6 Times Brands Got Content Marketing So Wrong

Marketing flops can happen to the best of us. Sometimes they can’t be easily attributed to one reason in particular. Other times, they definitely can. 

Join us as we take a trip down memory lane to look at some infamous fails these brands would rather we forgot about (and what we can learn from them)…

Malaysia Airlines’ insensitive contest

This might seem like an obvious one, but unless you’re trying to stir up controversy, it’s always best to avoid insensitive or offensive content – though clearly Malaysia Airlines didn’t get the memo. Hot off the heels of not one, but two, commercial aeroplane tragedies, their marketing team had to think quickly about how to get the public back on side. But the strategy they went for probably should have stayed grounded.

In 2014, they launched a competition asking their followers to send in their ‘bucket lists’ for a chance to win free electronic prizes – you know, that list of things you want to complete before you die? The connotations were clear and it didn’t take long for people to condemn the campaign as poor taste. 

It’s hard to believe that such a large company with no doubt many eyes on marketing collateral wasn’t able to pull the competition before it launched. The lesson here? Always sense-check your ideas internally – and maybe even externally too – before putting them out to the public.

Err… that’s not Oprah, Total Beauty

We’re all guilty of winging a test at some point in our lives. But when it comes to making a mistake on social media, you don’t have the luxury of claiming the dog ate your homework. That’s something Total Beauty learned the hard way back at the 2016 Oscars, when they shared their adoration for Oprah Winfrey’s red carpet look showing off a tattooed shoulder. Only problem was… it wasn’t Oprah.

Twitter users were quick to jump on the embarrassing mistake, adding more fuel to the #OscarsSoWhite scandal that was doing the rounds at the time. And despite Total Beauty promptly deleting the post, it was forever immortalised when Mashable tweeted a clever response which both clarified who the original image portrayed (“Whoops”, aka Whoopi Goldberg) and coined the now-iconic hashtag, #ThatsNotOprah. Looks like one social media team’s fumble was another’s fortune.

An unrelatable new line from Levi’s

Celebrating diversity and body positivity is always a good idea for a clothing line. And while Levi’s 2012 marketing campaign may have started with the best of intentions, the result was both unrelatable and tone deaf. 

Fans were quick to point out that the copy for the ad campaign didn’t match the accompanying imagery. The tagline read “hotness comes in all shapes and sizes”, while the chosen image showed three super-slim white models. Perhaps the slogan “hotness comes in a size extra small” would have been more accurate.

This is a classic case of a creative team not being aligned at all stages of the project, as Levi’s copywriters clearly had a completely different image for the ad to the visual designers and photographers. The blunder surely would have been avoided by more effective communication and collaboration within the marketing department.

No one cares about your bunny ears, Nesquik

As a marketer, you’ll know that one of the most important parts of planning a campaign is the research stage. Good research helps you determine what your customer wants, the type of content they’re likely to engage with, and much more. So if you’re lucky enough to have a huge budget and team behind you, like Nesquik, this stage should be as easy as making chocolate milk – well, unless your milk is past its sell-by.

Clearly something was off when Nesquik set out to plan for their ‘National Bunny Ears Day 2013’ campaign, because if they’d done their research right, they might have discovered that no one actually cares about this rabbit-themed holiday. Hoping to benefit from popular user-generated content, they poured valuable time and money into a ‘Bunny-fier’ app, which added cute branded bunny ears to photos. They even released a statement to the press on launch day. But when no content appeared, Nesquik’s marketing team quickly burrowed back into their warrens.

It seems that a bit more detailed research would have marked this campaign as a flop before it got past the ideas stage.

That time Australians hated Adelaide

Customer loyalty can make or break a business. On the one hand, building an impassioned community of supporters can guarantee growth and skyrocket brand awareness – but giving your customers too much power can also backfire if they feel they’ve been slighted.

The city of Adelaide knows this all too well (yes, they do count as a brand). When they decided to do a redesign back in 2014, they brought in an external contractor to create a new logo for the low, low price of $1 million – and, as you might expect, everybody hated it. One Aussie comedian even called it a “particularly crap origami Pope hat”

Perhaps Adelaide’s biggest fail here was that they didn’t listen to what the people wanted and, while outsourcing can be a great idea, this clearly wasn’t a project that needed an outsider perspective.

Kaiwei Ni clickbait

Look, we get it. Often it can be hard to see the direct through line between content marketing and sales. Perhaps you’ve even experienced pressure from above to convert more leads with your content. But no matter how desperate you are for conversions, there’s no good excuse for clickbaiting.

Chinese footwear manufacturer, Kaiwei Ni, committed this cardinal sin back in 2017 when they released a sneaky (but rather creative) post to their Instagram story. The image displayed what looked like a stray hair on user’s phone screens, but when they swiped up to get rid of it, they were redirected to Kaiwei Ni’s Black Friday sale landing page. Obviously, people were outraged by this trickery. It certainly drove up website traffic, but that traffic wasn’t exactly in the mood to splash the cash. 

The moral of the story here is simple: you can’t cheat marketing. Ad copy and creative go through countless iterations to help businesses target the right customers, and while you may not get as many clicks as clickbait content, you are more likely to get the conversions.

Don’t let these marketing fails scare you

Reached the end of this article feeling deflated about your next marketing campaign? We’ve nearly 10 years’ experience turning flops into bops. Discover how we can support your marketing efforts by getting in touch today.

Words by Holly


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