Anatomy of a Failed Marketing Campaign

 In Business, Case Study, Content

Check out why these advertising campaigns became infamous.

I’ve dissected and discussed what constitutes the most effective advertising. I’ve even explored how some companies become surprisingly more successful through a resistance to advertising.

Here’s one subject I’ve yet to cover: when advertising sucks.

Some marketing campaigns become famous, and others become infamous. In fact, some advertisements actively hurt businesses through lowered sales and really, really bad PR. (That’s code for a big, fat uproar.)

But first, it’s important to note exactly what happens when a company produces lackluster promotion that may have seemed like a good idea on the drawing board.

Bad Advertising Trait #1: The Promotion is Cookie-Cutter

Some promotions fall under the radar, and become background noise. Since we’re constantly bombarded with hundreds of advertisements per day, it’s as if we’ve all become immune.

So when advertisements all look the same, promotion becomes even more invisible. Think of how many fragrance campaigns feature unrealistic standards of beauty and attraction. And then, consider what the Old Spice guy did to turn the market on its head.

On that note, how many beer advertisements feature young and attractive people socializing? Not many beer commercials used memorable and satirical marketing to sell six packs, until Bud Light ramped up sales using that technique.

PETA's Save the Whales ad campaign received a lot of backlash. Find out why at Mouse and Man's blog feature.

Bad Advertising Trait #2: The Promotion Alienates the Audience

Confucius’ Golden Rule applies to advertising as it does to life. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

So in other words, this ad from PETA is simply mean, and would alienate the audience the second anyone saw it.

Sure, they are pushing an idea, and not a product, but the audience for this truly alienating advertisement is people who’d like to lose weight.

By comparing the audience to whales, people will not only forget the idea of going vegetarian, they’ll also dislike PETA as an organization altogether.

Confuscius says, Follow these tips for better marketing campaigns.


When I came up with the Golden Rule in 571 B.C.E., I meant don’t call people fat. It’s not nice You learned this in pre-school!”



Bad Advertising Trait #3: The Promotion Hits the Product, Not the Pain

It’s clear that the PETA/whales advertisement tried to hit a certain pain point, and ultimately failed. But some advertising misses pain points all together.

In other words, promoters focus on product features or details of a service offering. And that’s pretty much it.

The focus was not on the customer, and that’s always a bad idea. Let’s say you see a wristwatch billboard driving down the Interstate. The watch is all shiny and new, and the picture is practically glowing.

The ad won’t sell.

The most powerful advertising would delve into how the watch would improve socializing, and how it would make the watch-wearer feel.

Empowered? Successful? Sexier?

If the ad doesn’t give the prospect a sense of what the product or service will do beyond simply being what it is, it’s missing the mark.

Unclear advertising campaigns, such as this gourmet cookie company campaign, is a prime example of ineffective advertising.

Bad Advertising Trait #4: The Promotion Reveals Nothing at All

Here’s an assignment: next time you’re driving, really listen to the radio advertisements. Chances are, you’ll hear a few that ramble on about this and that, and in the end, the purpose is finally revealed…

And it will make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Here’s an example of advertising that leads to questions, and not answers as to why you should buy something.

Anybody want some delicious chocolate? Not with an advertisement like this one.

It appears as if this gourmet dessert company is working toward a Father’s Day sale. But it’s hard to say for sure, because the ad doesn’t say much at all about the product or the feeling it’s intended to produce.

Here’s the take-away:

Creativity and innovation are the keys to blazing your own trail in the advertising world. Even more so, it’s what gets your business noticed. And hey, even some really successful marketing campaigns have experienced serious missteps.

An ad agency representing Nabisco’s Oreo Cookies designed an ad featuring a breastfeeding infant with the caption Milk’s Favorite Cookie. Things didn’t go well.

But the cookie company returned with stellar advertising that helped them become the most popular brand of it’s kind in the U.S.

My point: identify your advertising weaknesses before you play to your strengths. That way, you’re set up for successful marketing that makes a lasting impression.

I’d love to know what you think, and what your least favorite advertisements are in the comments.

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