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5 Scary Tales of Marketing Gone Wrong

October 22, 2018 Posted by in Other

The marketing industry thrives on creativity and innovation, yet there are moments in which good intentions lead to scary tales of marketing gone wrong when those involved are not cautious, considerate, and intelligent in terms of campaign drafting based on audience targeting and current events. One of the most important parts of running a successful business is connecting with people and getting the word out about your brand. In modern times, this is done through a lot of channels, from social media platforms to text messaging or digital in-store billboards.

Whether you are sending a tweet or putting together a campaign or an event, making sure the marketing surrounding it will not come back to hurt your brand is mandatory. Unless your business is putting together a marketing-themed Tales from the Crypt episode, there is no place for scary outcomes. And although Tales from the Crypt helped create the “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” tagline during a marketing campaign screening, chances are you might not be so lucky.

In order to understand the intricate world of marketing, one has to sometimes turn to its most alarming fails and mistakes to better grasp what it means to be on the wrong path, especially in our social-media-driven times. So let’s find out more about the scary tales of marketing gone wrong which have shaken the industry and are to this day used in marketing courses all over the world as examples of how not to handle brand promoting and customer communication.

Quantum Tech 9/11 Press Release

One of the most discussed marketing and PR mistakes of the last twenty years is the press release distributed by Quantum Tech three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The document was titled WTC Collapse Highlights Need for Quantum Tech’s Remote Backup, and it belittled the tragedy by referencing a storage solution:

“The collapse of the World Trade Center destroyed more than lives. It also took computers and the vital data stored on them. But at least one company – Morgan Stanley – was able to function the very next day. Why? They used an off-site remote backup facility that stored their data safely, far from the catastrophe.”

And although the press release was retracted in less than five minutes after its issue in an era in which social media was not as present in your lives as it is today, it still left a bitter after taste for everyone.

Malaysia Airlines ‘Bucket List’ Competition

Following the tragedies of the Malaysia Airlines flights MH17 and MH370, their marketing department came up with a rather peculiar if not chilling contest titled My Ultimate Bucket List. Contestants were asked, “What and where would you like to tick off on your bucket list?” in what seemed to be one of the company’s most unfortunate marketing strategies. With 537 people losing their lives flying with them in 2014, asking someone about a list of things that one has not done but wants to do before dying, and offering prizes such as free seats on their flights was insensitive, inappropriate, and one of the most poignant examples of marketing gone wrong.

The Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Campaign

The subject of civil rights is sensitive yet crucial to discuss in communities from all over the world, as well as in social, corporate, or academic environments. Using it in an unfortunate marketing campaign in which customers were urged to discuss racism amongst themselves at the cash register got Starbucks into a lot of trouble on social media. The coffee chain even got their baristas to write ‘race together’ on their customers’ coffee cups with their website and social media accounts featuring photos of smiling employees holding cups with the unfortunate hashtag written on them. Twitter responses quickly followed, and an overwhelming majority condemned the brand for being insensitive about social issues but also made resurfaced problems with diversity in hiring.

If your organization is planning on implementing a campaign or an event around a major social issue, you need to make sure you are targeting the right audience, being respectful, and also to ask yourself if a marketing campaign would be the best way to get involved. If you are not decided about how to address a social issue, making sure that your organization is fair and respects rules, regulations, as well as social norms is a good start.

The Kendall Jenner Pepsi Commercial

The controversial 2017 Pepsi commercial came in a time when the world was struggling with understanding what unity means and how to deal with an ever-changing political environment but also with global violence and social injustice. According to Pepsi officials, the ad showing Kendall Jenner in the middle of a protest handing Pepsi cans to police officers while the protesters were cheering was meant to be a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. The public saw it as trivializing, insensitive and exploitive of civil movements. Given this was not the company’s first advertisement gone wrong, this is a clear example of how marketing professionals should have decided against engaging with their customers in such a manner.

McDonalds’ Political Tweet

In March 2017, a tweet from the official account of McDonalds attacked President Trump and asked for the return of Barack Obama. Although it stayed online for less than 20 minutes, the tweet managed to get a lot of attention from both the public and media outlets. In the world of screenshots and viral messages, there is no such thing as deleting something from the internet, an aspect which all organizations need to have in mind when conducting a marketing strategy, no matter the platform. In McDonalds’ case, it ended up being an external hack, according to company officials. Yet these case are more frequent than you would think, turning into scary tales of marketing that are dreaded by marketers and always of interest to the public.

The rapidity with which a marketing campaign can go wrong for your organization is beyond your worst nightmares in this digital age and can easily lead to bankruptcy, especially if the crisis it brings is not handled appropriately. Therefore, you need to make sure that you are always verifying your message more than one time, and by more than one person. You can also test the campaign through your internal communications channel, and when in doubt about social implications, have a second option in place. In concluding, to paraphrase Stephen King, one of the horror genre masters, a marketing campaign should entertain the writer too. Don’t make it hard on yourself by choosing an approach you are not comfortable with.


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