In the UK, we have something called the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which is an organisation that’s in charge of regulating the British advertising industry. Mostly known for taking the calls of offended parents (at the moment they’re investigating some naughty elves), they ensure the sector remains appropriate and fair.

They’re also a good indicator of something worth seeing. Whenever you read the ASA has received a certain amount of complains then you know it is something good — or at least entertaining. Which is what inspired this list.

Below, we’ve listed below some of the biggest marketing fails (British and international) in recent years. Some are honest mistakes while others just make you say, ‘What were they thinking?’

Beer goes great with — WHAT?

This Costa Rican brewer Republica Parrillera Pilsen excelled themselves when they decided to push drinking beer with eating sausages. What a great combination – except the sausage is positioned on the billboard like an enormous… erection. The billboard looks very enticing from the front, but from the back? Well, hello!

marketing fails, republica parrillera pilsen

Get your teeth cleaned and then some

Pay a visit to this dentist in Valencia, Spain and you’re likely to get more than your teeth fixed. This is the perfect example of a logo fail – did the designer not see what was depicted? They’ve since changed their design to some strange ghosty-looking tooth and to be frank we rather prefer the first idea.

marketing fail, san marcelino, logo fail

Co-op might ask your daughter to ‘go make a sandwich’ next time

Last spring, Co-op released a print ad on Newspaper that invited people to reward their daughters with a chocolate Easter egg, specifically, for ‘doing the washing up.’ Yes, it was 2017. Unsurprisingly, they got a backlash for it. The Manchester-based supermarket quickly released an apology but the damage had already been done.

co-op, marketing fail, easter egg

The Amazing ‘Floating’ Mobile Phone

Is this supposed to be sarcasm? Because if it is then we don’t appreciate it.

floating phone, marketing fail

A whole new meaning to spicy ketchup

Even big brands can make blunders. A German gentleman had the misfortune (or fortune?) of being redirected to a hardcore porn website when he scanned the QR code on the back of a Heinz bottle. This happened because the company let the website expire and then an even saucier organisation bought the domain name. See what I did there?

marketing fails, qr that leads to porn

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Cadbury is ‘ridiculous’ for dropping Easter

If there is something we have learned from the yearly Starbucks’ Christmas cup debacle is that some people can get very angry over holidays and their proper names. In 2017, Cadbury decided to remove the word ‘Easter’ from its annual egg hunt and madness ensued. So much so that even current Prime Minister Theresa May pronounced herself on the matter by saying that the move was ‘ridiculous.’

cardbury, egg hunt, marketing fail

Food + Misogyny = PR disaster

We bet the IHOP community manager learned their lesson after twitting this attempted joke. Needless to say, it upset quite a few people. Eventually, the message was removed, but after hours of no reaction from the company. Lesson of the day: If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

marketing fail, ihop, tweet

Budweiser promotes date rape?

The Bud Light slogan was one of the biggest marketing gaffs in terms of ignorance and attitudes towards rape. How anyone could have written these words and not seen the implications is beyond me. The slogan suggests the beer is for a ‘certain type’ of a woman who is carefree, gets drunk and doesn’t care what happens to her.

The product was backed up by a Twitter marketing campaign entitled #UpforWhatever. Surely someone at Budweiser would have realised this campaign was going to be doomed from the beginning.


And Bloomingdale’s is not far behind

Perhaps meant to be a fun ad for the holidays, this Bloomingdale’s ad for Rebecca Minkoff clothes featured a stylish man and woman all dressed up. Oh, and the caption ‘Spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking.’

This was seen in many online social media forums as encouraging a bit of festive date rape. Merry Christmas!

Immigrants welcome – but only if they’re good at sports

Back in 2015, in the midst of an immigrant crisis, the marketing team at Paddy Power thought it would be a good idea to release an ad with British athletes born overseas (and Andy Murray?) with the slogan ‘Immigrants, jump in the back (but only if you’re good at sport).’

To add insult to injury, the image was used on lorries which are often linked to the transportation of immigrants. The betting site is known for its racy advertisements but for many, this one crossed the line.

paddy power, marketing fails, ad on lorry

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Coca-Cola learned geography the hard way

As seasoned professionals at the top of the marketing game, you might think that Coca-Cola would have a team of people ready to make sure everything the brand sends out is spotless. But somehow, this Russian ad slipped through their fingers.

To outsiders, it may look just like a snow-covered map of Russia. To Russians, it’s clearly missing Kaliningrad, a city annexed after the end of World War II.The outrage sparked a #BanCocaCola hashtag on social media, which was often accompanied by pictures of users pouring their cans of Coke into the toilet. Ouch!

marketing fails, coca-cola, russian ad

Seoul Secret (hint: it’s racist!)

This whole ad concept was a massive misstep from start to finish. Shall we start with the tagline – ‘White makes you win?’ Or perhaps with these photos of Thai actress and singer Cris Horwang in blackface?

Even worse, Horwang was featured in a video campaign where she discussed how her white skin helped her career take off. Frankly, it seems like there isn’t a single part of this campaign that isn’t offensive.

Note: Would you like to see more fails by famous brands? Then check out this translation fails.

Don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the answer

After raising prices up to 10%, in 2013 British Gas decided to conduct a Q&A session with their followers on Twitter. GREAT IDEA! Soon enough the hashtag #AskBG went viral and not like the company had intended. As you can imagine, the campaign was mostly used for customers to voice their concerns and make sarcastic remarks.

marketing fails, britsh gas, question and answer

Apparently, Rhode Island looks an awful lot like Iceland

You’d expect the people in charge of promoting a destination to be quite clear about what the destination actually offers. But the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s $5 million new promotional video featured images of…Iceland.

The office quickly blamed the mistake on the company that edited the video, but not before the local press got wind of the mistake. Surprisingly, even after the story broke out, the tweet promoting the video by the current governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo wasn’t deleted for quite some time.

marketing fails, rhode island video

Amazon’s ‘What if?’ scenario is not a happy place

To promote their new series Man in the High Castle, which is about what would have happened if World War II had been won by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Amazon decked out subway cars in New York City featuring imagery of the Axis Powers.

While they didn’t go so far as to put the actual historical imagery from the harsh regimes on the subway, people definitely got what they were referencing and were not happy. Both the city mayor and the state governor publicly condemned the ad.

marketing fails, amazon, subway ad

Off to hit the hay… or something

At a first glance, this tweet seems harmless — and it would’ve been if it had been published some other time. Unfortunately, for Tesco’s intern community manager, it went live right in the midst of the products-made-out-of-horse-meat scandal. Yikes!

marketing fails, tesco tweet, horse meat

Even Mickey Mouse makes mistakes

This image of Alice captioned ‘A very merry unbirthday to you!’ might seem like an innocuous, even sweet image to share on Twitter. Just probably not in Japan on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombings. And especially not with a caption that translates to ‘Congrats on a trifling day.’

Disney Japan quickly released an apology for its ill-timed tweet.

marketing fails, alice tweet, disney japan

Tall latte with a shot of ‘touchy subject’

The US has had more than a few racially-motivated incidents recently, and coffee company Starbucks tried to start a campaign to get conversations about race started. They had their baristas write ‘Race Together’ on cups, and encouraged customers to start discussing race with employees.

Although the campaign had good intentions, it was met with a collective ‘No. It’ 8 am. I don’t want an extra shot of “touchy subjects” in my latte. Just give me my coffee. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.’ The campaign only lasted six days.

marketing fails, starbucks, talk about race

Selfies gone wild

It was a good idea on paper. Tweet a selfie using the hashtag #WalkersWave for a chance to win a ticket to the UEFA Champions League final. The company then turned the selfies into a video featuring football player Gary Lineker holding the submitted picture. So far, so good. And then…

Apparently, there was no human monitoring the selfies that came in and pictures of mass murderers, sex offenders, dictators and others went through which were later published by Walkers Facebook account. Ouch! When will these brands learn?

And McDonald’s wants to talk about terrorism

McDonald’s was another brand that made the mistake of bringing up issues their customers really didn’t want to deal with when ordering their burgers – terrorism.

In January 2016, the fast-food giant launched a series of billboards with a message about things like 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, all under those famous golden arches. McDonald’s was quickly accused of capitalising on the tragedy.

Airbnb is above the law

Airbnb has caused controversy all over the world, as in many places users can rent out rooms and homes – without paying taxes that hotels have to pay. The city of San Francisco said ‘enough’ to that and forced the company to start paying them. In response, Airbnb ran an ad campaign based on the idea that they were giving the city the gift of an extra $12 million a year.

Many took the ads to be passive-aggressive jabs telling residents they should be grateful that the company had deigned to pay taxes that it probably should have been paying anyway. The campaign was quickly scrapped.

Worst icebreaker ever

‘Get it? Still sucks?’
‘HA! Brilliant!’
That’s how I imagine that conversation went. The original message was making a reference to Jack The Ripper but it was still in poor taste. Then again, it’s The London Dungeon so what did you expect? The apology, issued in the same format, wasn’t much better.

marketing fails, the london dungeon

The US State Department thinks their fellow Americans are ugly

The State Department sent out a tweet reading ‘Not a “10” in the US? Then not a 10 overseas. Beware of being lured into buying expensive drinks or worse – being robbed.’ In other words, ugly travellers beware!

Not surprisingly, more than a few followers took offence to the message.

us travel department, marketing fails

That satin will never be the same again

In 2012 department store Harvey Nichols ran a ‘special’ campaign to promote their summer sales which featured models with wet stains on their crotches and a slogan that read ‘Try to contain your excitement.’ It was deemed fun and creative by some and offensive by others. Some publications like The Metro and The Times published censored versions while others just left them as they were.

harvey nichols, peeing ad, marketing fails

Hitler Ice Cream (yes, you read that right)

You can’t make this stuff up.

hitler ice cream, marketing fails

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Jessica freelances Corporate Communications Writing for the Printsome Blog. She goes above and beyond to ensure that we are talking and engaging with customers in just the right way. She is also English Copywriter at eDreams ODIGEO.

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