Everyone makes mistakes. We all know this. However, there are certain roles in which blunders are less forgivable. Surgeons and pilots are perhaps the first that come to mind. While not a matter of life or death, marketing is another field in which simple errors can be career-killers. From eyebrow-raising promotional products to cringe-worthy social media fails, here are the four most epic marketing mistakes (and the lessons you can take from them).
Mistake 1: Giving away free weapons
When EA Games was prepping for the release of the Godfather II, someone thought it would be clever to send out knuckle dusters as promotional gifts with advanced copies. The only problem was, brass knuckles are illegal weapons in many states, making this not just a marketing fail, but an accidental criminal operation! Though the company quickly recalled the promotional weapons, their blunder was embarrassingly public, and the game ended up being a commercial failure.
Lesson learned: Always check both state and federal laws before letting a marketing strategy loose, even if you’re in love with the idea.
Mistake 2: Unintentional(?) racism
This mistake has been made by so many companies, but in recent years, Dove and Heineken stand out. Dove enacted a social media campaign in which an African American woman removes her skin to reveal a white woman underneath. Meanwhile, Heineken released ads with the tagline “sometimes lighter is better” in which a beer slides along a bar past a number of dark-skinned people into the waiting hands of a white person. Whatever point these companies were trying to make was entirely lost in the furor that erupted after the ads were released.
Lesson learned: Always test your campaigns before releasing them into the world, especially if you’re touching on things like race, gender, or sexuality in your advertising.
Mistake 3: Accidentally looking like a psychopath
In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg decided to advertise Facebook’s emerging social virtual reality department by taking a tour of Puerto Rico. Sounds fine, right? Well, Puerto Rico had just been hit by Hurricane Maria, the streets were flooded, and scenes of devastation lay around every corner. In the midst of this, viewers saw Zuckerberg’s grinning avatar excitedly telling them that “[what’s] really magical about VR is you get the feeling you’re really in a place.” Though the Cambridge Analytica scandal soon eclipsed this fail against humanity, many people rose up in anger at the time.
Lesson learned: Use empathy whenever you consider new advertising ideas, and instead of piggy-backing off disasters, add charitable giving to your marketing strategy.
Mistake 4: Over-promising and under-delivering
In 2017, Sunny Co. Clothing decided to celebrate the release of the new Baywatch movie with its own version of the iconic red swimsuit. To advertise the product, they ran an Instagram campaign offering a free swimsuit to anyone who reposted the ad and tagged the company within 24-hours.
The problem was, the ad did too well! It went viral, with more than 3,000 retweets in the first few hours alone. The company soon realized they had no hope of fulfilling all the orders and so put a cap on the offer after the fact. Though they tried to defend this move, they angered many people who were expecting to get what they were promised.
Lesson learned: Never underestimate the unpredictable power of social media. Be sure you can make good on any promises you make, even if your post goes viral.
To ensure you never end up as a marketing horror story, take these lessons to heart and think carefully before releasing your next ad campaign into the world.