Exploring marketing fails by big-name brands

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In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, marketing has become more complex and challenging than ever before. Businesses now have unprecedented access to a global audience, but this has also brought forth new risks and pitfalls. While marketing offers immense opportunities for success, it also leaves room for failure.

Here we will explore some notable marketing fails by some of the biggest names in business. From misguided social media campaigns to ill-conceived advertisements, these examples serve as cautionary tales.

By understanding these failures, you can gain valuable insights and avoid repeating similar mistakes in your own marketing endeavours. Let's dive in and examine these marketing failures and how to ensure your marketing campaigns avoid making the same mistakes.

The “New” Coke

In 1985, The Coca-Cola Company experienced a gradual decline in its dominant position in the soft drink market, losing ground to its main competitors over a span of 15 years.

This led to Coca-Cola introducing "New Coke" a reformulated version of its classic formula. However, the move was met with widespread public backlash and protests. The controversy led to Coca-Cola reintroducing the original formula as "Coca-Cola Classic" just months later.

We can only imagine the uproar if this happened during the age of social media. On a memorable day in July, news of the return of the "old" Coca-Cola as Coca-Cola classic made headlines in major newspapers and was featured on the news in the US. Consumers enthusiastically welcomed this decision, and it became evident that Coca-Cola held a special place in people's hearts, going beyond being just a soft drink.

The events of 1985 marked a turning point in the success of The Coca-Cola Company. The brand soared to unprecedented heights, and consumers rekindled their love for Coca-Cola, keeping its legacy alive.

This is a fantastic example of a brand listening to its core customer base and its feedback and taking that information on board.

Gap's logo redesign backlash 

In 2010, Gap unveiled a new logo design, which was met with immediate negative feedback from consumers. From 1990 to 2010, Gap sported a highly recognisable logo—a dark blue square with the 'Gap' name in white serif writing.

Usually, a brand undergoes a visual rebranding to signal a significant shift in the company's strategy. Thus, when Gap completely overhauled its original logo in 2010, it shocked both consumers and professionals alike.

Overnight, the old Gap logo disappeared, and on October 6, 2010, it was replaced with a new logo featuring a smaller dark blue box and the 'Gap' name in a bold and black Helvetica font. This new logo was crafted by Laird and Partners, a renowned New York-based creative agency with expertise in branding and fashion communication, and the rebranding project was estimated to have cost approximately $100 million.

Following significant backlash about the new logo, the company swiftly reverted to their original logo after realising the public's strong attachment to the brand's iconic identity.

McDonald's #McDStories Campaign 

In 2012, McDonald's launched the #McDStories hashtag on Twitter, intending to encourage the sharing of positive customer experiences. However, it backfired as users began sharing negative stories and criticising the fast-food giant.

This campaign was initially launched to reduce the assumption about McDonald’s unhealthy image and create awareness of its fresh vegetables and high-quality meat products. After less than two hours, Twitter users started sharing stories using #McDStories; however, not only positive and relatable stories were shared. Users also started sharing negative personal experiences/stories with the brand including poor customer service, food poisoning and other hateful posts about McDonald’s – not something McDonald’s had been prepared for.

This is a classic example of social media engagement potentially being a double-edged sword. It is vital that all campaigns consider any potential negative response and have a strategy for dealing with it, should it arise.

Pepsi's 2017 "Live for Now Moments Anthem" Ad 

In 2017, Pepsi released a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner participating in a protest and offering a can of Pepsi to a police officer, attempting to align the brand with social activism. The ad was widely criticised for trivialising real social justice movements.

Another criticism put Jenner at the forefront of this controversy, as Twitter users claimed that she was a privileged individual and additionally that she had no experience with racial discrimination or police brutality, making her the wrong choice for the campaign and it should have been led by someone closer linked to the issue itself.

Bing’s attempt to ‘verb’ itself 

When it comes to search engines, Google is undoubtedly the first name that pops into most internet users' minds. Phrases like "I Googled the address" or "Can you Google that?" have become commonplace in conversations. Back in the early 2010s, Bing made an attempt to join the ranks of search engines that turned into verbs, urging users to "Bing and decide."

Unfortunately, this endeavour didn't quite catch on. The campaign to surpass Google as the dominant search engine fell flat, as both users and even Microsoft employees were hesitant to embrace the awkward phrase in their everyday language.

Over ten years later, Bing, Microsoft's search engine, is Google's biggest competitor holding the second-largest market share in the search engine industry, but its share of 3% dwarfs in comparison to Google's overwhelming 92.5%.

Key takeaways

These marketing failures highlight the importance of careful planning and understanding consumer sentiment within marketing. It is easy to jump on to trends or use the latest celebrity influencer, but if it does not match your brand values or what you are trying to achieve it can backfire as we have seen.

Our key takeaways from the above examples are:

Understand your audience

It's crucial to have a deep understanding of your target audience's values, preferences, and sensitivities. Failing to connect with your audience can result in misalignment and negative reactions.

Who are your customers? What are their interests? What challenges do they encounter? What type of content do they desire? By perceiving your social media content as chances to establish online communities with those who matter most, you can cultivate a brand community and in turn, loyal customers.

Avoid trivialising serious issues and actively listen to feedback

Be cautious when associating your brand with social or political topics. Trivialising sensitive subjects can lead to backlash and damage your brand's reputation. Always pay attention to customer feedback and be responsive to their concerns. Ignoring or dismissing feedback can exacerbate issues and harm your brand's perception.

Plan and test campaigns and learn from your mistakes

Take the time to plan and test your marketing campaigns rigorously. Anticipate potential risks and reactions and ensure that your messaging aligns with your brand values.

When mistakes happen, take responsibility, learn from them, and make amends. Addressing failures transparently can help rebuild trust with your audience.

How we can help

These marketing failures highlight the importance of careful planning and understanding consumer sentiment within marketing. It is easy to jump on to trends or use the latest celebrity influencer, but if it does not match your brand values or what you are trying to achieve it can backfire as we have seen.

We can help you start from scratch to build a robust marketing strategy, or we can review your current strategy, working with you to ensure maximum market opportunities. For advice on developing a marketing strategy, contact us today.