What not to do: 10 bad marketing campaigns

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10 bad marketing campaigns

As it’s Friday 13th we thought today was the perfect time to share with you what we think are the top 10 bad marketing campaigns of 21st Century – these PR disasters go way beyond the scope of bad luck….

#10 So to kick off our countdown is the Federal department of Education


Usually we wouldn’t condemn a company for a simple spelling mistake – having said that, it’s hard to ignore when it’s the Federal Department of Education.

This year they sent out a tweet misspelling W. E. B. DuBois’s name, then misspelled “apologies” as “apologizes” in a follow-up apology-for-misspelling tweet.

#9 Easter is normally a great time of year – mostly because of all the chocolate, yet somehow the Co-op managed to get it completely wrong.


In 2017 they released an ad in a newspaper that invited people to ‘Be a good egg. Treat your daughter for doing the washing up’ – as you can imagine, this did not go down well, mainly because it’s no longer the dark ages.  Of course, the Co-op quickly released an apology, but the damage had already been done… Oops.


#8 A hot topic at the moment, Build-a-Bear’s latest offer ‘Pay your age’


Personally, I love a bargain, but apparently the marketing team at build a bear didn’t realise the volume of people their latest campaign would attract, commenting that the response had been “overwhelming and unprecedented”.

With customers flocking from all over the country to their closest stores causing the ques to lead outside of the stores and even the department store in some cases.

Technically this is bad because the majority of stores had to close due to the high volume of demand, however it has caused people to start talking about Build-a-bear again!

Build a bear bad marketing

#7 KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) #PrideAmsterdam image is the unlucky campaign to take 7th place in today’s countdown.


In August 2017 KLM tweeted an image displaying airline seatbelt combinations stating – ‘It doesn’t matter who you click with Happy #PrideAmsterdam’ to celebrate Pride Amsterdam. Annoyingly, because let’s be honest we want a campaign that spreads positivity to do well, some social media users quickly noted that only one of the combinations shown – the traditional one – would actually fasten securely. So a campaign which was aimed at supporting diversity tuned into bad marketing.

KLM bad marketing

#6 The moral of the story for this campaign could possibly be – don’t ask if you don’t want to know the answer…


In 2013, much to the dismay of their customers, British Gas raised their prices up to 10%. Someone then had the bright idea to conduct a Q&A session with their followers on Twitter… you can probably already guess where I’m going with this one – yep scary idea. The #AskBG went viral – as you can imagine a large proportion of their customers used it to voice their concerns or make sarcastic remarks.

British Gas bad marketing

#5 So we’re halfway and most of the brands are still intact – so it’s time to start discussing some seriously bad marketing… let’s talk McDonald’s.


In May 2018, McDonald’s released a 90-second ad in the UK, ‘Dad’, which many viewers thought was odd and exploitive. The ad featured a young boy asking his mum what his dad was like before he passed away. Throughout the ad it’s clear the boy is hoping he has something in common with his dad, but it’s not until he orders a meal at McDonald’s when his mum lovingly explains that his order was his dad’s favourite too. I mean, it’s a bit full on. Bereavement is an odd topic to pick to advertise fast food.

After receiving a huge backlash online McDonald’s pulled the ad, apologised and noted that they would review their creative process to prevent an error like this from occurring again.

#4 It’s confirmed – large corporations are not invulnerable to bad marketing, our next campaign features one a company we hoped would know better, Sony.


Celebrating the release of their new ceramic white PSP, Sony made a bold move using giant billboards with several different images, all focused around a central theme: a white PSP avatar subduing a black PSP avatar. In effect they were trying to portray the new white PSP as dominant over the older Black PSP.

I hate to say it but we’re all thinking the same thing – it’s crossing far too many lines that as marketers we should steer very clear of. Also, is there a special reason the man is pictured fully clothed but the woman is barely wearing a top?

Sony bad marketing

#3 Third place had to be a tie, because quite frankly they are both as abrasive as each other – plus they cover a similar subject.


Dove’s been at it again… when will they learn?

In October 2017, Dove posted the below social media advert on Facebook – the image says it all really, what were they even thinking?

After receiving the much-deserved criticism, Dove pulled the ad and apologized: ‘In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of colour and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us, and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.’

Dove bad marketing

The second culprit to take third place is surprisingly a Dove competitor – Nivea.

As part of a campaign to promote its new invisible for black and white deodorant product, Nivea posted an image on Facebook captioned ‘White is Purity’ – Surely alarm bells should be ringing at this point? I’ll say no more…

Nivea bad marketing

#2 The once beloved Uber can’t seem to stay out of negative news anymore, but then with this next campaign they haven’t really helped themselves.


In January 2018 hundreds of people deleted their Uber phone apps after the firm appeared not to support a taxi driver strike in New York, which came as a result of protests about Donald Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants. Drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance had refused to pick up passengers from JFK International Airport for an hour at peak time on a Saturday night, but rather than showing solidarity, Uber drivers decided to cash in. To rub salt into the wound, they also announced a drop-in pricing at the airport! Seriously?

This left anti-ban Uber users no choice but to delete the app and take to Twitter to let them know just what they thought of them. I guess that’s what happens when you exploit politics.

#1 I had no choice but to place this campaign in first place – it’s quite possibly one of the worst received campaigns we have ever seen.


So, a not so well done to Pepsi for making it to first place in today’s list of bad marketing campaigns.

Pepsi’s two-and-a-half-minute ad “Live for Now,” featured Kendall Jenner leaving her modelling job to join a protest. In the ad, tensions are mounting between protesters and police, until Kendall Jenner magically solves everything by opening a Pepsi for an officer. The brand quickly pulled the ad, which was released in early April, and apologized.

The biggest problem with this ad is that it makes light of a very serious issue.

What are your thoughts on the campaigns mentioned, can you see where the brand was coming from or have they over-stepped the mark?



Purple Sprout stays on top of trends so you don’t have to. Call us on 01782 658524 to see how we can help your business to develop a much more successful marketing campaign than those discussed above.

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