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Top 5 Biggest Marketing Blunders

In the marketing industry, there have been many widely successful and celebrated campaigns. However, nestled among these achievements are devastating marketing failures. They serve as reminders that even the most curated strategies can have damaging effects on brand reputation. The biggest marketing blunders in history have resulted from insensitive advertising, poor brand messaging, and lack of understanding of the target audience. In this article, we will take a look at five marketing blunders, what the company was trying to do, and why it failed miserably.

A woman is frustrated because she made a marketing mistake.

1. Kenneth Cole Cairo Tweet

From 2011 to 2014, during what is now referred to as "Arab Spring," citizens in multiple countries around the Middle East, include the people of Cairo, Egypt engaged in a civil uprising to condemn political powers. The protests were mostly peaceful, but still resulted in reported brutality and violence from police.

Around the same time, the Kenneth Cole fashion brand wanted to promote their spring collection on Twitter. In doing so, they used the social and political unrest in Egypt as clickbait to promote their spring collection on Twitter.

Kenneth Cole insensitive Cairo tweet to promote fashion brand.

For obvious reasons, this sparked mass outrage and backlash. The public felt that the brand dismissed the severity of Cairo’s humanitarian crisis, and certainly did not appreciate that they were using it to drive sales.

This cautionary tail prompts us to consider the importance of sensitivity, consciousness of the world around us, and responsible messaging. If you have to omit ethical principles in an attempt to make a joke, it is probably best that you brainstorm different ideas.

In most cases, it is in a brand's best interest to avoid commenting or promoting around political events, unless that is part of the brand's identity and mission.

2. Apple's Inescapable U2 Download

On September 9, 2014, consumers were anticipating the launch of new tech products from Apple, but got a much bigger surprise instead. After revealing the iPhone 6 during the press conference, Apple brought out Irish rock band U2 to announce their new album title, Songs of Innocence. Whether anyone liked it or not, the album was downloaded to the personal devices of over half a billion iTunes customers as a “gift” from the Cupertino company. On top of that, there was no easy way to delete the unwanted music.

U2's mandatory album download on all Apple devices.

This was intended as a promotional gesture, but many users felt that the mandatory download was invasive. Marketing should always prioritize user consent, the characteristics of the target audience, transparent communication, and privacy considerations. It also sheds light on listening to employee feedback and promptly addressing overwhelming concerns. This way, companies can demonstrate their commitment to customer satisfaction while using feedback to inform their future marketing strategies.

3. Audi’s Wedding Commercial

Aired in China, this Audi commercial starts out at a wedding ceremony, where the happy couple are at the altar, reciting their vows. The bride and groom, along with the wedding attendees, are shocked as the groom’s mother trudges up the aisle to object. She turns to the bride, closely studying her facial features. She then grabs the bride’s nose and her ears, bending them to the limits to check their durability. The mother-in-law then pries open the bride's mouth and puts on her glasses before checking out the inside. The groom is finally able to release his bride from the grasp of his mother. The mother makes her way back down the aisle before turning around to give the couple a sign of approval. She then, however, glances down at the bride’s breasts, in which the bride clutches them in shock before the commercial ends.

This commercial caused significant backlash upon its release, as it compared inspecting a car to determining if women are a satisfactory candidate for marriage. Viewers admonished the ad for its sexist implications and blatant objectification of women. Humor in advertising can be difficult, as it often degrades an individual or group, and may not be clearly viewed as humor. Marketing strategies should be void of stereotype reinforcement, rather promoting equity and inclusivity.

4. “I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!”

Medical alarm and protection company, LifeCall, released their first television ad in 1989 to promote a product called Life Alert. Life Alert is a small device kept on your person that will contact emergency services in the click of a button. It is particularly appealing to older adults and people with disabilities who live alone or who are vulnerable to medical emergencies that could leave them alert, but unable to call for help.

The first version of this commercial featured a woman known as “Mrs. Fletcher,” who utilizes her Life Alert after she suffers a fall in the bathroom. She mutters to the dispatcher, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” The dispatcher assures Mrs. Fletcher that help is on the way.

A woman who has fallen and can't get up, but she uses Life Alert.

Life Alert was recognized as a reputable and valuable product for emergency response systems. However, the usefulness of the product does not surpass the poor execution of their marketing campaign. The subpar acting and exaggerated catchphrase, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” has become an epicenter for parodies and memes. Overall, Life Alert failed to resonate with consumers, ultimately leading to their bankruptcy in 1993.

5. Khloé Kardashian Nurtec ODT

In 2020, Khloé Kardashian partnered with Nurtec ODT, both a treatment and prevention medication for migraines. Being that Kardashian has personal experience with migraines, her endorsement provided a layer of relatability and trust among consumers searching for migraine solutions. In turn, Kardashian’s prominent following and massive influence ensured mutual benefits.

A representation of Khloe Kardashian's massive following.

In July of 2020, Khloé Kardashian appeared on “The View” where she spoke about her experience being a spokesperson for Nurtec ODT and how it has changed her life. She gushed over the medication over the course of seven minutes, but failed to provide any risk information.

The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion wrote a letter reprimanding Kardashian, Nurtec ODT, and its pharmaceutical company, Biohaven. The FDA scrutinized Kardashian for overstating the efficacy of the medication, and failing to adequately disclose the potential health risks. As a result, the segment is no longer discoverable.

The FDA’s letter shows the importance of responsible marketing practices, especially with health-related products. By not covering the medication’s risks, Khloé Kardashian inadvertently spread misinformation that could have harmful effects or be ineffective for consumers. This emphasizes the significance of transparency, and the commitment of influencers to prioritize the safety and welfare of their audience.

People are increasingly seeking not just good products, but the good people behind them. The desire to align with shared attitudes, values, and beliefs is a powerful force in shaping purchasing decisions. These marketing blunders provide valuable insight for businesses.

Understanding your audience, prioritizing authenticity and transparency, cultural sensitivity, learning and adapting to feedback, regulation compliance, and customer-centricity are all opportunities for enhanced marketing strategy and stronger connection with customers.

At Omega, we produce ethical digital marketing strategies that deliver results. Contact us to learn more about how our team can create a marketing plan for your brand.

Written by Omega High Impact Print Solutions’ Digital Marketing Intern, Gracie Steel


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