, they launched a campaign where people could get unlimited first-class flights for life for a one-time purchase of $250,000.

Twenty-eight people took advantage of this promotion before American Airlines started to back-pedal. They originally targeted firms who sent employees abroad to do business. They were trying to get them to commit to their airline.

What they didn't anticipate was how popular the promotion would become with other frequent travelers. The people who bought into this deal didn't just continue with their regular travel patterns at a discounted rate. They were out to make their money's worth.

Imagine going to a buffet where your entry costs a quarter of a million dollars. Are you going to have a salad and a bowl of soup? Or are you going to eat until you're bursting, stuff your pockets, and fill your purse?

That was the exact mindset of Jacques Vroom and Steve Rothstein. Over the next 20 years, these men cost American Airlines millions of dollars per year. Rothstein took more than 10,000 flights and Vroom flew an average of two million miles each of those twenty years.

The promotion began in 1981 and was discontinued in 1994. The 28 people in possession of these passes are still able to use them today, except for Vroom and Rothstein, whose privileges were revoked in 2008.

Had American Airlines followed an analytics-based marketing strategy, they may have been able to anticipate the popularity of this promotion and the potential abuse of it. But, as it stands, they still lose money every year because of this promotion.

It is the responsibility of the marketing team to go through their campaigns with a fine-tooth comb before launching. If they aren't careful, they risk the loss of sales and loyalty from their audience. One bad campaign can do damage for years to come. Don't let your business end up on this list, do your research.

This guest post was written by Tav Agarwal, an analyst at Digital Authority Partners, a digital strategy firm headquartered in Chicago.

by Steve Hall    Sep-17-19   Click to Comment   
Topic: Opinion