Picture this: you’ve been working hard on creating the perfect marketing campaign for your brand, you’ve come up with all the details, everything was organized perfectly, and the campaign was seemingly successfully launched. Instead of acquiring you many new customers, however, the campaign has resulted in public outrage and the loss of, up until then, many loyal customers. It is a sad fact that these kinds of grossly insensitive campaigns happen all too often.
Some recover from it, some don’t. To be on the safe side as much as it is possible, it’s useful (and fun) to learn about unsuccessful marketing campaigns, so that you can be prepared when it’s time to launch your own campaign.
With that in mind, here are some of the major marketing fails of 2018/19.
#01 Heineken’s Bar Commercial
The first fail that we’ll discuss happened to Heineken back in March 2018, when this company’s marketing division envisioned a commercial that had many viewers accusing it of being racist. Namely, the commercial takes place in a bar. The bartender notices a beautiful white woman entering. In an effort to woo this woman, the bartender opens a bottle of Heineken and slides it down the bar toward the woman.
Nothing wrong with that, right? Sure, except one little detail that made this commercial one of the major marketing fails of 2018. Namely, as the bottle slides along the bar, it passes right by no less than three people of colour and no people of other ethnicities! Soon after the commercial was originally broadcast, there was a reaction on social media, notably by Chance the Rapper, who called the commercial “terribly racist”. With many other people thinking the same, Heineken’s commercial was a spectacular failure.
#02 Dolce & Gabbana’s Chinese Controversy
Then, there’s Dolce & Gabbana’s campaign that backfired and caused a lot of bad publicity for this fashion giant. In the commercial for this campaign, a Chinese woman is shown trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks. While trying to do so, this woman constantly fails, resulting in humorous attempts to finally sate her hunger.
This only goes to show that even humorous (probably good-natured) attempts at marketing can lead to major marketing fails due to marketers’ ignorance. While the people working for Dolce & Gabbana have thought that this would be a hopefully fun and light commercial, in reality, it portrayed Chinese people as so culturally backward that they can’t even use a knife and fork. Even worse, inappropriate comments made by Stefano Gabbana on Instagram surfaced soon after, further damaging the company’s image. Of course, one of the rules of a solid social media strategy is – don’t slam the people of other nationalities (in this case Chinese) on social media if you don’t want your business to suffer because of it (or in any other case, for that matter).
#03 Estee Lauder’s Racist Line of Foundation
The next fail involves products in the line whose full name is Double Wear Nude Water Fresh Makeup SPF25. This is a line of foundation made by Estee Lauder. When a company releases 30 different versions of their product, one would expect that all women will be able to find something for themselves. Unfortunately for Estee Lauder and some of their customers, more than 15 of these versions were aimed at white women, specifically, the ones with very pale skin.
In the eyes of the buyers, when a company unnecessarily designs and markets their product in such a way, it clearly shows a backward way of thinking. It goes to show that they’re aiming their product specifically at white women (and very pale ones), while disregarding other ethnicities. And in 2018 (and 2019 as well), that way of thinking should have been discarded a long time ago.
#04 Dove’s “Unreal Beauty” Disaster
One of Dove’s more important missions, as seen in their marketing campaigns, is to present and reinforce the image of a woman as a beautiful human being. For ages, women have been taught how they should look. From successful models and actresses to other celebrities, women in media are skinny and extremely beautiful, painting the picture that this is how a woman should look if she wants to enjoy having a sense of self-worth. Diets, makeup, even plastic surgery – women have been taught that this is what they need if they want to keep their confidence intact.
With its long-running campaign entitled “Real Beauty”, Dove has been successfully fighting this damaging cultural stance. Up until 2018, that is, when their attempt to empower women turned into one of the major marketing fails of 2018. What happened is that Dove released their clothing in seven shapes, each shape in a packaging with a very abstract form that resembled soap bottles. Instead of promoting diversity, Dove accidentally made women more self-conscious about their bodies, as they were made to choose between one of the seven shapes that best matched the appropriate soap bottle.
#05 H&M’s Jungle Fail
In this case of digital marketing gone wrong, the people from H&M posted a highly controversial picture on this company’s official website. Similarly to some other fails on our list, this picture was also deemed to be racist. Namely, two kids were shown on the picture, both wearing H&M-designer sweatshirts. One kid (caucasian) wore a sweatshirt with the phrase “survival expert” written on it. The other one (black) wore a similar sweatshirt, but with the phrase “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
How could H&M’s marketers think that this was a good idea is beyond us. While there’s nothing wrong with jungle-themed marketing, calling a white person a “jungle survival expert”, while a black person is a monkey in that same jungle is obviously wrong and racist (no matter how cool the monkey is).
What Can We Learn From These Major Marketing Fails?
As you can see, major marketing fails to happen most often due to ignorance on part of the marketing dept. Of course, creating a strong online presence is important, but doing so with the help of qualified professionals who can help you avoid all the potential pitfalls is equally important. For example, if you were looking to make your moving company visible online, you’d need to do it with the assistance of experienced experts. The same goes for any other business.
However, while experts can help you, the trick perhaps is not so much in consciously trying to avoid marketing pitfalls, but rather in respecting all people no matter the race, gender, or sexual orientation. Many people believe that they do respect all people, but their actions (and thoughts) still may be offensive without them realizing it. Apart from avoiding major marketing fails, questioning your beliefs and making sure that your way of thinking isn’t harming other people will also make you a better human being. Win-win.