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Ghosts, Ghouls, and Frightening Marketing Fails


Halloween is nearly here, and whether or not your spooky season has you approaching things with caution, we recommend staying far away from making marketing mistakes.

Some marketing campaigns are pure genius, getting the audience to engage with the material and drive a positive action to either buy from or interact with the company. While we always strive for campaigns like these, sometimes marketers make mistakes and miss the mark completely. Such campaigns are not only misguided but cause complete catastrophe when the material pushes the envelope too far.

The results may be offensive to customers and can quite literally, bury the company alive.

Here are (unlucky) thirteen so-bad-they’re-scary marketing fails to keep you awake at night:

  1. Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Commercial: This commercial showed reality star, Kendall Jenner, successfully mediate a protest with police officers and Black Lives Matter protesters – by simply offering a police officer a can of Pepsi. The outrage from this commercial was seen near and far, and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. tweeted a photo of her dad with the caption “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi.”
  2. Audi’s Chinese Wedding Commercial: Aired in China, this car commercial shows the mother of the groom checking the bride to make sure she’s acceptable for her son before giving her approval. A tagline at the end reads: “An important decision must be made carefully.” While this is true for a car, the commercial objectifies women and is also offensive to Chinese culture.
  3. Adidas’ Boston Marathon Email: Four years after the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 250, Adidas sent out an email to all customers who participated in the race. The subject line read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” We think you’ll agree this was in historically poor taste.
  4. Levi’s “Hotness Comes in All Shapes and Sizes”: For a new Curve ID jeans marketing concept, Levi’s incorporated the slogan “Hotness comes in all shapes in sizes,” except, the only models shown for this concept were skinny. Are you sure you agree with your own slogan, Levi’s?
  5. Walmart’s “Fat Girl Costumes”: In 2014, Walmart had a shopping category on its website titled, “Fat Girl Costumes.” The costumes found here were for plus sized women and girls, but the insensitivity in the naming and categorization was understandably very hurtful.
  6. U2’s Free Album on iTunes: Also in 2014, Apple gifted a free copy of U2’s album “Songs of Innocence” to everyone with an iTunes account. However, many people were less than thankful. In a critique, the Washington Post called the incident “rock-and-roll as dystopian junk mail.” Ouch.
  7. McDonald’s #McDStories: To encourage feedback and engagement with their customers, McDonald’s created the #McDStories hashtag so that customers could share their experiences. Unfortunately, many people used the hashtag to share their poor experiences with the restaurant such as finding their food uncooked or badly prepared.
  8. Wii’s Hold Your Wee for a Wii Contest: This contest was set to award the Nintendo Wii console to the participant who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom. Sadly, consuming too much water can be dangerous. A 28-year-old contestant actually died as a result.
  9. Bloomingdales’ Date Rape Ad: The ad featured a man looking at a laughing woman with the caption “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” Um, what does this have to do with a department store? And more importantly, why is a department store encouraging spiking drinks?
  10. Budweiser’s Date Rape Slogan: Here we go again. Budweiser had a slogan that went along with their #UpforWhatever campaign reading, “The perfect beer for removing the word “No” from your vocabulary for the night.” A beer company should not be admitting to taking away the ability for someone to say no! Dudes, it’s called “Consent?”
  11. Kraft’s “Send Noods” on National Noodle Day: What was meant to be a funny marketing campaign, quickly got accused of being inappropriate when people were making the connection between “noods” and nude photographs – especially considering a target audience of the brand is children.
  12. Dominos’ Karen Ad: Dominos offered all (nice) Karens a free pizza in both New Zealand and Australia in 2020 by citing that it’s a “tough time to be a Karen.” While the ad did well in Australia, it did very poorly in New Zealand where customers were upset that an overprivileged white woman (what Karen is typically associated with) was getting more free stuff handed to her.

    AND, finally ...

  13. Giant Foods’ Holiday Ad: Just last year in 2020, the supermarket chain Giant Foods, had an advertisement reading “Hosting? Plan a Super Spread” …um…definitely not the message you want to put out during a global pandemic…

From all of us at B Direct, we hope you have a safe Halloween and steer clear from these marketing nightmares!

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