David Packard, the iconic co-founder of HP (HPQ), once said that marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department. Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is one of the worst examples of a marketing campaign. It has four names, dual-branded with Verizon and has 4GS stamped in large letters on the back. The ad was ridiculed on social media, parodied on SNL and quickly withdrawn.
PepsiCo President Brad Jakeman resigned and told Ad Age that the announcement was “the most heartbreaking experience of my career”. Dove won a victory with the “Real Beauty” positive body image campaign, with real women in a positive light. It has been running for 15 years and is widely known as one of the most successful marketing campaigns. However, Dove got it wrong when they launched a limited-edition package designed to present various representations of female bodies.
Its packaging compared women's figures to abstract, shapeless soap bottles. The ad was withdrawn and Ford had to make a public apology because many people found the ad offensive and believed it encouraged violence against women. Ogilvy India also made a mistake with its brief advertisement for Kurl-On mattresses, a small cartoon that showed renowned activist Malala Yousafza being shot in the head and falling on a Kurl-On mattress in several iterations, before the new iterations received an award again. Carrefour stood still on some traditional billboards and print ads, while competitors such as Tesco, Giant and FairPrice spent their time adventuringly jumping into phone apps, QR code shopping, digital advertising, joint ventures and more.
Nesquik discovered this the hard way after working on a massive and expensive project that included an app to give your photos chocolate rabbit ears and a push for a new National Rabbit Ear Day. Adelaide, Australia also embarked on a brand campaign and a complete redesign which was met with criticism. Mark Zuckerberg used the Facebook Spaces virtual reality app to tour a 360 video produced by NPR of Puerto Rico but this was met with criticism due to its timing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coca-Cola also learned the hard way when they introduced “New Coke” which had the mild and sweet taste of dietary Coca Cola but sweetened with corn syrup.
However, when it finally came on the market, customers hated it and Coca-Cola received 400,000 phone calls and letters from angry consumers professing dissatisfaction with the new flavor. They had to return its original “Coca-Cola Classic” formula to shelves after backlash. It turns out that people don't always like products for the reason that we, as marketers, think so. People wanted to drink the same Coca-Cola that their grandparents gave them on their birthday, the same Coke that Marilyn Monroe promoted, and the same Coke that Joe Green received in that famous 1980 Super Bowl ad.
Coca-Cola even hired a psychologist to listen to complaints calls (about 1,500 per day) that the company received. The lesson here is that always run your content by a diverse group of people to ensure it's 100% appropriate. And it goes without saying right now, but don't use controversial or potentially sensitive topics in your marketing campaigns. If you have a shadow of doubt, don't risk it.