5 Terrible Types of Advertising Campaigns

The best campaigns succeed because of social media and using their audience. But there are times when even these great tactics fail. Due to oversight errors or misused attempts at humor, some ad campaigns have not only failed, but caused an enormous backlash.

Save yourself the need to apologize later on. These 5 failures and campaigns to avoid show you what not to do in your marketing.

Campaigns Revolving Around People


Having a spokesperson or a recognizable face of an ad campaign can be very effective done right. However, there’s always an element of unpredictability, which is why family-centered chains often use fictional and sometimes animated characters.

One such example is Paul Marcarelli, once known as the Test Man asking “Can you hear me now?” for Verizon. But he didn’t necessarily love working for them. His career at Verizon included a draconian contract, homophobic harassment outside of work, and even being fired over email. So he started looking at the claims made by other mobile companies, and found that there’s generally less than a 1% difference in reliability. So he chose Sprint, which gives the same reliability within that one percent for less. This is great for Sprint, and not so great for Verizon.

Another more infamous example is Jared Fogle. He rose to fame by losing weight with Subway’s healthy food, and became a spokesperson for the company.  However, a scandal came to light over child pornography. He later pleaded guilty and is now serving time in jail. Subway went through a lawsuit by Fogle’s ex-wife claiming that they hadn’t acted on complaints against Fogle.

While you may not always guess at the secrets your employees hold, you should take complaints about these seriously to avoid backlash against your company. If you receive such complaints, take action rather than ignoring them in hopes of protecting an ad campaign.  Also, treat your spokespeople fairly so that their switching to another company doesn’t end up damaging your brand or strengthening your competitors.

Inappropriate or Shock-Value Humor


In an attempt to be funny, some companies latch onto any series of jokes without considering how their customers will react. These jokes may be questionable, to say the least. Whatever an individual’s feelings towards political correctness, marketing campaigns should not aim to make stereotypical or suggestive jokes. You’ll only succeed in driving off customers or starting a fight between them, as IHOP did with these captions–particularly with a suggestive image.

Before launching a campaign, find your voice. You can’t get away with not offending everyone. But sticking with your brand and avoiding humor for the purpose of shock value will avoid the backlash following these ads.

Forcing Product

Image result for u2 apple download songs of innocence


In 2014, iTunes and U2’s album “Songs of Innocence” forcibly downloaded onto over 500 million computers and phones. The biggest album launch in history seems like a massive success as far as numbers go, but reality says otherwise. Annoyed fans complained enough that Apple launched a removal tool. A later Q&A session with lead singer Bono revealed that the band feared that the album would have sold poorly without this forced promotion. As it was, reviews were mixed about the album.

If you have a great product to sell, let your customers come to you. Don’t force it on them. All you’ll end up doing is taking space and giving them something to complain about, which will only harm your future sales.

Suggesting Criminal Behavior

Image result for bloomingdale eggnog ad


Bud Light and Bloomingdale made the terrible mistake of suggesting alcohol to lower inhibition–in a bad way. Meant as light-hearted jokes or a promotion for spontaneous fun, their alcohol campaigns (respectively “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” and “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking”) came across as sexually predatory. Though the companies themselves may not endorse this behavior, their ad campaigns suggest they–or someone on their marketing team–think otherwise.

Before putting out an ad campaign, think hard about what you’re suggesting. Does it promote dangerous or criminal behavior? Does it promote anything that is inconsistent with the values your brand and company want to uphold?

Mad Libs


The New England Patriots and Mountain Dew have learned the hard way not to play mad libs with the Internet. While it seems like a good idea to let your consumers pick the name of products, there will be those followers who seize the chance to offend or make filthy jokes. It certainly gets press attention, but the backlash won’t be worth it. For one, these pranks can damage your brand. Allowing others to mess with your social media and product image in such a way associates your brand with undesirable content.

If you do want to involve your consumers–and you should–make sure you have an adequate filter to avoid such fiascoes.