Marketing is a tale as old as time. A digitalised business concept closely related to advertising and innovation. In the 21st century, marketing is a multi-billion-dollar industry and the most well-known form of strategic business advertising. Businesses of all industries rely heavily on carefully mapped out marketing campaigns to enhance their audience engagement and increase awareness of their products and brand. Hence why, with successful marketing tactics, bad marketing tactics rose to prominence. Eminent marketing targets the needs and wants of the audience through creating, planning, and delivering brand and product values. All marketing strategies are based on what E. Jerome McCarthy made known as the marketing mix of the four Ps — product, place, price, and promotion (T. Vautrin, 2020). The most common denominator in the business industry involves three main margin increases: sales, profit, and market share. A shared goal by every business of any industry is to undoubtedly maximise their sales, profit, and market share while building a strong brand identity, and respectable reputation, and minimising financial losses. This article narrates how bad marketing strategies can negatively impact three focal points that concern all businesses, such as brand identity, reputation, and financial loss.
The ever-growing presence of social media channels in marketing has empowered public opinion to a supreme level. The opinion of thousands of citizens of the world is unanimously valid, and impactful in real-time as their prompt reactions to every occurrence are recorded. The launches of high scale marketing campaigns never go unnoticed as global viewers offer their “brutally honest” opinions. An extremely common expression that has been circulating in the marketing industry over the last five years is: “Bad marketing doesn’t exist. All marketing is good marketing because it attracts attention”. Indeed, all marketing attracts attention however not all attention received has a positive impact on brand identity or an increase in profit, sales, or market share. The digitalisation of the marketing industry has highlighted the fragility of marketing strategies utilised by marketers through the interconnection presented by the Internet. The research that goes behind every marketing campaign is extensive for conducting focus groups, interviews, and questionnaires that stretch out a timespan of several years to ensure smooth sailing when the campaign is launched. Often enough, regardless of the amount of research conducted prior a campaign may fail to run successfully thus leading to a case of bad marketing. This article shall highlight examples from different case studies of well-known businesses, to demonstrate how a wrongly perceived message portrayed by a marketing campaign can tarnish a business‘ brand identity.
Brand identity is the centre of every business as it represents how a business chooses to show itself to the public. Building an identity requires years of branding and trademarking to prove credibility to the clientele. However, destroying a brand identity is fairly easy, as one wrong statement suffices. Dove — the American personal care brand owned by British multinational Unilever — is renowned for its dedication to building a brand identity as a body-positive business. In 2004, Dove commenced a three-phase revolutionising marketing campaign titled ”Dove Real Beauty Campaign”, aimed at enhancing its brand identity as a business that empowers women‘s self-esteem (Arangarajan, 2022). Critics went as far as to accuse the brand of scripting the content and framing the audience. These claims were backed by the frenzy of online users who supported critics and claimed they lost credibility in the brand as a business that sought to empower women and instead had joined the ranks of companies such as Axe (Arangarajan, 2022). Axe, is another Unilever-owned brand, renowned in the marketing industry for releasing advertisements labelled by the public as sexist. Hence, why a bad marketing mishap such as the one above mentioned, costs Dove a serious brand identity hit. A bad marketing tactic can equally impact any business in the same way by attacking the credibility of its brand as well as tarnishing its reputation.
On the other hand, Pepsi Co, the American multinational food, snack, and beverage renowned for its reputation as a business with a brand identity prism revolving around youthfulness, fun, and smartness (Bhasin, 2021). Pepsi Co, while in constant competition with Coca-Cola, was involved in a major advertising incident in 2017. The company released an advertisement featuring white, privileged supermodel Kendal Jenner whose actions insinuated that a can of Pepsi can solve everything. In the short video ad, Kendall Jenner leaves in the middle of a photoshoot and joins a crowd of protestants. As the police forces close in on the protesters taking a threatening stance, Kendall Jenner approaches a cop, offering him a can of Pepsi (Astute, 2020). The company was accused of co-opting the protest movements of Black Lives Matter for financial and commercial gain. Pepsi pulled the advertisement and publicly apologised less than 48 hours after the launch (Astute, 2021). Pepsi is a brand with a wide target group focusing on teenagers, young adults, and early middle-aged adults in the United States of America and worldwide. Through this advertisement, Pepsi not only stepped outside its target group and brand identity but also severely damaged it by appearing careless, and exploitative, imploding a great risking its reputation.
The reputation of a business is a key driver behind the increase in profit and sales. Reputation concerns more than what the business wishes for clientele and competitors to perceive. A business‘s reputation is built on its decision-making, production, and interaction with other business entities. To negatively influence a business‘s reputation is fairly harder than to sway its brand identity. In the case of Heineken, optics are quite significant when it comes to building and maintaining a stellar reputation (Johnson, 2022). After airing its ”Sometimes Lighter Is Better” advertisement, Heineken most certainly realised this lesson, the hard way. Given the possible meaning of the tagline utilized in the advertisement, things got off as very unpleasant for the viewers. Some rappers took it up themselves to address the situation on Twitter and call the brand out as racist and inconsiderate. Heineken dismissed any claims of the brand being racist by saying they were addressing beer, not humans. Their advertisement video showed a drink slipping down a bar. Before ending up in a light-skinned woman‘s hands, the alcohol travels solely through the hands of dark-skinned black individuals (Johnson, 2022). To avoid such unpleasant and dangerous situations to a business‘s reputation its best to research extensively and accordingly in creating inclusive ads and diversified marketing strategies (Johnson, 2022).
In the case of Burger King, the American multinational fast-food chain, second to only McDonald’s on a global level, is renowned for its brand identity as mouthwatering, simple, true, and playful. However, Burger King is simultaneously famous for its marketing mishap involving lewd and inappropriate content (Johnson, 2022). In 2008, Burger King aired an advertisement called the “Whooper Virgins“, carrying heavy insinuation. In 2009, to advertise their new breakfast, Burger King launched an ad featuring a bikini-clad lady singing in the shower every morning at 9:30 a.m. (Johnson, 2022). Customers and other franchises were deeply irritated by these continuous marketing mishaps which have gained Burger King an unwanted reputation over the years, as a flame-broiled brand with oddly bad marketing strategies (Johnson, 2022).
Financial loss is a real risk that every business undertakes with every marketing strategy introduced to the market. In 2014, the six inconsiderate shampoo bottles of the Dove Real Beauty Campaign cost Dove a whopping six million dollars to be pulled out of the market. Similarly, Pepsi had to pay a high cost for the failed commercial video, including Kendall Jenner’s fee. Even though the company itself claimed that the ultimate fee was around two million dollars, media calculations demonstrate that the real fee was around five million dollars (Adams, 2022). A video commercial of a magnitude similar to the one aired by Pepsi in 2017 amounts to an average value of 100 million dollars (Adams, 2022). Thus, such a marketing decision had a devastating effect on the business‘s profitability by resulting in a higher cost to “fix” the mistake than to arrange the campaign altogether. In the case of Burger King, the company lost eight million dollars through the discounts, given out on the “Whooper Virgin“ burger, to make up for the marketing scandal (Johnson, 2022).
To conclude, a true example of bad marketing accompanied by good intentions, the Real Beauty Campaign was the first of many in the marketing and advertising industry. Swayed brand identity, tarnished reputation, and, wasted money, are the most tangible aspects of the consequences that accompany a marketing failure. The implicated damage to brand identity and reputation is the most severe and requires a long-term effort to erase from the public consciousness. Bad marketing is real and is harmful to all businesses regardless of their size and profitability. A bad marketing scandal may seem like the end for great companies and aspiring businesses on the rise, but it’s the ideal opportunity for a new, conscious beginning.
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Johnson, B. J. (2022). 8 Biggest Marketing Fails of All Time, from Blog.userproof.com. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://blog.useproof.com/8-marketing-fails-see-believe T. Vautrin, D. (2020). Digital Marketing, from EUBSG PDF.
Cover Image: Noam Galai. 10 Truths About Marketing After the Pandemic. https://hbr.org/2021/03/10-truths-about-marketing-after-the-pandemic
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