Failed Marketing Campaigns: Avoid These 5 Harmful Mistakes

Failed Marketing Campaings

In the history of advertising, on one side it is possible to find authentic examples of brilliance —- ideas so incredible that make you wonder how they came up with them! But on the other side, there are also failed marketing campaigns so bad that make you wonder why no one stopped these companies before releasing them.

Sometimes you can learn a lot from these disastrous marketing campaigns. That’s why in this post, we’ll explore not only bad marketing campaigns, but we’ll also try to understand why they failed and how to avoid making the same mistakes.

1. The Pepsi ‘Peace Can’ — A Failed Marketing Campaign So Bad It’s Funny

One of the most famous failed marketing campaings from Pepsi
Pepsi ‘Peace Can’ Ad — the clear example of a failed marketing campaign.

The Pepsi ad that you see in the picture —which has already been taken down by the company— features Kendall Jenner as the protagonist. In it, she goes from model to protestor, to settle a social standoff using a can of Pepsi. However, the end result was so terrible that we could even be talking about a bad branding campaign, because it became a big burden for the company’s image.

Why did it fail? Because of a combination of timing and tone. The ads simply missed the mark by far, trying (too directly) to take advantage of current social movements to promote soda. It was easy for people to see their real intentions, and the backlash was not long in coming.

What can we learn from this example of a failed marketing campaign? Simply to be self-aware and understand that if you as a brand want to stand for a social cause, you have to be very careful in your approach.

Perhaps if they had had the help of AI to create powerful marketing campaigns this wouldn’t have happened.

2. New Coke

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The case of New Coke is one of those that could’ve been avoided if the Coke’s team would’ve remembered this simple concept: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Otherwise, you’re in for a bad marketing campaign.

It was 1985 and Coke’s team decided that they would release a new type of coke, throwing out the formula that people had grown to love and replacing it with something yet untested.

Why it failed? Although the idea was innovative, people were simply expecting to taste the classic Coke flavor. They stumbled upon something with a ‘weird taste’ and they just didn’t like it.

The morale of the story here is simple. It’s great to keep things fresh, but when that implies going against what makes the essence of your company, the result can be a failed marketing campaign.

3. Skittles ‘Midas’ Touch Campaign

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It’s great to try new, unconventional ways of promoting your product. That’s one of the fundamental things that makes you stand out when the competence is tight. However, sometimes trying to be too different can make you look just weird.

A few years ago, Skittles launched an ad that was a re-representation of the classic tale of King Midas. Only here, instead of gold, the man turned everything he touched into skittles.

The result was a genuinely sad campaign that instead of communicating the sweet flavor of skittles only left spectators with a gut-wrenching feeling. 

When it comes to advertising, sometimes it’s just better to focus on what the product makes people feel rather than trying a completely new angle. Otherwise, you’re risking missing the mark by far and join the ranks of these failed marketing campaigns.

4. American Airlines — Free First Class Travel

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There’s always some kind of risk involved when you make a promo in which you offer free stuff. If you don’t think things through, you could soon find yourself in negative numbers.

American Airlines discovered this the ugly way when it released the AApass — a special pass that cost $250,000, but that gave (and still gives) unlimited first class travels to those who bought it. Yes, this is one of those failed marketing campaigns that could have been spotted from a mile away.

Although the company only sold 65 of these passes, this could easily be one of the worst failed marketing campaigns because it already cost the company over $50 million dollars to date — and keeps going.

So, what happened here? American Airlines was going through some rough times, and they wanted to create an irresistible offer. However, in the long run, that was a disastrous decision.

Sometimes making promos sounds enticing. However, if we want to avoid turning our efforts into one of these bad marketing campaigns, we should analyze all variables. Ideally, you want to have multiple instances to limit an offer — such as time or money limits.

5. Pepsi Number Fever

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We couldn’t finish talking about failed marketing campaigns without mentioning the now classic example of how not to do marketing: the Pepsi Number Fever promo.

In February 1992, Pepsi Philippines communicated that their sodas would come with a special printed number inside their caps. Some of those numbers were prize winners, and people could earn up to $40,000 US dollars.

In the beginning, no one suspected this could become a failed marketing campaign. Actually, Pepsi market share increased from 4% to 24% in a short span of time. Winners were announced every night on live television.

However, everything changed on May 25 when they announced that the winner of the grand prize for the day was the number 349. The problem? The stock wasn’t properly controlled before releasing it, and there were bout 800,000 bottle caps with that number printed.

When Pepsi realized, they quickly tried to solve the dispute, offering small prizes as a ‘gesture of good will’. However, the damage was done, and the public dissatisfaction turned into a wide range of protests, boycotts, and legal actions.

This is a reminder that taking care of the logistics is vital. Even in the online world, the smallest mistake can have big consequences — duplicated campaign mails that end up unintentionally spamming, ads that become black holes of budget for a mistake, unsuspected fees that end up ruining relations with customers, etc.

Looking after every single detail in an email campaign can be tiring — especially if you already have a whole business to take care of. That’s why sometimes you’re better off delegating your marketing efforts to experts with a proven track record of successful campaigns.

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