Classic Examples of How Not to Market Your Brand

September 13, 2018 - 12 minutes read

Avoid these monumental marketing mistakes at all costs

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The worst thing for a brand is to have a kind of false part of whothey are exposed out there.” – Lee Clow, Global Director of TBWA


We are in the midst of an age where not only do we have the technology to bring a brand message, story, product, or service to life through a multitude of platforms or channels, but nowadays, consumers demand value, transparency, and integrity more than ever before. The information is out there on the World Wide Web, and if you’re seen as unethical, unworthy, irrelevant, or non-valuable, your reputation will suffer swiftly.

That said, if you get a digital marketing campaign right, creating the perfect storm or data-driven actions, inspiring content, innovation, originality and well-timed, well-placed social messaging, the rewards are often great. In some cases, an effective marketing campaign can even propel a brand from an unknown upstart to a industry staple in a matter of months.

81% of consumers carry out online research before making big purchases.

If you’re able to develop a digital marketing campaign that places you directly in front of your target audience, engaging them and inspiring them in the process, you are likely to increase your brand reach and conversion rates significantly.

But, for every scintillating marketing campaign, there’s at least one epic failure – and that’s exactly what we’re going to explore here.

A big part of digital marketing success is avoiding failure and learning from other people’s mistakes. With that in mind, here are three epic marketing blunders you should avoid.




The first in our epic marketing blunders lineup comes from renowned underwear brand, Lunya. This particular marketing campaign gained a great deal of traction and earned the brand an enormous level of social media attention – regrettably, it was for the wrong reasons.

Looking to boost brand awareness, Lunya took a controversial approach to its campaign by trying to piggyback on the immense popularity of the epic drama, The Handmaid’s Tale. In a bid to ride the crest of a trending wave, the brand named the latest item of red underwear in its range, Offred – a savvy play on words inspired by the show’s central protagonist of the same name.

As the show covers particularly serious and sensitive themes, based on the oppression and slavery of women, this was a daring hook for the campaign – as you might imagine, it backfired quite monumentally.

Despite Lunya using social media taglines including ‘join the resistance’ referring to the patriarchal society present in The Handmaid’s Tale, the combination of product and theme was completely misguided, for obvious reasons.

The direct result of this ill-thought campaign came in the form of a strong backlash and a significant level of negative press – something that can seriously hinder your growth and development as a business.

Lesson learned: While being controversial and touching on difficult themes can sometimes empower a digital marketing campaign, as well as those that engage with it, unless your product, service or message is 100% in-line with the theme or angle – and your brand values – you should avoid the controversial approach completely.




Not long ago, Bic, the brand that is best known for its reliable, sturdy, and durable range of biro pens offered up a lesson in how not to capitalize on an annual trend or event with its, ‘act like a lady, think like a man’ campaign (blunder).

Aiming to launch a social media-based mini campaign on none other than International Women’s Day, the brand published marketing advertisements aimed at its South African audience, which caused a great deal of uproar almost instantly.

The advert in question contained an image containing the following words:

Look Like a Girl,
Act Like a Lady,
Think Like a Man,
Work Like a Boss

While the advert was delivered in a timely fashion, utilizing the #HappyWomensDay hashtag to gain traction and expand its consumer reach, this insensitive, irrelevant, and Stone Age brand message not only offered zero value but it isolated a notable portion of its audience, resulting in the ad being pulled in the midst of a barrage of bad press.

Sadly, this isn’t  the first time Bic has dented its reputation through sexist marketing: in 2012,  its pink ‘for her’ pens were publicly criticized as short-sighted and derogatory.

Lesson learned: When developing a digital marketing campaign, choosing to launch it in-line with a renowned annual event or trending movement is an effective means of showcasing your brand values and connecting with a wider audience. But, if you are going to do so, you should check that all of your content is positive, supportive, and constructed in a way that is entirely inclusive rather than inherently exclusive – otherwise, failure will be inevitable.


Timothy’s World Coffee


Timothy’s World Coffee boasts a solid product as well as consistent marketing communications across a host of channels and touchpoints. But despite this, due to a fairly recent epic marketing blunder, the brand is still trying to redeem itself.

To expand its social media reach, the brand offered its prospects a coupon or free sample for following them through social media – an effective tactic leveraged by many notable brands in recent years.

Regrettably, Timothy’s World Coffee offered more than it could fulfil, running out of its supply of free K-cup packs in just three days. A whole two weeks after its monumental blunder, Timothy’s sent out a public message stating that coupons and samples were issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. While this may have been palatable consumer information if delivered immediately, the latency of the message caused outrage, sending the brand into a spin.

Despite a heartfelt apology video and its offer to send customers a complimentary coupon in the post, Timothy’s suffered from a storm of social media backlash – something it’s still trying to recover from today.

Lesson learned: The lesson here is quite simple: if you’re going to offer an incentive, coupon, experience, or freebie through social media, you should do it because it is an excellent brand engagement tool. However, if you do decide to take this approach, you must make sure you’re able to fulfil it in the quantities you’re promising. If you only have a small batch of an item, product, or service to giveaway, make sure you communicate this clearly from the start – and if you do make a mistake, deal with it publically right away rather than let it fester for days or even weeks on end.

Regardless of whether you’re running a campaign or offering a regular inventory to your customers, having a watertight fulfilment strategy in place is essential. To enhance your fulfilment processes and streamline your eCommerce activities, explore our range of cutting-edge solutions.


Close contenders


At this point, you will have learned some invaluable lessons in how not to do marketing. To ensure that your path to digital marketing enlightenment is a successful one, here are three other epic marketing failures you should read up on:

Nivea: The international skincare brand really dropped the ball, earning an epic level social media backlash with its completely misguided ‘white is purity’ campaign.

Protein World: The health supplement brand sparked outrage with its ‘are you beach-body ready?‘ messaging when it was accused of body shaming women as well as UK residents with its 2015 summer marketing campaign.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen: In 2016, GBK caused a city-wide controversy with a physical marketing campaign that featured what many considered to be fairly strong anti-vegan messaging. Isolating any social group is both wrong and detrimental to your brand reputation, particularly when it’s a gargantuan group of people you’re alienating.


Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room. – Jeff Bezos, Founder or Amazon


It’s clear from these epic marketing failures that to ensure that your digital marketing campaign is a success, enhancing your brand reputation and growing your audience, your messaging needs to be transparent, authentic, sensitive, and relevant to you those you’re targeting.

While some of these examples are quite extreme and it may be difficult to understand how anyone could make such incredible mistakes – the point is that these misguided promotional attempts did get approved – and before you share your content in the public arena, you should take due care and consideration. That aside, you can be as funny, crazy, creative, and innovative as you wish – the sky’s the limit.

For more marketing inspiration, explore these four inspiring omnichannel marketing campaigns.