Epic Marketing Failures of 2012

By Lori Turner-Wilson

Despite their considerable marketing budgets and extensive teams, some of the world’s most well-known brands made significant marketing missteps in 2012. Learn from these epic fails to protect your brand.

There are multiple instances of big brand, social media managers tweeting controversial personal messages from the company’s Twitter account, like the Red Cross’s tweet about getting drunk or KitchenAid’s tweet poking fun at the president’s late grandmother. If you have access to both personal and company accounts, you know just how easily this can happen – all the more reason to put processes in place to prevent the inevitable.

Huggies launched an ad campaign portraying fathers as bumbling idiots. Men flocked to the brand’s Facebook page to demand the commercial’s recall, which was done, but not before the brand alienated a big portion of its target audience.

The New York Times sent out a coupon encouraging former subscribers to re-subscribe at a discounted rate. Instead of sending it to 300 former subscribers, a staffer accidentally sent it to 8 million current subscribers who were furious they weren’t being offered the same special.

Pizza Hut posted an ad on YouTube encouraging participants in last year’s Town Hall Presidential Debate to ask the candidates if they preferred sausage or pepperoni. The first person to do so would win free pies for life. The media blasted the brand for not taking the democratic process seriously, resulting in the brand backpedaling and retracting the video.

BBH Labs, a marketing firm, blundered big time when they used – and many thought objectified – homeless people by paying them to serve as human WiFi hot spots to make a name for the company in the mobile tech space. They made a name for themselves, as you can imagine – just not a positive one.

The Gap and Urban Outfitters encouraged consumers to stay inside and do some online shopping during Hurricane Sandy. The public outcry regarding their insensitivity was swift and strong. Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, borrowed a strategy from Google by using its name as a verb – “Binging” much like “Googling.” The campaign fell flat and left the brand looking unoriginal and desperate.

Nokia produced a TV spot featuring a young girl on a bike, implying the footage shown was through its Lumia 920 camera. The problem was a window reflection shows a cameraman in a van with a commercial grade video camera. The consumer backlash was huge, giving long-time fans the impression the brand didn’t believe in the quality of its products.

These failures suggest two takeaways: (1) Put processes in place to avoid inadvertent marketing mishaps, and (2) If in doubt about your next ad campaign, consider polling a group of objective consumers.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and Founder/CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing.