Marketing is a tricky business, and sometimes the line between a good idea and a bad one is extremely thin. In the age of social media, even with good intentions, when a campaign goes badly things can escalate very quickly.
The UK cosmetics retailer Lush can attest to this, having launched their #spycops campaign this summer to mass backlash. The campaign, which intended to highlight the abuse people face from undercover policing, was perceived as anti-police and anti-state.
For a company like Lush, who pride themselves in their ethical beliefs and support for various grassroots campaigns, this type of backlash is perhaps inevitable. Lush, however, are not the first or last instance of a PR disaster. While marketing is about reacting to trends, there are several mishaps that should be avoided at all costs.
Marketing by gender
With feminist and LGBTQI movements becoming more widespread, gender politics is an increasingly big deal, and various companies have been caught up in a backlash against marketing to specific genders.
From Yorkie’s controversial (but long-lasting) ‘it’s not for girls’ slogan, to BIC’s pink and purple pens ‘for her’, gendering universally used products is rarely a good idea. Despite numerous examples of backlash towards this type of marketing campaign, however, this is a mistake that continues to happen.
Doritos is one of the latest companies to get mixed up in a marketing mishap thanks to gender, after Indra Nooyi - the CEO of Doritos’ parent company PepsiCo - announced that the company was planning a range of snacks aimed at women, because ladies ‘don’t like to crunch too loudly in public’ or ‘lick their fingers’.
Although PepsiCo acted quickly, releasing a statement saying that the company ‘already have Doritos for women - they’re called Doritos’, this wasn’t quick enough to save them from considerable criticism and the phrase ‘Lady Doritos’ trending across social media.
Making light of real-world issues
Capitalising on trends is good marketing, but not if the trends are real-world issues that people take very seriously.
Pepsi found this out to their cost in 2017, with their now famous Kendall Jenner advert that showed the reality TV star passing a can of Pepsi to a police officer at the world’s happiest protest. The ad was eventually pulled after intense criticism accusing Pepsi of trivialising social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter.
Unless you are actively promoting a cause, which as Lush showed can still be a risky move, it’s best to not reference real-world issues.
Pepsi are hardly the only example of this marketing mishap. American Apparel cashed in on Hurricane Sandy with their Sandy Sale in 2012, while Snapchat’s advert asking whether users would rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown sparked mass outrage this year.
Hijacking of campaigns
Finally, a number of companies have fallen foul to their perfectly innocent marketing campaigns being hijacked by customers or social media users. In 2017, UK snack manufacturer Walkers asked users to submit selfies for an opportunity to win tickets to a sporting event.
Unfortunately, the campaign was hijacked by trolls, with pictures of dictators, serial killers and renowned paedophiles submitted, with the images unwittingly superimposed onto a placard held by a grinning Gary Lineker.
McDonald’s also made a similar mistake in 2012, when asking customers to share fond memories of the brand via Twitter. People instead tweeted their horror stories of the restaurant chain, all of which were archived neatly under McDonald’s hashtag.
Marketing is a tricky business, but avoiding some of these marketing mishaps might make things a little easier.