5 Marketing & Advertising Mistakes to Avoid

Posted by Paladin on July 25, 2018

Everybody makes mistakes. But when it comes to advertising and marketing, errors in judgment are often amplified. And miscalculations can live online in infamy.

Pepsi knows the trials that come along with marketing mistakes firsthand. In 2017, its video featuring model and TV personality Kendall Jenner was roundly criticized for trivializing Black Lives Matter, the activist movement that’s fighting racism and violence in America. Immediately after the video was released, viewers flooded social media with negative feedback. Pepsi issued a public apology and pulled the ad from its social feeds, but the controversy continues to crop up in the news today.

Pepsi’s far from the only brand that has made questionable advertising choices and suffered the consequences. Also last year, Facebook invited consumers to use its virtual reality platform to tour the damage caused to Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was represented in the app as a cartoon character, and the project was called tone-deaf by critics. A few months prior, McDonald’s came under fire in the UK for manipulating viewers’ emotions with an ad about a boy grieving his deceased father.

It isn’t always easy to gauge how consumers will react to a new ad or marketing effort. Learning from others’ missteps can help point you in the right direction.

Here are five common mistakes you should actively avoid when you plan your next campaign.

1. Not considering the political climate

As evidenced by Pepsi’s experience last year, it behooves brands to consider the political climate, social tensions, and the public mindset before releasing new content. If the story you’re telling in your ad addresses a subject that’s politically charged or touches on a polarizing issue, it’s best to reconsider your approach.

“There’s an attitude within the American people and within our political institutions that it’s my team right or wrong,” Peter Wehner, former aide to President George W. Bush and a senior fellow at Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, has said. Very few brands can afford to alienate a good chunk of their target audience by taking on politics in their campaigns.

2. Failing to understand your audience

Not knowing enough about your target audience can come back to haunt you. In 2016, Chevy poked fun at brands that cling to stereotypes about millennials and portray them all as tattooed, bearded hipsters who love indie rock and road trips.

The ad shows a millennial focus group arguing that the stereotypes are offensive and don’t accurately reflect their generation. But as Adweek pointed out, the people Chevy selected for the focus group perpetuated those very same stereotypes.

The lesson? Understand your audience, or you risk alienating them with irrelevant ads.

3. Forgetting recent history

It’s not just the political climate marketers need to consider, but recent events that continue to evoke an emotional response in consumers.

One example of this is the Boston Marathon, which was the site of a deadly bombing in 2013. Adidas sent a congratulatory email to racers last year, but ill-advisedly chose to praise them with the words, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” Needless to say, the message was called out by consumers and Adidas ultimately apologized for the insensitive blunder.

4. Not thinking ahead

When your ad is still in the brainstorming stage, take some time to consider how the concept might fare in different anecdotal scenarios. If the outcome of an upcoming event stands to change the meaning of your message, you may want to rethink your ad copy.

During the World Cup back in 2014, The National Council on Problem Gambling referenced Germany’s soccer team in a Singapore ad featuring two young boys, writing “I hope Germany wins. My dad bet all my savings on them.” The message was intended to discourage gambling — but when Germany ended up winning the World Cup, suddenly gambling didn’t look so bad. The organization had to alter the ad to deal with the fallout of its accidental message.

5. Turning a blind eye to current events

When you’re engaging in real-time marketing through a platform like Twitter, it’s crucial that you’re aware of current news and world events. Current events can impact how your brand’s messages are perceived. For example, Kenneth Cole was caught in a controversy  when it referenced a hashtag without realizing why it was trending.

“Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online,” the brand’s tweet read. In reality, Cairo was trending because of political protests there. A quick search would have revealed the truth and saved the brand a lot of embarrassment.

Before you launch that new ad you’re so excited about, take a minute to consider how your audience will react. Avoiding mistakes like these will both protect your brand and help you retain your loyal customers.

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