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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

5 Corporate Marketing Efforts That Seriously Backfired

5 Corporate Marketing Efforts That Seriously Backfired
Credit: Lichtmeister/Shutterstock

There's a good reason companies are willing to spend big bucks on marketing and advertising: Wide-reaching campaigns on social media, radio, television and other channels can be a highly effective way to drum up a lot of attention for your company. But be warned — it may not always be the kind of attention you bargained for.

Despite their large marketing and social media teams, corporations will occasionally miss the mark in their ad campaigns, resulting in confusion at best and an offended, irate consumer base at worst. These marketing gaffes are even further amplified in an age of instant communication, viral social media posts and Internet archives, which means a company's error can live on long after the tweet has been deleted or the TV spot has been pulled.

When you're planning your business's next marketing campaign, learn from the mistakes of these five companies, whose recent advertising efforts sparked controversy rather than sales. [Lost in Translation: 8 International Marketing Fails]

In 2014, Bud Light introduced "Up For Whatever," a campaign that was intended to promote carefree spontaneity and fun with one's friends. During the campaign's second year, a slogan began to appear on Bud Light bottles alongside its #UpForWhatever hashtag, claiming the beer was perfect "for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night." This turned out to be a very serious misfire on the company's part: Many social media users felt the slogan was an endorsement of date rape by implying that Bud Light should be used to get people so drunk that they can't say no to your advances. An April 2015 Entrepreneur article reported that Bud Light quickly apologized, saying that it "missed the mark" with its message and would pull the slogan from future iterations of the campaign.

Gender stereotypes about families — namely mothers as child-rearers and fathers as breadwinners — have all but flown out the window as more and more couples split up their financial and child care responsibilities, or raise children as single working parents. A 2012 Huggies campaign seemed to draw its attitudes on family life from decades ago, with a commercial claiming that dads left alone to care for their babies are "the ultimate test" for the company's products. A Change.org petition started by an offended father called Huggies out for reducing dads "to being little more than test dummy parents, putting diapers and wipes through a 'worst-case scenario' crash course of misuse and abuse." Huggies received so much backlash over its depiction of an incompetent, neglectful father figure that it eventually pulled the ads.

Last year, Malaysia Airlines was at the center of two passenger aircraft tragedies — one plane disappeared and another was shot down — that resulted in the loss of 537 lives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company suffered from a decline in ticket sales after the incidents, leading to a promotional giveaway contest that it hoped would reinvigorate the brand. The idea was a good one: Submit your dream travel destination for a chance to win either an iPad or a plane ticket. The "bucket list" premise, however, was decidedly not. Customers were shocked that the airline would associate the contest with fulfilling a bucket list item — something people hope to do before they die — given the hundreds of passengers who died flying Malaysia Airlines in 2014. Mashable reported that the company apologized and removed all references to the original "My Ultimate Bucket List" title.

Question-and-answer forums like Twitter chats and Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) have become popular PR moves because they allow people to connect with their favorite celebrities on a more personal level. But that same line of access can also be used to embarrass a public figure or brand — so if you're in the middle of a controversy, you might want to avoid promising the entire Internet that you'll answer any questions it may have. There have been quite a few examples of AMA-style Twitter chats going horribly wrong in recent years, including SeaWorld's March 2015 #AskSeaWorld campaign. Designed to rebuild the company's crumbling image as a heartless corporation that mistreats its aquatic captives, the #AskSeaWorld hashtag was flooded with questions from angry Twitter users calling SeaWorld out for its practices, according to Slate.

For decades, consumers have been speaking out against ads featuring women with heavily edited, idealized bodies. Victoria's Secret, which already utilizes its stable of supermodel "Angels" to promote its products, was scrutinized for this reason in October 2014, when it launched a poorly phrased tagline to sell its "Body by Victoria" line. The company's website featured a lineup of thin women overlaid with the text, "The Perfect 'Body.'" Although Victoria's Secret was referring to the name of its collection, critics accused the company of sending a body-shaming message that was "offensive and damaging to women," Business Insider reported. The lingerie giant quietly changed the line's slogan a week later to "A Body for Every Body."

Nicole Fallon Taylor
Nicole Fallon Taylor

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.