#EpicFail: Marketing Campaigns Gone Wrong

#EpicFail: Marketing Campaigns Gone Wrong

Another week, another brand blunder.

Given this week’s Woolies faux pas, it seems appropriate to explore other cringe-worthy marketing catastrophes of recent years.

A ‘where are they now?’ of sorts that will leave you scratching your head and wondering how on earth any CMO would give them the go ahead.


1. Woolies’ Stale Ideas

This week Woolworths takes centre stage with their Anzac-inspired campaign. Carrspace, their newly-appointed ad agency, dived headfirst into the precariously murky waters of ‘experimental interactive brand activations’.

The campaign was directly shot down, sinking hard and fast, never to be seen again. Well, not really. The Internet never forgets.

The premise of the campaign was to engage with customers by allowing them to upload photos of former Anzacs via an online app, watermark them with ‘Lest We Forget’, the Woolworths logo and captioned ‘Fresh in our Memories’.

anzacCue immediate backlash.

Woolworths are the self-proclaimed ‘fresh food people’. By adopting ‘Fresh in our Memories’, the unfathomable experiences of Anzac have been boorishly trivialised. How could such an industry heavyweight possibly make such an abysmal error of judgement?

Further fuel was thrown on the flaming publicity pile when it came to light that any company  seeking to adopt ‘Anzac’ in their advertising must apply to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to use it, under the Protection of the Word ‘Anzac’ Act 1920. Woolworths failed to do so, with such an oversight potentially adding $50,000 in fines to the already astronomical and irreversible cost of a tarnished brand.

Woolworths ‘justified’; “‘Fresh in our Memories’ is not a marketing campaign, as one of Australia’s largest employers, Woolworths has spent months collecting stories from our staff for the site”.

Not good enough.

Commercialising a national Memorial Day didn’t sit well with Australians, and so it shouldn’t.  People of the internet united to exploit the program, making light of the crass attempt at leveraging ANZAC Day, and produced some of the following gems.


Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.42.30 PM


2. U2 & Apple vs. The World

Everyone loves free things. Consensually-accepted free things.

500 millions Apple users awoke one morning to find that the Apple Gods had so rudely ~generously~ gifted and presumptuously uploaded U2’s new album to their music library.

It was a nice gesture, I guess.

It was also a gesture bemoaned by the majority of Apple’s 500 million users, whose infuriation was felt in a deluge of social media outrage.

Bono isn’t exactly the millennials’ pop star of choice; liken him to a fading star if you will. The album took up precious memory needed to store excessive selfies and the time taken to wipe it from your device could have been put to better use watching YouTube clips of cats.

Their album has since been labelled a flop, with only 2860 Australians willing to invest in a copy following the failed marketing stunt. Turns out not all free stuff is good stuff.


“I’m sorry about that,” Bono said. “I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves.”


3. Ms Construed aka Susan Boyle

‘Party’ and ‘Susan Boyle’ are not exactly synonymous ( she was the winner of 2009’s Britain Got Talent FYI). She became, quite literally, the butt of a trending hashtag following the release of her party album. #susanalbumparty was a big hit on twitter.

My, oh my. You can’t help but think that they had this one coming.

The unwitting double entendre was hastily changed to #SusanBoylesAlbumParty- with capitals for clarification.

Can we have a standing ovation for Susan’s PR team? #lol



 4. Touch down or just out of touch?

The Super Bowl is arguably the biggest event on the American calendar. Each year companies invest millions upon millions of dollars on 30-120 second ad slots. Stakes are high.

This year, life insurance company Nationwide’s ad Make Safe Happen was met with split reviews. Take a look for yourself.

Contentious content, to say the least. According to Business Insider, of its nearly 250,000 mentions during the Super Bowl, 64% were negative, 24% were neutral and just 12% were positive.

Nationwide defended its commercial saying that it intended to start a conversation, not sell insurance. But people weren’t happy, declaring the ad to be “depressing” and “insensitive, as well as highly triggering. It just wasn’t the right context to air that ad on one of the most hyped and jovial days of the American calendar.

If Nationwide and Ogilvy & Mather’s objective was to start a conversation then they certainly achieved what they set out to do.


5. Kraft bites off more than they can chew.

Shakespeare famously coined; “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Not the case for Vegemite when in 2009 when they attempted to launch iSnack2.0 to market, only to experience a public groundswell of trolling and hysteria – nothing short of a vitriolic branding nightmare.


The widespread condemnation from unhappy little vegemites spread thick and fast through media and social media outlets. And yet the question remained: was iSnack2.0 a colossal re-branding bomb or a spectacularly-executed publicity stunt?

According to a Kraft spokesperson, “The name Vegemite iSnack 2.0 was chosen based on its personal call to action, relevance to snacking and clear identification of a new and different Vegemite to the original. We believe these three components completely encapsulate the new brand.”

Huh? Righto.

The same spokesperson was quick to backtrack after such intense backlash, offering; “We have been overwhelmed by the passion for Vegemite and the new product. The new name has simply not resonated with Australians. Particularly the modern technical aspects associated with it”.

You can now find the product on supermarket shelves as a more aptly named ‘Cheesybite’.


6. The wrong order

Twitter trends are a great way for brands to build their profile, increasing their capacity for real-time conversation and consumer engagement. However, social media is precarious territory for brands who dare traverse the foreign landscape.

Late last year, DiGiorno a frozen pizza company, ‘accidentally’ chimed in on the trending domestic violence hashtag #WhyIStayed.

pizza1Face palm.

They clearly missed the context of the hashtag, aimed to empower victims of domestic violence who shared their personal experiences of internalised victim-blaming requiring them to justify their circumstances.

Within minutes the tweet had been deleted and damage control was rolled out. DiGiorno responded to hundreds of tweets, apologizing sincerely with personalized messages. Kudos to them for responding in a mature and responsible fashion. They learnt their lesson, just as they should.


Moral of the story: listen carefully before you join the conversation.

On a lighter note, let’s finish off with a little piece of urban happiness. Does it get any better than surprise free beer? 


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