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An overview of the most common marketing fails companies make

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

(4 minutes reading)

Intense competition makes brands constantly try to innovate with new products and new marketing strategies to attract new customers. Nevertheless, marketing campaigns don’t always achieve their goals as expected. What one thinks is a great idea can go wrong in so many ways. In fact, even the biggest and most recognizable names in business today set themselves up for failure.

Marketers often focus on being creative or unique rather than reaching their target audience in the best and most appropriate way. Because of increasing global marketing, which also yields impressive advantages like reaching different markets and lowering operating costs, campaigns are directed to different countries, each one having its language and history, which is why values or beliefs transmitted through these campaigns can be differently perceived.

A. Misinterpretations errors

One example is the American ice cream brand ‘Ben & Jerries’ that released a new flavor called ‘Black & Tan’, based on the flavor of the famous drink also called ‘half and half’, which was supposed to appeal to Irish beer enthusiasts. Nevertheless, ‘Black and Tan’ also turns out to be the nickname of a notoriously violent British militia that operated during Ireland’s war of independence. This quickly generated a reputation of brutality for the brand.

Misinterpretations don’t necessarily happen between different cultures, but also within different age groups. An example is the fast-food brand McDonalds that tried to be cool and appeal to younger people, applying a language that teenagers might relate to.

They used the phrase ‘I’d hit it’, featuring a young man starring at the burger, while many people related it to the man wanting to have sex with the cheeseburger. This shows how important it is to first engage with the target group and ask for feedback before launching.

B. Packaging Fails

Another way brands try to innovate is through different packaging forms. This however can be very risky since the form and color of a known and recognized product easily stays in people’s minds. Changing this can lead to consumers thinking of it as another product or another brand, and therefore ignoring it. An example is the brand ‘Tropicana’, one of the most important brands in Pepsico, that in 2009 tried to redesign its historical packaging. The new package failed to catch consumers’ attention which led to a decrease in sales and forced the brand to reach back to the original packaging design.

C. Rebranding Fails

A similar problem occurs with the rebranding of companies, usually through the redesign of the logo. In 2010 the clothing retailer Gap decided to change its iconic logo, which created a huge outrage among loyal customers. This forced the company to go back to the old version after only one week, which made this one of the fastest branding turnarounds of all time.

This proves how companies should always make sure to align the new brand voice and tone to customers’ expectations and beliefs about the brand. It is important to keep in mind the emotional bond customers have towards the logo. Changing it too much can result in losing the brand’s identity.

D. Cultural Fails

As mentioned before the problem is usually a lack of cultural awareness. Through global marketing, advertisements are addressed to different countries, which makes commercialization easier and faster, reaching a wider target audience and gaining relationships across borders. However, this also generates many complications since beliefs and values are different in every country. What for one country might be normal, can be disrespectful or inappropriate for another.

An example is the brand Nivea that to promote its ‘invisible for black and white’ deodorant, had its middle east division create a campaign representing the back of a woman’s head with dark hair, covering her white outfit, saying ‘White is purity’. Although the post was directed at its audience in the Middle East, the company has 19 million fans globally on its page. Many on social media complained about the post’s racist connotations.

A further example is the fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana that launched an advertising campaign for the ‘Dolce & Gabbana great fashion show’ in Shanghai, showing a Chinese model struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The campaign was immediately seen as offensive, accused of trivializing the Chinese culture by showing unflattering stereotypes. As a consequence, the company was forced to cancel the show in Shanghai and remove its products from several Chinese online retailers.

This proves how important it is to be sensitive and careful with stereotypes, making sure that the visions and core values of other cultures are taken into consideration and respected.

It is important to check that the message a company or brand communicates, is understood in the same way by the receiver. Therefore, brands must find one shared human truth and express it explicitly in a way that resonates with the target market. Intercultural communication teaches us to be aware of cultural differences, bridging the gap between different countries and consumer groups. It fosters mutual understanding, respect, and trust, which facilitates the relationship between consumers and the brand.

A way to achieve this is a higher engagement with the customer. Several examples have proven how important feedback is. Asking locals for help to understand the perception and meanings behind words, taboos, sensitive topics, and the history and culture of the country can often prevent such errors that cause a huge embarrassment for the brand.

It is important to carefully pay attention to the customer, focusing on a deeper understanding of theirs and building a relationship with them. Showing respect and creating trust towards the customers is crucial to gain the customers attention. Therefore, it is essential, in case of such a mistake, to learn how to apologize sincerely and find constructive remedies to the crisis, to regain the customer’s trust.

Written by: Blanca Lopez Natus

Edite by: Alessandro Benini


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