5 Most Memorable Marketing Fails

April 12th, 2012 by Search Influence Alumni

marketing failsOver the years, I’ve seen many companies going into damage control for missteps that they took in pushing their message. To learn from the mistakes of others, I’ve compiled a few of the most memorable marketing fails. These companies tried to do something unique or different to increase their brand awareness or create social interaction — but sometimes, things do not go as plan. Below is a list of the top marketing backfires that some of the biggest corporations have faced, offending or even repelling their customers.

1. New Orleans hosted the NCAA Men’s Final Four the weekend of March 30, 2012. Coca-Cola, one of the NCAA Final Four sponsors, sprayed painted their logo using a chalk spray throughout the French Quarter. Residents were angered by the graffiti in their neighborhood, and Twitter blew up with tweets to Coca-Cola about the guerilla marketing that defaced their neighborhood. You can see their response and their graffiti below:



2. McDonald’s started a hashtag twitter campaign #McDStories to connect with their customers about their new healthy food initiative back in January. Instead of getting positive stories, they received negative backlash. People replied with health issues from eating at McDonald’s, criticism of the business model and disgusting things they had found in their food.


3. In March 2011, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons posted a video on his blog of him shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe. PETA and several others were upset by this video and shortly after, PETA cancelled their contract with GoDaddy.

4. Groupon’s offensive ad during the 2011 Super Bowl showed poor taste in making a parody of the problems that the Tibetan people face. This controversial ad caused Groupon to go into damage control mode. This ad was no laughing matter when Twitter users lashed back with hard facts on the deaths caused by the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

5. While the 2010 BP oil spill devastated the Gulf of Mexico, Spirit Airlines turned the matter into a mockery. No stranger to controversial ads, they launched several ads that said “Check Out The Oil On Our Beaches”. The tasteless campaign did not sit well with Gulf Coast residents whose coastline and wildlife were devastated by the spill.

When companies think they are on the verge of some creative marketing breakthrough, they’re often failing to see the big picture or contextualize their campaign from the targets’ viewpoint. It’s a miracle some of these even made it past the cutting room. As tempting as it may be to commit our own marketing fail, it’s never funny to just poke fun at someone’s plight: we can all learn from these blunders. What do you think these companies should have done differently, or was their damage control appropriate? Any gaffes of your own to share?