The Most Epic Digital Marketing Fails and Their Lessons

Business StrategyDigital Marketing

The Most Epic Digital Marketing Fails and Their Lessons

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Failure can be a difficult thing to deal with – especially when it happens in front of millions.

The digital realm has unlocked a virtually limitless marketing potential for companies. Gone are the days of paying millions for ten seconds of primetime. Today, all it takes is a good idea and a little push to make a campaign massively viral.

But while digital marketing can help a brand grow to new heights, the fall from the pedestal can be just as painful. Social media is quick in calling out content that is seen as unacceptable.

Top Failed Digital Marketing Campaigns
Top Failed Digital Marketing Campaigns

Brands can soon find their websites, social media, and Google reviews flooded with negative comments, and soon, it may be that more people know about the campaign because of the problem!

Developing effective digital marketing strategies is thus very important. Fortunately (for us, at least) there are a lot of painful lessons learned by other companies that we too, can draw wisdom from.

So whether you are a company owner, a curious consumer, or somebody looking for digital marketing jobs, here are some tips and case studies for you.

Pick Your Battles – And Commit (Pepsi)

Pepsi's Poor Ad Campaign Provoked a Response from Bernice King, daughter of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
Pepsi’s Poor Ad Campaign Provoked a Response from Bernice King, daughter of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the most cringe-worthy and nearly horrific digital marketing fail in recent years has to be that of Pepsi.

Featuring the American model and socialite Kendal Jenner, the ad showed a group of protesters protesting in a very vague and generic manner, with some police officers existing alongside. At the moment of a slightly tense standoff, Kendall Jenner arrives and gives the cops some Pepsi. Peace! Joy!

As you can imagine, the ad did not go down well. This was especially insensitive as the #BlackLivesMatter movement had begun to actively tap social media in order to raise awareness about continued racism in the US, especially with respect to police violence.

The backlash was an important reminder to all brands to never use a social movement as a megaphone if they were not really ready to commit to it’s ideals. It can be tempting for digital marketing strategies to incorporate ‘wokeness’ into their campaigns, but empty support is just as bad as no support at all – perhaps even worse.

Framing It Correctly (Peloton)

Failing to Frame It Correctly (Peloton Marketing Failure)
Failing to Frame It Correctly (Peloton Marketing Failure)

Anybody who aims towards digital marketing jobs would know that no matter what the format is, advertising is all about the story being told. Unfortunately for Peloton, the interpretation from the audience was not what they expected.

Their 2019 advertisement video showed a woman working out daily for a year after being gifted a Peloton bike on Christmas.

The video made use of the massively popular vlogging format, too. However, all the audience saw was a woman whose partner had indirectly called her fat, and the clunky editing of the video made it a viral meme, repositioned it as a horror story. Needless to say, Peloton’s branding took a big hit.

When it comes to industries like fitness, digital marketing strategies often need to walk a fine line. Peloton may have had the right idea – to promote an easy workout option for the busy – but it was not put together well, in both script or editing.

This goes on to show that clarity of message is very important, or the company can risk losing a lot. In the case of Peloton, this came as a 10% free fall on its stock.

Think Before The Tweet (Urban Outfitters)

Poor Response to Accusations Cost Urban Outfitters
Poor Response to Accusations Cost Urban Outfitters

Digital marketing is not only about capturing an audience – it is also about keeping them engaged. And as those who work digital marketing jobs would know, responding to customer complaints is a very important aspect of a brand’s public image.

If a brand cannot address issues, what would stop consumers from going to the next option?

Urban Outfitters learned this the hard way in 2011. When accusations flared on Twitter that the brand had allegedly stolen designs from small business owners, the company somehow thought it was ok to give out a 20 word Tweet in response.

The public was not pleased, and the company lost 17,000 followers within hours, with the issue gained even more traction.

Negative reviews and backlash are an almost inevitable part of business today. A brand cannot please everybody all the time, and sometimes even the most well-thought digital marketing strategies fall flat. But, there have to be quick and effective ways of addressing these issues.

Ideally, these channels should be personal, private, and bring visible results to those who have raised the issue.

Don’t Take Tall Order If You Cannot Deliver (Sunny Co. Clothing)

Sunny Co. Clothing's social media red swimsuit giveaway marketing failure
Sunny Co. Clothing’s social media red swimsuit giveaway marketing failure

Some brands start off on social media. They are able to bypass a lot of the struggles faced by older brands, including the hassles of advertising – all they have to do is attract their consumers to their page, and the rest happens itself through reshares, hashtags, and word of mouth.

The Sunny Co. however, bit off more than it could chew in its bid to go viral. Promoting its new bathing suit, the company promised to give away the $65 product for free to those who reposted and tagged their promotional picture on Instagram in 24 hours.

Over 3000 people shared the photo within the first few hours. The Sunny Co. quickly capped the promotion, angering fans. Additionally, the suit wasn’t really free – those who won had to pay a substantial ‘shipping and handling fee.’ Not really a great Instagram marketing strategy

This kind of a quick cash grab might work for those who are in for a one-time show, but those who want to stay in business should stay away from such promotional gimmicks. Remember that the whole idea of advertising is to get traction for your businesses.

By promising more than you can deliver, you are just setting up your clients for disappointment – and your brand for a bad hit.

Don’t Get Too Edgy (Coca-Cola)

Coca-Cola's 'GIF The Feeling' campaign gets trolled online
Coca-Cola’s ‘GIF The Feeling’ campaign gets trolled online

As social media explodes, a lot of brands have tried to integrate themselves into social media to appeal to younger generations. But the internet can be a nasty place. In the quest to be cool and relatable, brands often end up handing the reigns to digital citizens, and it doesn’t take long for the trolls to emerge.

Coca-Cola experienced this with its ‘GIF the feeling’ campaign of 2016. Though thousands of words were banned to keep the campaign light and PG, people still found ways to stuff in offensive content. Coca-Cola eventually distanced itself from the campaign, stating that what was put up on the internet did not match its value.

What’s funny (and concerning too) is that McDonald’s had tried and failed to run a similar campaign. Those who were at the digital marketing jobs board at Coca-Cola evidently did not do their research. Sometimes, it is best to keep control of the digital marketing strategies and content to oneself.

Can you think of any other campaigns that took a big fall? What innovative campaigns ended up winning your heart? Let us know in the comments below!

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1 year ago

Very well written Niharika. Can you throw more light on what digital strategies are useful in india.

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