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The 5 biggest marketing fails in history (and what to remember)

The 5 biggest marketing fails in history (and what to remember)

We often talk about the best marketing techniques on Dans Ta Pub. But what about the worst marketing fails? Those that make us cringe and that certainly earned the communications manager’s resignation?

In a recent article, I told you about the best techniques for growth hacking used by the biggest start-ups in their early stages. If brands often seek to innovate in their communications, there are times when it’s good… and other times when it breaks.

We are suddenly going to see the worst marketing fails in history

1. Pepsi x Kendall Jenner

We no longer present this campaign as it caused an uproar when it was released. Pepsi wanted to use a social movement to promote its brand. In itself, this is not a bad thing, there are many brands that communicate on social facts. But it has to be done well.

The fact of placing a can of Pepsi as social appeasement in a demonstration, it was completely far-fetched.

✅ What to remember

Never use a brand or product as a solution to societal problems. Unless there is a real connection, of course. Consumers are not fooled and it is very easy to sense this “social washing”.

We can display our support for such a fight or such a value, but claiming to be the solution to society’s ills is certainly one of the worst marketing strategies.

2. Dove and its racist Facebook ad

In 2017, Dove had imagined a major communication campaign on social networks, in particular with a video advertisement. In the latter, a woman took off her t-shirt of the same color as her skin to make way for another woman of another color.

For a cleanser like this from Dove, the misinterpretation caused an uproar on the internet: is your skin getting cleaner? Nope…

✅ What to remember

Diversity in advertising is a good thing, but avoid using people’s skin color as an advertising gimmick. Especially if the purpose of the ad is to make a comparison, show a before / after, etc.

3. Adidas and the Boston Marathon Email

In 2017, 3 people were killed in an attack during the Boston Marathon and more than 250 people were injured. A terrible event that marked the United States and the whole world. Adidas, partner of the event, had not deleted its automatic email which was supposed to congratulate the participants on arrival…

Especially since the email subject line was very tendentious: “Congratulations, you survived the Boston Marathon!”.

✅ What to remember

Obviously here it is not intentional on the part of Adidas. We will rather remember the lack of responsiveness of the marketing teams to cut off all communications.

Indeed, when major events like this happen, it is important to cut off all communications when you are a brand. Already so as not to pass for an “ostrich”, but also so as not to “saturate” the communication channels with advertising messages.

4. Burger King and the “Women have to be in the kitchen” tweet

Here we are clearly on one of the biggest marketing fails. For World Women’s Day in 2021, Burger King wanted to communicate about the event in an original way, as usual.

Except that there, the guys should have known that something was going to go wrong. They made a provocative first tweet “Women must be in the kitchen”, to then complete their point in a tweet below.

✅ What to remember

Never use anything “controversial” to get attention. There are subjects on which it is important to communicate… but not by doing clickbait, especially on social networks.

I’m sure the Burger King teams had good attentions, but on social media everything can go very quickly. And this type of format is a bit provocative, in 2020+, it’s a bit complicated.

5. American Airlines Unlimited Pass

We leave the advertising framework a little to tackle pure and hard marketing. In the early 1980s, American Airlines needed a quick cash flow. For this, the airline had a simple idea: selling $250,000 “unlimited membership” cards that allowed free travel on all flights for life.

But you see the problem coming. American Airlines then realized the blunder when it started losing millions of dollars each year because of the many people who traveled on the pass. The company sought by all means to have these passes removed. As a result, she lost even more money with the lawsuits.

✅ What to remember

Always protect your business with conditions. American Airlines could have avoided these problems by calculating the cost of such an operation in advance and adding an annual number of flights per person.


Achieving a good communication campaign is hard. Making a big marketing fail is very easy. You will have noticed it in the examples, it is often in the details and the execution that it gets stuck. The ideas are there and the brands want to do well, but sometimes they don’t take enough distance from their subjects.

If you have other marketing fails in mind, do not hesitate to share them with me on Twitter so that I can add them to the article.



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