Worst Digital Marketing Examples from the Recent Past

Sometimes even the best laid digital marketing plans go oh-so-terribly wrong. Here’s a list of hilarious but also very telling examples of recent advertising efforts gone wrong:

Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Protest Ad

Pepsi kicked off 2017 with an ad aimed at showing solidarity with youth protests against police violence. Unfortunately for Pepsi, only the brand thought of it that may. Everyone else, particularly the young target audience, found the ad tone-deaf and distasteful.

The offending ad featured the social media star, Kendall Jenner, appearing in a fashion shoot, and then joining a group of protesting young people. The protest heads to a police barrier, where Jenner hands over a can of Pepsi to a smiling police officer.

The ad outraged audiences and inspired countless parodies. SNL mocked Pepsi with a skit and a YouTuber actually tried to go to college protests with cans of “soothing” Pepsi (the police actually banned the soda cans from the premises).

Pepsi learned that not all publicity is good publicity, especially in a time of fraught politics and cultural sensibilities. The PepsiCo president apologized for the ads, soon after stepping down from his post.

The lesson here, according to several experts, was that Pepsi didn’t use a proper ad agency. It’s in-house team woefully misunderstood the cultural forces driving the narrative after the 2016 election. Other digital marketers can definitely learn a lesson or two here.

Walkers Learns a Valuable Lesson about User Generated Content

The British biscuit brand Walkers wanted to create a one-of-a-kind social media campaign where customers directly engaged with the brand. So Walkers launched a major event asking fans of the brand to send selfies for a contest where the winners would get tickets to a big sporting event.

This being the internet, people started submitting photos in droves. In addition to genuine selfies, Walkers ended up getting “selfies” of serial killers, dictators, and other unsavory characters. Some say the company should have expected this. But Walkers apparently didn’t, because the company never moderated the submission process. The result was the likes of Hitler and Jeffery Dahmer “liking” the Walkers brand.

Needless to say, the marketing effort was an absolute disaster. This is certainly an area where one of the best social media agency reps can step in to offer assistance. Businesses should be aware of the perils of Facebook as its merits.

Dove’s Misfired Body Positivity Ad

Personal product companies like Dove have long been accused of perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty. Dove seems to take the high road couple of years ago by releasing their “Real Beauty” Campaign, aimed at celebrating women with many different body types. However, Dove’s way of doing so was to compare women’s bodies to soap bottles, literally objectifying them.

Dove Body Shaped Bottles

To say the ad sent the wrong message is an understatement. Dove was mocked heavily on social networks. Critics slammed the brand saying it made body shape issues even worse. The Dove ad was simply insensitive and spectacularly missed its mark. This is another example where a third-party advisor may have been able to prevent the disastrous rollout.

McDonald’s No Longer Lovin’ It

Advertisers are often told to create material that elicits strong emotions or feeling in the target customer base. Such moving ads are memorable, say the experts. McDonald’s followed this advice and created an emotionally wrenching ad, but in a spectacularly terrible manner.

In 2017, in order to promote its fast food, the famous brand created a video ad that showed a young boy talking to his mother about his father, who has apparently died. Then the mournful talk diverts attention to McDonald’s filet-o-fish burghers because apparently, that’s what both the father and son liked. The target audience did not take this well, as McDonald’s was obviously exploiting grief to sell sandwiches.

It great to tell thought-provoking stories to sell a product, but there’s always a tasteful way to do it. Digital marketers should probably avoid emotionally hefty subjects such as grief unless it’s directly related to the brand.

The offended brands involved in the above campaigns most likely did not aim to outrage its target audience, though they incredibly managed to do so. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, all publicity is certainly not good publicity. Marketers should, therefore, be more sensitive to customer sensibilities before attempting to create “unique” ads.

Rebecca Howell
After working 5 years as a Software Analyst in reputed MNC, Rebecca decided to settle down and work from home. Having an expertise in business & being a life motivator, she loves to share similar stuff on our website by the means of her articles.