Epic Marketing Fails: Providing a Laugh and a Lesson (Part One of Three)

Poorly thought out placards can unintentionally create a citywide bomb scare. Advertising with graffiti can enrage an entire town. A poorly translated slogan can make your company the laughingstock of a nation. They sound crazy, but these are some of the true and outrageous lessons that major companies have had to learn from failed attempts at creative marketing campaigns.

The clutter of marketing that exists today has created a tremendous need for creativity so that messages actually get the attention of their target audience. To keep up with this demand, companies have found themselves trying some very different marketing campaigns; some of which turned out to be true strokes of genius, while others….not so much (to put it politely). As long as there are going to be marketing campaign masterpieces, there are going to be the complete opposite as well. While these failures provide a good laugh, they can also provide us a good lesson of what NOT to do.

Stay tuned to our blog over the next week. On Monday we’ll be bringing you part two of this three part series, looking at some of the most embarrassing and most interesting marketing failures of all time and a lesson that you can learn from each.


FAIL #1: Kentucky Fried Chicken gets grilled

Marketing fail, marketing lesson

Image source: http://www.businesspundit.com/10-epic-advertising-fails-2/

To market their newly revealed grilled chicken, KFC joined forces in 2009 with one of the most powerful forces on the planet; Oprah Winfrey. As a part of this business partnership, Oprah was to promote KFC’s offer of a free two-piece grilled chicken meal. Having underestimated Oprah’s influence, KFC was flabbergasted when an estimated 10 million people downloaded the coupon for the free meal online. Not having enough of the product to meet the demand, KFC had to actually turn customers away and in some locations, close early. With its tail tucked between its legs, KFC was forced to drop the deal and apologize to its frustrated clientele. 

Lesson to be learned: Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver.

KFC customers felt cheated and infuriated when they were told they couldn’t receive the free chicken they were promised. The marketing strategy that was supposed to improve KFC’s relationship with its customers and positively promote its new chicken actually ended up doing the exact opposite. If this fiasco can teach us anything, it’s that if you’re going to offer something, you better actually be able to provide it.


FAIL #2: No one’s drinking the Hacienda Kool-Aid

Marketing fail, marketing lesson

Image source: http://www.businesspundit.com/10-epic-advertising-fails-2/

Hacienda, a Mexican food chain in Indiana, posted billboards throughout the state, referencing the Jonestown Massacre, a mass suicide event where over 900 people died after drinking poisoned punch. The billboards, which showed a mixed drink and a caption reading “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid,” offended residents across the state. The billboards were taken down in a hurry, but not before providing the restaurants with a massive amount of negative publicity.

Lesson to be learned: Don’t associate your organization or product with something cynical.

As these billboards exemplify, it does not matter how unserious your message is, some people are always going to take it seriously. Even though you may find the humor in it, it is guaranteed that not everyone else will. Why risk association with something cynical? Wouldn’t it just be better to find a positive association?


Like what you’ve read? Don’t forget to check back on Monday for part two of this series, with more interesting and funny marketing fails (and the lessons you can learn from them).

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your input on these first two marketing fiascos. What are your thoughts? Are you shocked these failures were able to occur? Could something, or has something like this, occurred at your company?

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