Sometimes those fantastic marketing ideas just don’t work, in many cases they offend and occasionally they are just plain stupid. We’ve listed below some of the worst marketing campaigns of 2015 and 2016, which definitely show how NOT to do it. Whilst some are funny, a couple are serious as we want to show just how grave some marketing blunders can be — whether that’s in print ads or on social media.
2015 & 2016 Marketing Failures: The Worst of The Worst
Republica Parrillera Pilsner Beer
This Costa Rican brewer 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 penis! The billboard looks very enticing from the front, but from the back? Well hello!
Clínica Dental San Marcelino
Pay a visit to this dentist 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 logo to some strange ghosty-looking tooth and to be frank we rather prefer the first idea.
The Amazing Floating Mobile Phone
So amazing – it sinks to the bottom of the tank. This is sensory marketing at its worst. We can see that the product doesn’t do its job so there is no way this is going to turn into a sale.
Heinz Tomato Ketchup links to porn
The brand we all know and many of us have grown up with, but even Heinz makes blunders. A German gentleman had the misfortune of being redirected to a hardcore porn website when he took part in a label redesign competition. Heinz sent him an out of date QR code that linked directly to the XXX content. This happened because the company let the website expire, didn’t renew it, and the porn site bought the domain name. And hey presto – Heinz means porn!
IHOP Restaurant likes them big
We bet the IHOP community manager learned his/her lesson after they tweeted this attempted joke about the size of women’s breasts. Even after causing immediate uproar, the tweet remained live for several hours after posting. Needless to say, it really is in poor taste for a company to crack jokes at women’s expense to advertise a product. Breakfast and misogyny generally don’t mix.
Hitler Ice Cream (yes, you read that right)
This one definitely shows how differences in culture can be vast. India does not see Hitler ice cream as an offensive or bad marketing strategy. Perhaps this demonstrates not only a lack of education in India in terms of European history, but also no sensitivity for the gravity of the situation. Using a personality who was hated and responsible for destroying so many lives to market ice cream is vastly inappropriate.
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 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.
Shitto Hot Pepper Sauce
This product from Ghana may just do what it promises on the label – depending on how hot it is. Described on one website as Gourmet Pepper Sauce, Shitto does translate to pepper in the Ga language (pronounced Sheet we’re told!). Clearly someone didn’t do enough research on how this would be read internationally.
Volkswagen doesn’t care about green
Although not hilarious, we think this one is worth a mention as it is funny that a multi-national business allowed this to happen. Just in case you have been on Mars and missed things, Volkswagen had emissions cheating software installed in their diesel cars between 2009 and 2015. Cars being tested for nitrogen oxide emissions showed a lower level than they were actually emitting thanks to this software. This falsified engines into appearing cleaner than they actually were.
We’re classing this as a marketing fail as over 11 million cars have been affected worldwide, which equates to an awful lot of positive marketing for Volkswagen to generate and restore faith in their brand.
Coca-Cola doesn’t get Russian geography
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.
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 wasn’t offensive.
Rhode Island looks an awful lot like Iceland (or not)
— Gina Raimondo (@GinaRaimondo) March 29, 2016
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.
Urban Outfitters taking inspiration from Nazi Germany
Shockingly, there’s a second company on this list who managed to invoke Nazis in their product lines. They sold a tapestry that looked an awful lot like the uniforms gay prisoners were forced to wear in concentration camps (grey and white stripes with a pink triangle on it).
This was the second time Urban Outfitters had sold an item reminiscent of the Nazis; they previously sold a yellow T-shirt with a star on it.
Amazon’s alternate Nazi Universe
Just when you thought we were finished with companies referencing Nazis…but in this case, Amazon knew exactly what they were doing. 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.
Bloomingdale’s promotes more than a kiss under the Mistletoe
— Thomas Keister (@thomaskeister) November 12, 2015
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.
Disney’s insensitive birthday wishes
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.
Starbucks encourages discussions about race
The U.S. has had more than a few racially-motivated incidents recently, and coffee company Starbucks tried to start a campaign to get conversations about race relations started. They had their baristas write “Race Together” on cups, and encouraged customers to start discussing race with employees.
Although the campaign was fueled by good intentions, it was met with a collective “No, thank you” to the idea of having discussions about thorny racial issues while trying to order a coffee. The campaign lasted all of six days.
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 – terrorism.
In January 2016, the fast food giant launched a series of billboards with 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 tragedy.
— Jeff Hall (@617Jeff) January 11, 2015
Airbnb is above the law
— Rob Fangman (@FangmanRob) October 22, 2015
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 taxes. 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.
The U.S. State Department thinks tourists are ugly
Fortunately for the Justice Department community manager, they weren’t the only official organisation in the U.S. to make a social media mistake recently. 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 travelers beware! Not surprisingly, more than a few followers took offense to the tweet.
We’re sure these companies have learned some hard-earned lessons about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to marketing. However, for those of you who have a taste for schadenfreude, we’re sure there are be plenty more companies planning disastrous marketing campaigns at this very moment. What advertising mistakes will we see next?
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