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Worst Brand Failures of 2019 and What You Can Learn From Them

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P.T Barnum once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” but lucky for him he died more than a century before social media. We’d bet that if he were alive to see these brand fails he’d change his tune. These are the Worst Brand Failures of 2019.

Brand Fail #1: Snapchat – More like Tonedeaf

Like everything in life, branding has rules. One of those rules is to never intentionally shame victims of domestic abuse. It’s just… icky. We weren’t surprised to see that Snapchat lost $800 million off its share price after running this gem.

This distasteful ad asks users to reveal whether they’d prefer to slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown. Users widely detested the ad for making light of domestic abuse and quickly took to social media to air their frustrations.

Snapchat was quick to respond, describing the tonedeaf ad as the product of a third-party oversight intended to promote the company’s latest game, “Would You Rather.”

“This advertisement is disgusting and [should] never have appeared on our service… We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again.”

The lesson: Brands can avoid falling into the same trap by steering away from sensitive issues, and ensuring they review all third-party content thoroughly before displaying it online, or sharing it on social media.

Brand Fail #2: Miele Misfires on International Women’s Day

It’s never a good idea for a brand to reinforce the stereotype of the 1950s housewife, but it’s an especially dumb idea to do so on International Women’s Day.

On the day the world comes together to celebrate the amazing social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women, the appliance manufacturer Miele thought it would be a great idea to run this ad. 

The ad infuriated consumers who deemed the ad — featuring four white women excitedly cheering for an appliance — as especially inappropriate on a day that truly embraces female strength and diversity.

The lesson: Don’t rely on old-fashioned stereotypes in your ads. Leave them in the past where they belong. Also, for the sake of humanity, please hire more women.

Brand Fail #3: Burger King, Russia – Free Burgers for World Cup Babies

Say the following sentence out loud. Russian Burger Kings offered women a lifetime supply of Burgers plus 3 million roubles if they conceived a child with a World Cup soccer player. If that sentence sounded weird to you, you’re not alone.

Trust us, there is no translation issue here. This branding fail is just as bad in English as it is in Russian.

“Burger King, as part of the social responsibility programme has announced a reward for women who get pregnant from the world recognized soccer celebrities. Each will receive 3million rubles and a lifetime supply of Whoppers. Women who succeed in genetic progeny will be responsible for the future success of Russian football team for generations to come. Let’s do it! We believe in you!”

The Russian corporate account for Burger King backtracked from its offer faster than a Soviet speed skater.

“We offer apologies for the announcement we made. It was too offensive… We are sorry about the clearly offensive promotion that the team in Russia launched online. As soon as it was brought to our attention, we had it removed. It certainly does not reflect our brand or our values and we are taking steps to ensure this type of activity does not happen again.”

The lesson: We hope the lesion is obvious – don’t turn your branding campaign into a twisted burgers for babies eugenics scheme.

Brand Fail #4: Burger King (Again) #EatLikeAndy

Thanks to Burger King’s #EatLikeAndy branding fail, we are forced to add the Burger giant to our list twice. We swear we don’t have anything against Burger King, we just hate bad branding like we hate Comic Sans.

The #EatLikeAndy ad played during the Super Bowl and had a number of problems.  First, it isn’t clear we are watching an ad for Burger King. An Andy Warhol impersonator struggling with a ketchup bottle means nothing to no one.

Second, Andy Warhol died in 1987. How many viewers even realized who the actor was impersonating? We’re willing to bet that viewers born after 1995 had to ask someone who they were looking at.

The lesson: There’s an expectation with every ad that something interesting and engaging will happen. Your marketing should be engaging, compelling and have strong brand positioning throughout.

Brand Fail #5: Chase – #MondayMotivation

#MondayMotivation is a popular hashtag on Twitter used by those wishing to share what motivates them to start their week.

Everyone’s #MondayMotivation is different, but we bet few people wake up on Monday thinking, “You know what would motivate me today? My bank shaming me for my spending habits.” Chase obviously thought their attempt to get in on the popular hashtag would work to motivate their customers to be more thoughtful with how they manage their finances, but it backfired. 

Everyone from your neighbor to ranking senators weighed in on the gaff — some users felt the company was “poor-shaming” — Chase quickly deleted the tweet and shared a statement on its timeline.

The lesson: It’s important for brands to relate to their customers, but it’s never a good idea to insult your customers, or shame those who are less fortunate.

Bonus: Stella Artois, “Change Up The Usual”

Stella Artois recently ran the below ad teasing us with Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw and the one and only Jeff Bridges as The Big Lebowski’s Dude.

In this Super Bowl spot, the two iconic characters come together for a Stella Artois and tricked everyone into thinking there was a Big Lebowski sequel on the horizon. The ad is actually great, we’re just sad that it fooled us into believing there was a Big Lebowski sequel. 

Learn From These Bad Branding Mistakes and Make Better Ads

It can be surprisingly easy for brands to make an embarrassing blunder on social media, but knowing why mistakes happen is the first step toward avoiding a brand fail. Every brand should be meticulous in how they craft their message, review campaigns and stay on message.

If you are heading a marketing campaign in 2020, stay away from sensitive issues and anything that could be construed as negative, such as political issues, race, sexism and the environment. Hiring the brand experts and social media managers like VisualFizz will help prevent brand fails, but so can using common sense. If you think an ad may be offensive, then it probably is.

You can read about even more branding failures below!

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