15 Marketing Campaigns That Turned Into PR Nightmares

All companies have their own tastes and preferences when it comes to marketing and advertising their products to their target markets so that their products can become known or to increase their brand

All companies have their own tastes and preferences when it comes to marketing and advertising their products to their target markets so that their products can become known or to increase their brand recall while also making recognition of the brand a lot easier. Some advertising campaigns are known to be worth millions of dollars because of the immense return on investment that they can provide if they hit the money right from the word go. Marketing and advertising executives, in this pursuit, try to come up with as engaging and as intriguing a campaign as possible to garner maximum attention.

But marketing campaigns tread a fine line between being successful and being hated outright, which can happen due to even slight alterations in the tone of the message being portrayed. In the consumer lies a wide range of perceptions and sensitivities which should be accounted for thoroughly before making a campaign public, as these things not only have the potential to get the money poured into the campaign go down the drain but also whip up a public relations nightmare that has made some leading brands into hated names in just a matter of days.

In this world of connectivity, it can become increasingly difficult to do damage control once the thing is out and about circulating endlessly, making marketing campaigns a lot more sensitive. That’s why they need to be designed carefully, but still there have been some very big marketing campaign fails by top notch brands in the recent years. Here we look at the top 15 marketing campaigns that proved to be disastrous:

14 Renault’s Use of the “N” Word


In the world of marketing, one should be careful while using words that can have multiple connotations and can leave a bad taste in the mouth of the consumers for a pretty long time. Maybe Renault didn’t think about this thoroughly when they released their ad campaign in 2007 which apparently said “For 10 days we can’t use the 'N' word.” The campaign was designed to promote a limited brand promotion in which the dealers at Renault wouldn’t apparently say NO to a customer, whatever the demand. This was done to give priority to customers and appear as a customer friendly organization, but it all went wrong as people found the connotation of “N” as racist and inappropriate by the audience who demanded that it can be taken down. The campaign was then stopped by Renault to avoid further damage.

Via Barbara's Media Blog

Pepsi has been a world leader for a pretty long time now when it comes to creating amazing marketing campaigns that catch the fancy of millions of consumers around the world, resulting in immense popularity of the brand, but even the master can commit some pretty big mistakes sometimes and the “Pepsi Slim” campaign that the brand aired in 2011 for the New York Fashion week was a testament to this fact.

The ad carried the tagline “The new skinny can” which was apparently not liked by a lot of people who thought that the brand was promoting that skinny meant beauty and style while disrespecting other people with different body forms. The National Eating Disorder organization was at the forefront of this furor.

Apparently, the timing was not right for unveiling the new packaging for the Diet Pepsi can as it created a backlash that Pepsi couldn’t have imagined while making it. What worked for the fashion scene apparently didn’t do so for Pepsi making it unpopular for a while due to this disastrous blow in its otherwise illustrious marketing history.

13 Vespa’s Failed Way to Gain Leads


It's probably never a good idea to dupe your customers even when it's done in good taste, and the same happened when Vespa, the scooter company, launched their Bait and Switch Phone Campaign in 2006.

In the campaign, the company happened to hire professional actors and actresses who were good looking, to run across the town and then turn to random people to hand over their phone numbers without ever saying anything about Vespa or that it was part of a campaign. But what happened was that when an apparent “prospective lead” tried to call on that number, it led them to Vespa’s dealerships and customer service representatives who didn’t even mention that it was a way to get their attention and straight on turned to the “How may I help you at Vespa today?” tirade that turned people off in immense numbers making the campaign fall flat on its face and Vespa think twice the next time they could get on with such a duping spree disguised as a marketing campaign.

12 Sony’s Don’t Matter if You Are Black or White


When Sony, a leading gaming console company, indulges in something that’s terribly racist and offensive, it's high time for worry and the recipe for a marketing disaster on a global scale. When Sony wanted to advertise its new white PSP model, it made an ad that showed a white Caucasian model almost abusing the black model to the point of being considered rude. Sony’s idea here was that it wanted to signify that how quickly and vociferously its new model would be successful after it comes out replacing its previous black console PSP. But the audience thought otherwise and caused an immense uproar for a brand that is known to be the market leader in its category, making way for a big fail for a marketing campaign of such a magnitude aimed at such a big release of a new and much-awaited product.

Sony has not been a stranger to such things as it once had to pull off its ads from UK’s train stations because they apparently read “Take a Running Jump” which is quite offensive when it comes to the number of deaths that take place at train stations. Maybe the marketing supervisors at Sony need to revisit their strategy when it comes to producing great marketing campaigns instead of duds like these.

11 Virgin Alleged of Trying to Promote Rape

There is nothing worse than trying to promote or trivialize rape, but that’s exactly what was perceived when Virgin Mobile US ran an ad in 2012 in which a man is seen covering the eyes of a woman with one hand while holding a gift in the other one. The picture doesn’t seem offensive right? But wait for the tagline which cringingly read “What kind of Christmas Surprise? Necklace or Chloroform?” The tagline received a huge outcry from women around the world as it was immensely insensitive to the issue of rape culture and provoked bad sentiments.

The one who started the brand Virgin, Mr. Richard Branson also found the ad offensive even though he now doesn’t own the US-based division. It takes some serious effort to turn off your founder so much that even he doesn’t like what his own brand is doing in the guise of a marketing campaign.

10 Absolut Fail


While making a commercial, one needs to realize that the sensitivities associated with culture and history, even if they occurred a long time ago, can become a serious cause of concern for a lot of people if not figured out and portrayed in a correct manner. Absolut, a Vodka brand, ran an ad that portrayed a map of the era when a large part of Southwestern US was Mexican territory along with a caption “In an Absolut World.”

This ad left a bad taste in the mouth of many Mexicans and Americans alike, suggesting the brand was promoting the idea that buying their product would lead to Mexico regaining its past territory, making it almost impossible for the campaign to succeed. This was discontinued by Absolut very quickly.

9 Nivea’s Uncivilized Rant

Nivea wanted to launch its new line of male grooming products and for this very purpose. They aired an advertisement which showed a black man with roughed up hair and a bad appearance and ended it up with the tagline “Re-civilize yourself!” Anyone with a sane mind would have figured it out how racially this ad would be perceived. Nonetheless, Nivea did the campaign and received a high amount of flak over how insensitive it really was, even though the ad was done in a manner that it would promote grooming among men. Things can go down the drain very quickly if you do not check your campaign before airing it.

8 Economist Lays it Down Low

Via The Economist

"Why should women read The Economist? They shouldn't. Accomplished, influential people should read us. People like you."

How’s that for a tagline? The Economist makes it indistinguishable whether they are promoting to increase women readership base, which was their actual purpose behind this ad, or portraying women as if they are not people and their magazine is just for people. This was a class apart and seemingly 180 degrees from what they intended to get across through this message. It was only a grammatical cohesion mistake and a better-worded line would have never caused the issue to arise, but as luck would have had it, nothing like that happened and there was another disastrous marketing campaign.

7 Malaysian Airlines’ Ultimate Spoof at Itself


When your airline has had two unfortunate incidents in a short span of time, both of them accounting for the loss of life of everyone on board, you indulging in a marketing campaign that promotes a “Bucket List” of places you would want to travel and stand the chance to win an iPad, would surely be distasteful.

People thought of this campaign as a death wish or things to do before you die instead of taking up the bait and playing up for an iPad, this was something that never should have been done in the first place.

6 McDonald’s Gets Depressed


When such a big brand like McDonald’s indulges in such irresponsive behavior, then it's time to revisit the policies and ethics of marketing and advertising. The brand’s “You are not alone” campaign seemingly looked like a jab at everyone suffering from depression. The brand later issued an apology and said that they didn’t know about the ad before it came out. Intentionally involving a serious issue and portraying it through humor is one of the worst techniques you can use and one which you should carefully look after when you get a branding campaign for yourself to avoid one that calls for failure outright.

5 Burger King’s Failed Sexual Tirade

When it comes to sexual innuendos, it can sometimes be quite funny and hilarious if done in the right manner, but when it is done in a crass manner while objectifying women, the campaign can go seriously wrong. That’s what exactly happened during Burger King’s Singapore marketing efforts when they portrayed a very suggestive burger that was almost shaped like the male reproductive organ going into the mouth of a woman who seems bewildered, coupled with the tagline “It’ll blow your mind away.” This was a serious failure as it invited backlash from the whole globe and made for a very big public relations nightmare for the brand.

4 When Your Own Words Come To Bite You


Ogilvy and Mather ran into some serious trouble in India when it made an ad for Kurl on Mattress which seemingly showed a girl being shot, going all the way down to the mattress and bouncing back up to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which appeared as a reference to Malala Yousafzai who was awarded the same prize in the same year.

There was serious backlash on online forums and the advertising firm issued an apology to all who were offended by the negatively viral campaign. You have to wonder who thought this was even a remotely good idea, as the ad was doomed from the start and should never have been approved in the first place.

3 American Apparel’s Apparent Insensitivity


It is quite rude to cash in on natural disasters and calamities, and ads carrying a similar message would receive equal flak from the viewing public. American Apparel was, however, insensitive while doing an email marketing campaign for itself when it used Hurricane Sandy as a reference to promote its sales.

The ad apparently said that you can shop while you are confined to your homes during the calamity, bringing in huge outcry from everyone, and the brand was deemed to be making fun of such unfortunate incidents. Not a very smooth move from one of the larger clothing brands in North America, and not one that will soon be forgotten by victims of natural disasters.

2 Victoria’s Secret’s Imperfect Campaign


Body shaming and portraying a negative self-image has been done away with a very long time ago, but still, some brands do slip back into this body image rut once in a while and head towards disaster. Victoria’s Secret came out with an ad that showed a lot of girls who seemed to be impossibly skinny and all having the same body size, with the tagline of the campaign being “The Perfect Body Campaign.” The made for just the same negative self-image portrayal that is not acceptable today. The failure of this campaign led the brand to morph the campaign into “A body for everybody,” but still the damage had been done. Few who saw the original campaign would be willing to forget the insensitive message behind it.

1 Nike’s Rare Failure


Nike’s advertising campaigns have always been awe-inspiring, with the company getting attention from around the world for its clever and inspiring ads and commercials, but even the biggest in the league can fail sometimes and the same happened when an ad aired in 2000 showing elite runner Suzie Favor-Hamilton, who was running in the forest wearing Nike kicks, with a maniac who was wielding a chainsaw behind her tail. The tagline was “Why Sport? You’ll live longer.” The ad was cringe worthy and was pulled from the air by Nike later in the year, but it left a bad taste in the mouth of its millions-strong market around the world. A rare misstep for a company that has been known for marketing brilliance over the course of its existence.

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15 Marketing Campaigns That Turned Into PR Nightmares