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Key Takeaways on the Biggest Marketing Fails of 2017

Rakia Binte Khalid May 16, 2018
marketing fails 2017

Not every marketing campaign is cringe worthy. Some of them just fail to create any impact, neither positive nor negative. It’s a general perception that a campaign inviting massive criticism is a failure. Quite the opposite is true in this case. However the brand needs to be careful in its approach and not invite criticism.  One wrong move and your ideas can go terribly wrong.

As we know, marketing campaigns can fail due to a number of unanticipated reasons. For example, delivering content at a wrong time, choice of improper words in the campaign, not catering to the needs of target audience, brand’s message leading to number of interpretations etc.

A marketing fail is a window of opportunity for emerging brands that learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. So, let’s look at top marketing fails of 2017 and take lessons of preventions from them.

Dove’s ethnic diversity ad backfires

A Dove advertisement was posted on Facebook which was a four-panel image showing an African young girl taking off her shirt which is similar to her skin color in three panels and in the fourth panel a young white woman was shown. People immediately started criticizing the ad, calling it racist. In fact, Google’s search query suggests it as “Dove’s racist ad”. Ultimately, Dove had to apologize to the audience.


Takeaway: Avoid posting racial superiority. No brand should ever create an add which can be easily taken out of context.

Uber backs the wrong horse

During the first half of 2017, When Donald Trump’s ban on Muslim countries affected the trade. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance asked members to stay out of the JFK airport for an hour. At this moment, Uber announced low pricing at the airport which left the anti-ban users with no other choice but to remove the app and express their rage on twitter. Uber tried to save themselves from pedal maneuver but the damage was done already.


Takeaway: It is better not to jump into political scenarios and prefer profits over ethics. If in some case you have to do it, then be prepared to deal with all the circumstances.

Pepsi jumps in with both feet

Pepsi casted Kendall Jenner in their advertisement which featured that the tension is rising between the police and protestors until she appeared and so effortlessly resolved the protest by sharing a can of Pepsi with the cop. The commercial trivialized the significance of protest which was happening at that time in America. Besides, Kendall was not the right representative. She might be a perfect pick for Pepsi in a situation other than protest.


Takeaway: When aligning a brand with a movement, make sure that the tone of the movement goes with the brand. Also, cast people who are associated with the cause.

McDonald’s pain-play

It is really hard to offend anyone with food but McDonalds did it. The spot showed a young boy conversing with his mother about his dead father, hoping one of his father’s trait will be like him. It is showed that the young boy shares nothing mutual with his father except for their shared love for fish-o-fillet sandwiches. The advertisement received swift criticism for offending the sentiments of people that McDonalds had to apologize.

Takeaway: Attaching sentiments to a campaign is a good strategy for marketing but only if it’s done wisely.

Adidas gone wrong with wordplay

Adidas sent an email to all the participants of Boston Marathon with the subject, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon” which offended the people and drew a lot of criticism from participants, their friends and families. It reminded them of the tragic 2013 Marathon, during which a lot of people were killed and injured due to terrorism. Thus, Adidas had to apologize for this inconsiderate move.

Takeaway: Word choice should be immensely considered and should be cross checked. What you intend, doesn’t matter. Message is in the words!

Snapchat ruins the surprise

Snapchat wanted to make a big announcement and in order to grab the attention of the masses, Snapchat employees began cryptically tweeting the link to the webpage. That page displayed a countdown clock. Snapchat very excitedly put all the efforts into its timer that they forgot about the clock on other computers. Savvy snap chatters couldn’t wait for the timer to stop and by adjusting the clock forward on their computers, they quickly tricked the site. Hence, revealing the surprise. The surprise was about the collaboration of AR into the application with artist Jeff Koons.


Takeaway: Before making any big reveal, make sure every little detail from NDAs signed to every piece of marketing collateral is taken care of.

Facebook’s insensitive move

Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook and Rachel Franklin- head of social video on Facebook were shown talking and discussing the social network’s latest venture (i.e. VR App Spaces). It was a 10-minute long NPR produced 360 video against the backdrop of a devastated Puerto Rico after the hurricane Maria. It was hoped that it would result in people wanting to use their application but it only became a huge flop, making Zuckerberg to apologize instead.


Takeaway: Ensure that your dry run explores more than just tech. Think from various perspectives.  An internal team should be assigned to keep a check on the potential pitfalls.

Wrapping up

If you are a head of a marketing team of any business regardless of its size and market, make sure your marketing strategy is free from political biases, body shaming or color races, or anything that could be constructed as negative. Because any marketing tactic will set up your brand’s image. All the marketing fails above are a lesson for the smart people as once a wiseman said: “Average people learn from their mistakes. Smart people learn from other people’s mistakes.”