If you’ve been marketing for any amount of time, then you’ve likely made a few mistakes. You should be prepared to learn from your mistakes, though, as you discover more about your audience and what works for them.
However, if your marketing mistake is big enough, it can mean catastrophe for your brand and your business. While you will learn from your own mistakes, consider first learning from others’ to avoid encountering these blunders in the first place.
Here are six marketing mistakes from big companies and how you can avoid these types of blunders in your own business.
1. Hershey’s Logo Looks Like Crap—Literally!
The mistake: In 2014, Hershey’s changed their logo, and buzz immediately spread across the Internet, but not in a good way. Where their logo once featured a 3-D Hershey’s Kiss, the company decided to flatten their design to feature a 2-D Kiss alongside their company name.
Multiple memes arose comparing the new logo to the popular emoji.
How to avoid it: Although a mistake like this may not make a huge dent in sales for a giant like Hershey’s—especially when their Hershey’s Kisses are so recognizable—a similar mistake isn’t going to help a growing business out.
As part of your design process, consider the possible feedback you might receive. Perhaps test your logo design with a group of viewers outside the company who can give their initial thoughts and anticipate what others might say. That way, you can tweak your logo before the masses view it if it does represent something crude and unintentional.
2. GAP Changed Their Logo—and Promptly Changed it Back
The mistake: In another logo mistake, GAP tried to change their logo back in 2010. Just short of a week later, they were already back to the logo they’d been using for the last 20 years. Customer backlash prompted them to maintain their brand identity. Luckily, they were able to revert back to the original logo quickly and learn from their mistake, but not without losing thousands of dollars and taking a hit in sales in the process.
The problem with GAP’s logo change was that—as they admitted—they didn’t consult their customers first. To their customers, there wasn’t anything that needed changing, yet they went ahead with a visual change anyway in hopes that their customers would follow.
How to avoid it: If you learn one thing from GAP’s mistake, know that if your brand isn’t broken, don’t fix it. At times, a rebrand is necessary, such as when your brand has evolved and expanded its product offerings. But if you’re like GAP, sticking with your original visual identity is the obvious choice when there’s no good reason to change.
If you do feel your brand needs a change, consider your customer base first.
What do they really want?
Has your audience changed since you launched your brand?
If so, a new visual identity may be needed.
3. HealthNet Put Fake Tweets in Their Ads
The mistake: In what’s considered one of the biggest marketing blunders of 2012, HealthNet placed fake tweets on their billboard ads. Unfortunately for them, people took notice, and it immediately left people questioning the company’s honesty.
Although using tweets, customer reviews, and testimonials is a good way to promote brand trust and loyalty—studies show that 88 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations—you can quickly damage your reputation by advertising with fake recommendations.
Though HealthNet likely didn’t intend to mislead its customers, it is something worth taking a lesson from.
How to avoid it: Simply put, don’t ever fake reviews! Although you may choose to use actor portrayals in online videos and television commercials, this type of ad should always come with a disclaimer. That way, you’re not misleading your customers under false pretenses.
Just remember that there is always a trail back to old tweets and online reviews, and there’s a good chance you’ll get caught if you’re advertising with fake recommendations.
4. Honda Marketed Their Car Using a Vulgar Term
The mistake: In 2001, Honda launched a new car that was marketed as the Honda Fit in Asian markets and the Honda Fitta in European markets. What they didn’t realize before launching the model was that the term fitta means female genitalia in Swedish. Once they realized their mistake, they rebranded and named the car the Honda Jazz. At least Honda earns points for recovering from their mistake by rebranding.
How to avoid it: The lesson learned here is simple: always research your target market. If your brand is fairly local, less research will be needed. However, if you’re expanding your brand, make sure you have a team in charge of researching your new market. You should not only be aware of terms or product elements that may cause offense, but you should be well aware of what products and marketing techniques work for that particular audience.
5. American Airlines Automated Tweets, Which Didn’t Go Over Well
The mistake: In 2013, a tweet came in criticizing American Airlines, to which they replied, “Thanks for your support! We look forward to a bright future…” The problem is that the tweets sent by American Airlines were clearly automated, and because of that, many people began to question the company’s reputation.
Social media blunders are frequently seen and often go viral. Sometimes companies recover; other times, they stop using their social media accounts altogether. While this particular blunder didn’t completely destroy American Airline’s social accounts and brand, there is much to be learned from their experience.
How to avoid it: While you can’t anticipate how followers will react to every social media post—even if you have the best intentions in mind—you can avoid a poorly executed social media strategy. Start by appointing a real person to your social media accounts, not relying on an automated system. Also be sure you have a clear social media marketing strategy in place along with guidelines about how social media managers should interact with customers to best represent your brand.
6. Companies Used Tragedies to Sell Products
The mistake: More than one company has made this marketing mistake, and it never goes over well. In 2011, for instance, Kenneth Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…” This tweet, of course, was in reference to Egyptian political turmoil happening at the time.
Or how about the time DiGiorno jumped on a domestic violence hashtag and tweeted, “#WhyIStayed
You had pizza?”
Or the time when Epicurious tried to capitalize on the Boston bombing in 2013 by suggesting cranberry scones “in honor of Boston?”
Needless to say, all of these tweets resulted in the companies issuing apologies for the insensitive nature of the ads.
How to avoid it: By all means, leverage relevant events to boost your marketing power, but be smart about how you’re using it. Leveraging tragic events in an insensitive manner will only get you in trouble with your followers. If people are already torn up about the event, don’t make it any harder for them by connecting your brand with it. Instead, connect with happy events like holidays, or leverage current pop culture references.
That’s not to say you can’t offer condolences. You certainly can, but don’t use that as an opportunity to make a sale. Chances are you’ll end up making fewer sales because of it.
Marketing mistakes are inevitable. At some point, you’ll realize that there was a better way to go about your marketing campaign. However, by paying attention to what other companies have done wrong, you can learn from those mistakes before ever making them yourself.
How would you handle these situations if it was your company that made the mistake?