Marketing is no piece of cake, especially in the current era when consumers are rather sensitive and sophisticated at the same time. Even a simple looking regular marketing campaign can cause a storm of controversies. With the internet, it has gotten even more complex as the exposure is gargantuan and there are so many eyes following at all times. As of 2018, there are over 68 million monthly active users on Twitter in the US alone and that means a tweet is seen by millions as soon as it is on the internet.
There have been much marketing fails over the years that have proven the fact that companies need to think things through before sending out a tweet or posting a video. Some campaigns and posts have destroyed company images, plummeted stock prices, and caused outrage in the public. Some of these are a direct cause of strategy mistakes while others are a simple case of what on earth were they thinking.
Let’s take a look at 8 such online marketing fails, why they happened and the takeaway from the disaster:
1. IHOP’s misogynist tweet
Even a small hint of misogyny in a marketing campaign is a recipe for disaster (keeping in mind we are talking about a restaurant chain). IHOP learned the hard way that even as a joke demeaning women is unacceptable.
In 2015, they tweeted a rather scrumptious picture of hot pancakes with the text ‘flat but has a GREAT personality.’ Obviously, it upset people and the company eventually had to delete the post. You cannot be sure that everyone will take it as a joke. As a marketer, you have to be careful enough not to demean a whole gender.
Luckily enough, IHOP did not bear as much heat as it could have had it not taken action within a few hours. IHOP just managed to make women mad when marketing is all about making customers content. As Joe Chernov says, “Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.”
2. H&M ‘Coolest Monkey’ Hoodie
This is one of those cases that prove that nothing really goes unnoticed on the internet. Apparently, 2018 was off to a rocky start for the clothing giant H&M. The Swedish brand’s UK website had a green kid’s hoodie reading ‘Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.’ Sounds cute right? Except that they used a black kid as the model.
The internet, of course, took notice and the picture went viral immediately. H&M got a major backlash as people blamed them for casual racism. The problem was they used white kids for other similar hoodies.
Even though the brand took the image off the website, many people said they would boycott the brand. One of their major celebrity endorsers, the Weeknd, cut ties with the company. This could have been easily prevented if the team responsible for photography and ad campaigns had been a little more cautious. If the consumers can notice the racist connotation so should have they.
3. The Misunderstanding of Hashtags by DiGorno Pizza
You probably have listened to the album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ by Lauryn Hill but you probably have not heard about the misunderstanding of a hashtag by DiGorno Pizza. In 2014, there was a hashtag streak #WhyIStayed on Twitter regarding domestic abuse. People were sharing their stories about domestic violence. The frozen pizza company for some reason decided to use it for marketing.
They tweeted the hashtag with the text ‘#WhyIStayed You had Pizza.’ This was utterly insensitive and not funny for those surviving domestic abuse. They got some backlash and turned out they did not quite understand the hashtag.
There are new hashtags and vocabulary being used on social media all the time. It is worth finding out the context or meaning before using it. Otherwise, you could be looking at a marketing blunder like this one.
4. NYPD Hashtag Mayhem
While we are talking about hashtags, this is yet another example of how careful marketers have to be when it comes to Twitter and hashtags. The New York Police Department’s social media team decided to use the hashtag #myNYPD to encourage people to post pictures with police officers. It did not go the way they expected.
The internet trolled the NYPD with images of police brutality. What was supposed to be a positive campaign turned into an opportunity for the people to mock the police? Their social media managers should have known that such a hashtag would most likely spark mockery and sarcasm given the history of NYPD and its image in the city.
5. 9/11 video
Videos dominate internet marketing today. Whether you are on a website, Facebook or Instagram, you will mostly see video content. Therefore, it is important to talk about disastrous videos and what could be more disastrous than a video exploiting the 9/11 tragedy.
Miracle Mattress, a Texas-based mattress company, posted a video to promote a twin mattress offer where a woman buys a twin price mattress to remember 9/11. This was so terrible that the company had to close the store down. When making videos or pictures, it is never a good idea to exploit a tragedy.
6. Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad
Advertisements usually come under fire more often, especially now that advertisements run on YouTube and Facebook. In 2017, a Pepsi advertisement featuring model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner sparked controversy. On the surface, the advert looks quite normal but the underlying message was way off.
In the advertisement, they show a standoff between police and Black Lives Matter protesters. A cheery Kendall comes and settles the protest by offering a Pepsi can to a police officer. The advert was met with a lot of criticism on social media and even ridiculed on talk shows. Pepsi pulled it off and a few months later PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman resigned.
The main takeaway here is that marketers should not tap into serious social issues like racism or sexual harassment. It makes you look opportunist and insensitive.
7. Dove’s Racist Transformation
Similar to Pepsi, Dove apparently upset a lot of people with a Facebook post. For 15 years, Dove has had a positive marketing campaign called ‘Real Beauty’ that showed real women. However, in 2017, they posted a picture on Facebook that straight up came off as racist.
It was a four-panel picture in which three panels show a black girl taking off her shirt and in the last panel the girl is white. Whichever way you see it, it only comes off as racist. It has indeed been a rough year for the marketers over at Unilever.
Dove claimed the message was to showcase the diversity of beauty. They were probably the only ones who saw it that way. Marketers need to be very careful about what could be the implications of an image.
8. Sears Non-existent Marketing
Sears has recently filed for bankruptcy. This move was imminent for some time as Sears’ revenue has been declining rigorously over the years. In this era of the retail apocalypse, Sears is an extraordinary example. They closed over 150 stores in 2017 alone and more store closings were announced this year too. They planned to close more than 100 stores this year with 43 closing in November. According to Business Insider, its revenue has dropped on average 27.7% year after year during peak holiday seasons.
While there are many reasons behind its failure, two are relevant to marketing. Sears cut off spending on marketing as a way to prevent losses. Needless to say, it was a terrible move.
Secondly, the vision of the company relied on its rewards program Shop Your Way. In this program, subscribers would get points for shopping and use them as coupons. This was wrong, to begin with, as customers do not like being tied down.
They could have just gone with simple no strings attached coupons. These coupons could have been made available directly or through coupon websites. Coupon websites serve as a useful tool not only to sell but to attract new customers. Sarah Brennan COO at ClothingRIC, a dedicated fashion apparel online stores coupon platform – analyzed more than hundreds of thousands of discount offers in the fashion apparel industry. Explains this: “Despite their inherent messiness, consumers aren’t about to give up on a mode of savings that is so much under their control. After all, the price savings from a coupon is guaranteed to go directly to the consumer using it.”
These are challenging times for marketers. Whatever you say, write, or show needs to be weighed and calculated. The wrong choice of words, racist imagery, or even a sarcastic joke can get you in hot waters. It takes just one bad move to destroy the company image and dip its revenue.
When creating marketing content, be as creative as you can but keep in mind the implications and practicalities. At the end of the day, the purpose is to sell. If it is negatively affecting your sales, it is not the right marketing. It is smart to use recent events for marketing as long as they do not spark a debate or outcry.