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3 Horrific External and Internal Marketing Failures


angry frustrated female employee and internal marketing failures These external and internal marketing failures from well-known brands are pretty cringe-worthy. Learn important communication lessons from their mistakes.

Marketing Fail #1: Walmart’s Website

Halloween is right around the corner, and unfortunately Walmart created its very own communications horror story yesterday.

Apparently Walmart’s website had a section of Halloween costumes called “Fat Girl Costumes.” This insensitive, not-politically-correct phrase started an avalanche of bad press: it hit blogs and other online media, launched a rampage of complaints on the company’s social media sites, and landed in the top 10 of Twitter trends.

How embarrassing. Walmart’s response and their attempt to salvage the situation is nicely summarized in this article by Inc.:

“. . . by 11:15 a.m. eastern, there was still a fat girl costumes section, although there were no items in it. Well, at least things couldn't get worse, could they? Uh, actually, yes, they could.

I had been asked by another editor to cover the story (not the marketing and business implications) the same afternoon. And when I looked, the fat girl costumes section was replaced by ‘Women's Plus Size Halloween Costumes.’ However, at the top of the page was a new banner that read: ‘Make it a monstrously big Halloween for less.’”

Yikes. The phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” seems to apply here. Whether the publishing of these phrases was intentional or not, it appears that Walmart’s marketing department needs a better system of internal accountability. Proofread, people!

Marketing Fail #2: Kellogg’s Twitter Campaign

Last December, Kellogg’s Give a Child a Breakfast social media campaign turned sour in people’s stomachs. The cereal giant pledged to give one breakfast to a vulnerable child for every retweet received. Clever, humanitarian marketing strategy or cynical advertising plan capitalizing on sympathy for starving children? Many people thought it was the latter.

Check out this summary of the story from Digital Strategy consulting:

“The message was immediately attacked for cynically trying to squeeze advertising from starving children. Some social media users suggested Kellogg’s was essentially holding hungry children hostage by depriving them of food unless the campaign was promoted.

One Tweeter under the handle @BotanyGeek replied: ‘Anyone else find this kinda creepy? Like sayin “Help us advertise or kids go hungry”.’

Another, @Hyper_Linda tweeted: ‘retweet @KelloggsUK OR ELSE kids will go hungry.’

Kellogg's [has] since deleted the tweet and posted instead: “We want to apologize for the recent tweet, wrong use of words. It's deleted. We give funding to school breakfast clubs in vulnerable areas.”

However some were still angry at the cereal giant, with ‏@ The_No_Show replying “@KelloggsUK Not “wrong use of words”, you said exactly what you meant to say. It was just a lousy social marketing plan.”

Before publicly proclaiming your new marketing strategy, analyze how people might perceive the connection between your cause and your advertising efforts.

Marketing Fail #3: Pepsi’s Expansion

When Pepsi decided they wanted to expand their market to China, they created a new slogan: Pepsi brings you back to life. Unfortunately this new tag line got lost in translation. In Chinese, the slogan means: Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.

This one made me chuckle, but it’s a good lesson to remember when you’re launching your product or service in a country with a different language. Do your cultural research and analyze how native speakers are going to interpret your slogan in their language.

(I got this marketing fail example from a great article by Hubspot: 8 of the Biggest Marketing Faux Pas of All Time. It’s an interesting read.)

Bonus Marketing Fail: My Own Story

Usually I write about other people’s stories and information in this blog, but today I actually have a situation of my own that fits the marketing-failure category.

Last year I created a trade show flyer for my company’s sales team. There was a limited amount of time to get this flyer created and printed, which meant it got done a tad hastily. The flyers were printed and my coworkers packed them up to take to the show.

At the top of the flyer was a headline that included the phrase “an engagement tool.” When I texted a coworker attending the tradeshow and asked how the event was going, he texted me back this sentence: “You left the ‘e’ out of engagement.”

Unfortunately, myself and the other coworkers who had proofread the article didn’t catch the mistake. “An ENGAGMENT tool,” which sounds like a kind of device a kidnapper might use, was a mortifying typo that took me a while to live down.

Making sure these external and internal marketing failures don’t happen to you

Whether your marketing mistakes happen on small scale with internal documents or on a large scale viewed by thousands or millions of clients and customers, it’s important to have a strong system of accountability within your communications department. Take the time to get everything right before you publish it, and you won’t have to issue an awkward apology later that undermines your credibility.

Have any interesting marketing failures to share? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.


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