Skip to main content

3 of the Scariest Advertising Fails and Mishaps

Without sound planning or strategy, campaigns can stray into utter advertising nightmares, wreaking havoc on agencies and clients alike. This month, a few wandering souls gathered around the office credenza to discuss the most cringe-worthy horror stories in marketing, along with some pro tips on how the horror could have been avoided.

1.  Gerber Gaffe

Gerber, the baby product giant, decided to start distributing its baby food products to markets in Africa. Since many regions on the continent don’t speak English, Western marketers usually put pictures on the cans or jars to represent what’s inside. Unfortunately for Gerber, they missed this important little nuance and kept their iconic, adorable baby on their labels. This misstep inadvertently implied to consumers that mashed up infants were inside the jars of food. Yikes.

Had the Gerber marketing team performed regional research on the market they planned to enter, including outreach to local contacts in the area, they could have easily avoided the indirect promotion of baby consumption.

2.  Facebook Faux Pas

A perfect example of a social media meltdown is the Great Applebee’s Social Media Trash Fire of 2013. It all started with one server posting a receipt from another server’s table in which the patron wrote a rather rude note about not tipping. For breaching company policy, Applebee’s fired the server. Eventually, the internet got wind of the situation and became very vocal on both Facebook and Twitter. Applebee’s social team slowly spiraled into the abyss — there were countless arguments, taggings, deletions, blockings, hid statuses and late night responses. The original status update received nearly 20,000 comments (mostly negative) before it was hidden, which further infuriated the masses.

Where was the social media policy enforcement? Does Applebee’s even HAVE a social media policy? There are several lessons to be learned from this spectacle — the most important of which is to have competent PR and Social Media teams, capable of tactfully and promptly answering comments that warrant a response, while knowing when to ignore those that don’t.

3.  Mattress Mayhem

In the ultimate display of insensitivity, a Texas mattress store, Miracle Mattress, decided it would be a great idea to host a Twin Towers sale for the anniversary of the attack on the twin towers. The gimmick was simple: buy any sized mattress for the price of a twin! Neat! However, the real disaster came when the promotional team decided to make this ad to generate hype for the sale. Within the 20-second video, assumed employees of the mattress store “accidentally” knock over two towers of mattresses in mock horror. After the inevitable outrage that ensued, Miracle Mattress closed its doors just a few short days after the video aired.

The fact that this cringe-inducing ad concept even made it into production is mind-bending. Advice on how to avoid this? Don’t use national remembrance days as marketing gimmicks. Best case scenario, you’re taking advantage of tragedy to make a few bucks. Worst case scenario, you make an incredibly offensive ad, ruining your brand and business in the process.

Don’t Let Your Ad Dreams Be Screams

Good advertising basically boils down to these three lessons: Do thorough research, protect your brand’s image and use common sense. These marketing virtues are sure to steer your sales ship into clear waters and keep your next campaign off of everyone’s cringe list.