What “Not” To Do: 8 Marketing Campaigns That Bombed Big Time

We’ve seen and been inspired by stellar marketing campaigns in the past. But there is a thing or two to be learned from the mistakes too.

Here, we bring you eight such campaigns that were ‘notoriously famous’ for all the wrong reasons.

DiGiorno #WhyIstayed

Beverly Gooden started one of the biggest examples of hashtag activism of 2014 with #WhyIStayed after she sent out a tweet attached to it, close on the heels of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal.

Domestic abuse is not to be trivialised, let alone be joked about. So it came as a shock when DiGiorno used the hashtag in a tweet to promote their frozen pizza.

DiGiorno WhyIStayed Tweet_8 Marketing Learnings From Brands That Goofed Up Big Time


While the massive backlash to the tweet proved that people didn’t take kindly to the irresponsible and insensitive tweet, it also goes to prove that a trending hashtag does not always mean that brands should jump to cash in on it. Thankfully though, the brand later put up a number of apologies to the tweet. Apparently their social media person hadn’t bothered to read what the hashtag was about, before sending out the tweet. Yikes.


Pearly marketing wisdom: Don’t run in to hijack every single trending hashtag on Twitter. And even if you do want to risk doing that, at least find out what it’s really about.

Lenskart ‘Shake it off like the earthquake’

The recent Nepal earthquake has been one of the most devastating calamities of 2015 killing thousands and displacing countless more. While there have been many messages and acts of support from individuals and brands alike, a thoughtless SMS sent out by an Indian e-commerce website Lenskart, caught everyone’s attention.

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The highly insensitive promotional SMS was sent out just hours after the earthquake struck. People were quick to react and took to Twitter, shaming the brand. Soon enough, the brand sent out another apologetic text expressing their regret over the ‘accidental choice of words’.


Pearly marketing wisdom: This one is a little too obvious, we think. When you’re facing the choice of promoting your brand versus extending a supportive hand during a debilitating tragedy- do choose the latter.

American Apparel ‘Hurricane Sandy’ promotion

What is with natural calamities and ridiculous marketing gimmicks?

A few years before the Nepal earthquake, American Apparel had their own brand of heartless marketing when they sent out a promotional email during Hurricane Sandy.

American Apparel Hurricane Sandy_8 Marketing Learnings From Brands That Goofed Up Big Time


What made this one a lot worse was the fact that their sale was targeted to the areas that were worst hit by the hurricane. We’re guessing something told the marketing team that the best time to promote their products to online shoppers was when they were indoors seeking refuge from a raving storm. As expected, the Twitterverse was enraged by the absolutely insensitive emailer and flooded the web with their displeasure.


Pearly marketing wisdom: While a situation that has generated sufficient media coverage is a worthy topic to build your campaign around, being sensitive to the feelings of the people involved is of utmost importance. “Any publicity is good publicity”, doesn’t quite cut it here.

Kurl-on Mattress ‘Bounce Back’

Ogilvy & Mather found itself staring into the barrel of a gun for the deeply insensitive print campaign they ran for Kurl-on Mattress, a leading manufacturer of mattresses in India. The ad which was released shortly after Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize depicted her being shot in the head and ‘bouncing back’ off of a Kurl-On mattress to be awarded the prize.

Malala-KurlOn_8 Marketing Learnings From Brands That Goofed Up Big Time


Ogilvy India was quick to apologize after the online backlash. However, critics were divided on whether the ad was entirely distasteful or if we’ve just become too sensitive a race.


Pearly marketing wisdom: While it makes sense to associate your brand with a clever tagline and attempt to fit the latest happenings to cash in on their popularity, there are some lines that we must not cross in the name of creative liberty. But how far is too far, you ask? Well, how about not overstepping human sensitivity for one.

Malaysia Airlines ‘Ultimate Bucket List’

Malaysia Airlines was in the news on two separate instances in 2014. Unfortunately, in neither instance was it related to good news. Between the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a total of 537 lives were lost. Which is why we wonder what the marketing division of the airline was thinking when they launched the ‘Ultimate Bucket List’ contest. The contest, which ran in Australia and New Zealand, urged people to submit their bucket list travel destinations, with best answers standing a chance to win free air tickets or iPads.

malaysia airlines-bucket list campaign_8 Marketing Learnings From Brands That Goofed Up Big Time


Sounds like a good idea for a campaign, except if your airline has just had two disasters in the recent past, the last thing you should want customers to associate it with is a ‘bucket list’- something that denotes a list of things one wishes to do before they die.


Pearly marketing wisdom: Before you decide to use a cool catch-phrase for your campaign, try making sure that it doesn’t mean something terribly offensive to someone. Irrespective of the tragedies having occurred in the same year with the same airline, associating your contest with something as dire as death isn’t a good idea, ever!

Kellogg’s UK ‘Give a child a breakfast’

Brands and their random acts of kindness have been covered extensively( and made for good PR). Except, when Kellogg’s decided to reward every retweet with a free breakfast to a hungry child- it was taking matters a bit too far.

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The Kellogg’s ‘Give a child a breakfast’ campaign has been running quite successfully in UK and promises free meals to hungry children who don’t have a chance to a decent breakfast in UK and Ireland. The website states that every marked box of cereal sold goes to giving a bowl to a hungry child who would have otherwise gone without breakfast. It’s a fabulous initiative to start with, but associating it with a retweet was trivialising matters a bit too much.


Pearly marketing wisdom: We all know that those tactics to push retweets and get favorites on Twitter are much too tempting, but try to not mix that with your CSR initiative lest you come across as a corporate brand that’s doing it solely for publicity.

Victoria’s Secret ‘The Perfect Body’ campaign

The resounding success that Dove has had with its slew of ‘real beauty’ campaigns have proven that the days of selling products that piggy backed on negative self image, are way behind us. Yet, there continue to be major brands that fail to learn from the follies of the past to create campaigns that are disastrous at best. Victoria’s Secret figures right on top of that list.

Victoria's Secret The perfect body_8 Marketing Learnings From Brands That Goofed Up Big Time


‘The Perfect Body’ campaign showed only a single kind of body- leggy and impossibly skinny. Considering VS has been under the scanner for not having a wider variety of sizes, especially from plus-size customers, this campaign just goes to show that they’re far from taking the ‘beauty comes in all sizes’ route.

All the backlash and a Change petition later, the brand changed its campaign slogan to -’A Body For Every Body’.


Pearly marketing wisdom: Evolution is what marketing is all about. With every generation of shoppers, it is important to relook your strategy to take into account what is relevant to the customer because what made sense a few decades back, might be archaic now. So unless you want to lose out to competition- evolve with your audience!

McDonald’s ‘You’re not alone’ campaign

WHO states that depression affects over 350 million people, globally. That’s a disease and a corresponding number that demands serious concern. And a ‘funny jibe’ doesn’t nearly qualify as that. Which is why McDonald’s OOH advert for the Big Mac was distasteful at best.

mcdonalds-you're not alone_8 Marketing Learnings From Brands That Goofed Up Big Time


McDonald’s later released a statement that it was not aware of the advertisement before it went out and apologized for the ‘unintended error’.


Pearly marketing wisdom: Considering the brand claimed to not be aware of this ad at all before it went out, I guess what we could learn from it is that no matter how big your brand is and how long the approval processes get- they’re there for a reason. So it’s better not to skip them.



There you have it- eight marketing learnings from brands that started off attempting to create brilliant campaigns, but fell far from the target. If you think of any other campaigns that were as astoundingly preposterous, do drop us a comment- we’d love to include them too!