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Marketing Fails of 2017 and the Lessons we Learned

Cristiane Namiuti

As the beginning of a new year dawns, the inevitable “lists” from the previous year emerge. “5 Worst style trends of 2017” or “3 most popular toys of 2017” plaster magazine covers. When it comes to marketing, there is no difference. Every year provides us with genius marketing ploys as well as marketing flops. What were the biggest marketing fails of 2017, and more importantly, what can we learn from them?


Pepsi’s Insensitive Commercial

In this reviled ad, Kendall Jenner solves racial tensions simply by opening a can of Pepsi to a police officer. This misguided commercial angered viewers and was abruptly pulled from the air. What can we learn from this? As writer, social worker, and activist Feminista Jones eloquently put it when asked about the ad, “brands should never make light of social issues related to people’s suffering; they should, instead, focus on selling their products in ways that don’t exploit the pain and suffering of marginalized people.”


Burger King’s Smartphone Campaign

In what could have been a great marketing strategy, Burger King created a campaign to run on smart devices that allowed the device to read a list of burger ingredients posted on Wikipedia. BlueLeadz explains that this was a great idea until hackers altered the Wiki post to include ingredients like cyanide and chlorine. As a result, the campaign was pulled and a potentially innovative marketing channel was temporarily sidelined. Burger King experienced one of the biggest marketing fails of 2017.

So, what is the takeaway? Ad Week notes that while it is always important to try to stand out with your marketing efforts, it’s easy to have a great idea go south when using new channels, and sometimes even traditional ones. Before you publish, post, or print, take a thorough look at your message. Review your copy and take a hard look at your campaign in terms of the current social context. Ask for an educated second ( or fifth ) opinion before publishing or going live with any campaign!


McDonald’s Grief Focused Commercial

McDonalds recently showcased the risks in failing to ascertain the balance between content and emotion. The U.K. t.v. ad featured a son grieving for his dead father. It was excoriated for exploiting child bereavement simply to push a brand name. “It was never our intention to cause any upset,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told The Guardian. “We are particularly sorry that the advert may have disappointed those people who are most important to us: our customers.” The important lesson marketers can learn from this fail is that sometimes, people don’t want to see harsh reality on their tv screens. Humans are faced with challenges every single day and when it comes to their McDonalds’ fish sandwich, they simply don’t need it.


As cringeworthy as marketing fails can be, there is always a lesson to be learned. 2017 brought us several misguided attempts at marketing, including a Pepsi commercial and a Burger King campaign. But in the end, the takeaway is to carefully review your content as well as the current culture before going live with any marketing!

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