When Marketing Campaigns Go Wrong | Punch Creative
August 7, 2023

When Marketing Campaigns Go Wrong: The Graveyard of Marketing Fails

Even the mightiest of brands can stumble and fall! In this blog, we’ll be sharing cautionary tales of failed marketing campaigns. Get ready to explore some of the worst marketing disasters, which will make you cringe, laugh and shake your head in disbelief. Which is the most shocking?

1. New Coke: A Recipe for Disaster

Back in 1985, Coca-Cola had the great idea to mess with perfection. A series of blind taste tests found that consumers preferred Pepsi to Coke, so of course, Coca-Cola panicked. They unleashed ‘New Coke’ with an ‘improved recipe’, hoping to conquer the world’s taste buds. But, the backlash was swift and merciless. The company received over 40,000 calls and letters from angry consumers. Just 79 days after New Coke’s introduction, the old Coke was brought back. Coca-Cola learned the hard way that messing with an iconic brand is a recipe for disaster.

Moral of the story: If your product isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Red vintage Coca Cola cans from failed marketing campaign

Photo credit: Retronaut

2. THAT Burger King Tweet

Cast your mind back to International Women’s Day 2021. A time when brands unite to show their support for women. Except Burger King, who tried and got it very wrong. They tweeted “Women belong in the kitchen.” Shocked? Us too. Their good intention was there, as they were attempting to highlight gender disparity in the restaurant industry. However, tweeting a historically sexist remark was not the way to do this. After a ton of backlash, the brand apologised and deleted the tweet.

Moral of the story: Don’t be sexist for clickbait.

International Women's Day tweet from Burger King for failed marketing campaign with the text ;Women belong in the kitchen'

Photo credit: Burger King

3. Pepsi: Kendall Failure

A unifying force? In 2017, Pepsi launched an advert as part of their “Live for Now” campaign, featuring Kendall Jenner. The ad aimed to show Pepsi as a means to unite people in the midst of social and political tensions. It depicted a protest scene where Jenner, armed with a can of Pepsi, seemingly bridged the divide between protesters and police by offering the drink to an officer. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of backlash for this as critics accused Pepsi of trivializing social justice movements. In response, Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology, admitting that they had missed the mark.

Moral of the story: Approach sensitive topics like serious social issues with extreme caution.

Pepsi and Kendall Jenner failed marketing campaign, she hands a policeman a can

Photo credit: YouTube

4. McDonald’s Hashtag Horror Stories

A sweet story gone wrong. In 2012, McDonald’s launched the #McDStories campaign on Twitter, hoping that people would use the hashtag to share heartwarming tales of their experiences with the brand. If only. Instead, users accompanied the hashtag with their negative stories and criticisms. In response, McDonald’s stopped promoting the hashtag within two hours. But even after this, people continued to use the hashtag as there was no control over this.

Moral of the story: Carefully consider user-generated content as a marketing strategy.

Failed marketing campaign tweet from McDonald's with the copy 'Meet some of the hand-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day'

Photo credit: McDonald’s

5. Dove’s “Real Beauty” Bottles

In 2017, Dove tried to oversimplify the complexity of women’s bodies. As part of their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, they introduced a range of limited-edition body wash bottles, shaped like different body types including curvy, tall, petite and hour-glass. The idea was to convey that every body is beautiful. The delivery came across like they were LITERALLY objectifying women. They were criticised for using body positivity as a marketing tool without necessarily driving meaningful change or challenging the beauty industry’s status quo. Dove has since continued their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, setting out to do just this.

Moral of the story: Have a genuine commitment to positive change.

Dove failed marketing campaign, white bottles in different sizes

Photo credit: Dove

6. Getting “Beach Body Ready” with Protein World

You know a campaign is bad when it gets banned in the UK! In 2015, Protein World launched an advert which featured an image woman in a bikini with the text ‘Are you beach body ready?’. This ad aimed to promote their weight-loss products, conveying that only slim people are ready for the beach. There was a huge outcry on social media, with the hashtags #EveryBodyReady and #BoycottProteinWorld trending. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received complaints, so they banned the campaign for being “socially irresponsible”.

Moral of the story: Always be aware of representation.

Failed marketing campaign from Protein World with the copy 'are you beach body ready?'

Photo credit: Protein World

7. Balenciaga’s Bear Bags

When it comes to campaigns, audience is key. If you’re not selling wildly inappropriate bear bags to children, don’t advertise that. In 2022, Balenciaga launched a range of adverts that showed children with bears wearing BDSM-style harnesses. After an incredible amount of backlash, Balenciaga apologised and pulled the campaign.

Moral of the story: Know your audience.

Failed Balenciaga marketing campaign, two children hold bears

Image credit: Balenciaga

8. H&M Children’s Clothing

Racism is a huge problem in the marketing industry. One instinct of this is from H&M, who shared an image on their website of a black child wearing a hoodie that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”. This was incredibly racially insensitive, evoking historical racist stereotypes. This led to the brand losing partnerships with celebrities, The Weeknd and G-Eazy. H&M apologised for this, removed the ad from their website and hired a diversity leader.

Moral of the story: Be culturally sensitive and don’t appropriate.

H&M failed marketing campaign with small child wearing a printed hooded top

Photo credit: H&M

There you have it! We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading through these tales that highlight when marketing campaigns go wrong. Remember the morals of these stories to help you navigate the marketing landscape. Need help? Get in touch with our Leeds marketing agency today: Contact Us