13 Examples of Bad Advertising
Advertising is an extremely complex process that requires significant intellectual effort. Sometimes we are amazed at how creatively it can be approached… and sometimes we are astonished at how a product or service could be marketed in such a cringy way that it’s almost illegal to be that cringy. In this article, we will analyze the examples of bad advertising by companies and explore the common negative qualities they possess.
What is bad advertising?
To put it bluntly, bad advertising is advertising that doesn’t work. Instead of increasing sales, it either reduces them or, if lucky, keeps them at the same level. Interestingly, there have been numerous cases when even large international corporations with huge advertising budgets have found themselves in unpleasant situations. Why this happens often remains a mystery because one would expect real professionals to work in their advertising departments. Perhaps, it’s just a matter of unjustified risk.
In other cases, it occurs because marketers launch advertising campaigns without conducting any market research. As a result, the company’s stocks plummet, the target audience starts to neglect the brand due to poorly chosen narratives, wrong execution, unclear context, mismatched visual elements, offensive content, and so on. People who see this advertising cringe so bad that they wish to unsee the thing.
Signs of bad and unsuccessful advertising
Now that we have defined what bad advertising is, let’s take a look at what things these marketing creations have in common.
Fortunately, the digital era allows us to be relatively objective in evaluating advertising based on data (stock declines, dislikes, view counts, and other metrics) obtained from the internet. This helps us avoid situations where an advertisement ends up in our ranking simply because we personally didn’t like it.
|Sign||Why it’s bad|
|Inappropriate content||An ad that has not been thoroughly thought may hurt somebody’s feelings. And the internet along with social medias provide a platform for openly expressing one’s opinion, creating hashtags, and finding supporters to boycott entire companies and brands – if it is the case with an ill-considered or purposedly provocative ads. Such unfortunate ad campaigns can include manifestations of racism, sexism, the imposition of gender stereotypes, and other violations of social norms in advertising.|
|Misleading information||False expectations are one of the most frightening things in marketing. When promoting a product and attributing certain qualities to it, a company must substantiate those claims in real life. If a potential customer believes the advertising but then doesn’t receive what was promised, the brand will almost certainly face serious problems.|
|Provoking embarrassment/repulsion/disapproval||Advertising can evoke strong negative emotions through hideous design, amateurish visual elements, or a cringeworthy plot. People simply won’t understand how such a thing could have come to someone’s mind, for which target audience this advertisement was created, or how it could have been approved for airing.|
|Lack of consideration for geographic and cultural specifics||Companies often forget a simple fact: what is acceptable in one market may be completely unacceptable in another. For example, coloring a logo in rainbow colors is unlikely to be understood in Arabic countries, and polygamy may not be accepted in Western ones. Ignoring such regional and cultural differences can easily destroy even a large business.|
To make advertising bad or unsuccessful, it is not necessary for all of these signs to be present. Sometimes just one of them is enough to tarnish a brand’s overall representation or simply miss the target audience.
Examples of bad ads
Now let’s take a look at some notable examples of unsuccessful advertising that can be found in various unexpected places, created by players from whom you least expect it, and for which CEOs occasionally have to apologize.
Bad ads examples in the media
Today, the media includes not only television, newspapers, and radio but also numerous social networks like Facebook, websites, and Telegram channels. There is no place where some brand hasn’t launched bad advertising.
Procter & Gamble and gender roles
In 2011, the globally renowned company ran an advertisement in print dedicated to Mother’s Day. It seemed like a great occasion and message, except for a few “buts”, such as the text “Get back to the job that really matters” and an image of a mother, along with her daughter cleaning a window with Mr. Clean.
Users didn’t appreciate the message and questioned what job truly mattered here. Teaching a child to clean windows and know their place? The idea that a woman’s job is to clean and wash things predictably made people mad.
Reebok – “cheat on your girlfriend”
In 2012, Reebok launched an advertising campaign in Germany with the slogan “Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout”, for which they faced backlash. The company had to apologize for the very existence of such an advertisement.
Whether it is acceptable or not is everyone to decide for themselves.
Examples of bad advertising in social media
McDonald’s – addressing the problem without solving it
In 2020, amidst the pandemic, the world’s most popular fast-food chain, McDonald’s, placed advertisements on social media and their website urging people to follow safety guidelines. They modified their logo design, separating the letter “M” into two arches to symbolize the importance of social distancing.
Twitter users immediately stirred up a storm and accused the company of trying to profit from the situation instead of providing real help. As a result, McDonald’s removed all references to the advertisement and focused on promoting their delivery service, which became a real solution to the issue of social distancing.
Dove’s racist mishap
In 2017, Dove posted a commercial on their Facebook page featuring a dark-skinned woman removing her top and transforming into a white woman, who then did the same and turned into a Caucasian woman.
The main idea of the advertisement was to demonstrate the effects of their body lotion. However, the intended message was misunderstood by the target audience, and the company was immediately accused of racism. Representatives of the brand issued an apology statement, but it received over 3000 comments, with many calling for a boycott of their products to demonstrate the power of “black money.”
Examples of bad advertising on TV
Bud Light – #upforwhatever
Bud Light beer is one of the most popular brands worldwide. However, that didn’t stop the company from making a blunder with their advertising. In a TV commercial, a random young man is offered to do something, and he agrees because he’s #upforwhatever after drinking Bud Light. The story ends with him playing table tennis with Arnold Schwarzenegger at a OneRepublic concert. Well, that’s what everyone does after having a drink, right?
The TV commercial doesn’t contain any profanity, nudity, or violence. So, what went wrong? It all comes down to the overall message of the campaign and the text on the bottle: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”. Considering the role of alcohol in sexual assaults, it was not the best slogan they could have come up with. As a result, the company apologized and pulled the commercial from TV rotation.
Axe – another word for controversial advertising
“And only your thoughts will remain dirty” is perhaps one of the first slogans that comes to mind when hearing the name of this brand. The excessive promotion of gender stereotypes, high level of sexualization of men and women, and shifting blame for sexual harassment onto the victim often cause confusion and disapproval. This leads to criticism of the brand, bans on advertising, and calls for boycotts.
Bad ads expample in movies
Advertising for cars, technology, food, and beverages has become commonplace in films, and it no longer surprises anyone. The mere appearance of a product in a scene is unlikely to offend anyone. What’s wrong with a girl wearing Balenciaga in a movie? In this section, we will discuss annoying trends related to advertising in movies in general.
- Inappropriate movie trailers before screenings. This is kinda problematic because the audience coming to watch a superhero movie might not be really interested in arthouse films, and vice versa.
- Trailers that position a film in one genre when it is actually in a completely different genre. Overall, false expectations from advertising are one of the most dreadful things in marketing.
- Hype surrounding upcoming premieres. When you eagerly anticipate something based on the advertising, the disappointment can be quite strong.
- Copying advertising campaigns. Many trailers and posters for different films are so similar to each other that if you remove the title, it would be impossible to distinguish them.
To get an idea of examples of bad advertising offline, just take a walk through the center of any city where there are billboards and advertising boards. You will undoubtedly come across a product from some local marketer who thought, “Great, sales growth guaranteed, no need to invest in content creation.” This is common for both large and small cities.
Is bad advertising still advertising?
Sometimes bad advertising is intentionally created because “bad news is good news.” People tend to remember something negative much better because it evokes a stronger emotional response. This result can be achieved in two ways:
- Releasing a low-quality product.
- Promoting it through bad advertising.
If the main goal of an advertising campaign is to make the brand more recognizable and memorable, then it is exactly what is needed.
In other cases, it is better to think about the consequences because some of them may only manifest over time.
|Consequences||Effect on Operations|
|Negative brand perception||People now pay more attention to a company’s “social mission” to evaluate how the brand conducts and embodies itself in everyday activities. Badly thought-out, provocative advertising can harm this positioning in the medium to long term. This, in turn, can have a negative impact on user attitudes.|
|Financial costs||This effect stems from the previous one. If fewer people show loyalty to the brand, the number of customers decreases. This means additional expenses for launching new advertising campaigns, conducting research, and restoring the brand’s image. Additionally, investors may express dissatisfaction and reduce funding for certain areas of operations.|
However, it’s not all bad. There are positive aspects to unsuccessful advertising campaigns:
- A very short content update cycle on the internet. This means that a company can quickly learn from its mistakes and create new content that is better than the previous one and appeals to users.
- A bad advertising campaign can increase the number of channels for interacting with users who can point out negative aspects. If the brand responds in a timely manner, engages with users, and demonstrates a professional approach not only on the official website but also in real life, based on business ethics, it has a chance to turn the situation in its favor.
- Failures provide excellent experience that guides future avoidance of advertising pitfalls.
In any case, conducting a quality analysis of problems and responding promptly to challenges will help in any situation.
Consequences of unsuccessful advertising campaigns for well-known brands: 6 examples
No one is immune to unsuccessful advertising, not even the largest corporations. We have gathered examples of failures from well-known brands, along with descriptions of how they stumbled in their campaigns.
Amazon and JCPenney – Promoters of Nazis
Brands can go quite far in the advertising of their products. For example, American company Amazon, whose commercial activities span a wide range, launched a controversial advertisement for its series “The Man in the High Castle.” The plot imagines an alternative reality where Germany and Japan won World War II. In promotional materials, the Statue of Liberty was adorned with a swastika and gave a Nazi salute, while some subway cars were painted in a similar manner.
Potential viewers did not appreciate this creative approach, which led to a swift discontinuation of the advertising campaign and low ratings for the series. However, Amazon can afford such mistakes.
One of the largest American retailers, JCPenney, also went too far in promoting Nazism. They displayed an advertisement featuring a teapot resembling Hitler. Take a look for yourself and decide whether the spout reminds you of a nazi salute, the lid resembles the dictator’s mustache, and the handle resembles his hairstyle.
Considering the fact that these billboards are often viewed from a distance, and the details are not always visible, such a result was possible. The company faced a barrage of complaints and quickly removed the advertisement. However, the teapots started selling very quickly, so this campaign cannot be considered a complete failure.
Nike – When Things Go Wrong
Nike’s advertising usually provides such a tremendous motivational boost that it makes you want to become better and start pushing yourself right away. But even giants like Nike can have missteps at times.
In 2020, Australia was hit by devastating wildfires, and Nike released a new tennis apparel collection that encouraged players to “conquer the burning conditions.” Most likely, these two events were not related, as the marketing department had prepared the campaign in advance and simply failed to consider all the circumstances before its launch. Nevertheless, the sports goods manufacturer received its share of criticism.
Another Nike advertising campaign had more serious consequences for the brand. The company enlisted the participation of Colin Kaepernick, who had already been involved in a scandal and faced a wave of disapproval for his stance supporting black people who had suffered at the hands of the police.
As a result, many well-known personalities and politicians turned against Nike, with some even resorting to burning Nike products and sharing videos of it online. Consequently, the company’s stocks plummeted as a result of all these events.
What is the connection between Coca-Cola, a head louse, and a horse?
Advertising mistakes due to ignorance of cultural peculiarities in any country happen constantly. It’s alright if it’s a small market that doesn’t heavily impact the company’s commercial activities. However, in the world’s second-largest economy, one needs to be very careful, even if it hasn’t officially become one yet. In 1928, the beverage manufacturer Coca-Cola entered the Chinese market, and since the brand was already recognizable worldwide, they decided not to change the name. However, in the national language, the name sounded similar to phrases like “bite the head louse” or “wax horse.”
The marketers gracefully resolved this situation by slightly altering the sound – Kekoukele, which means “happiness in the mouth.”
Another mistake by the company was related to the color of the bottle for the “healthy” version of the drink. Coca-Cola Life was sold with a green label, which symbolized health. This immediately raised the question among consumers, “Does that mean the red color signifies death then?”
Nevertheless, giants like Coca-Cola can easily overcome such moments and not lose a significant amount of money because the strength of their brand is truly immense.
To avoid ending up in thematic compilations of bad advertising, it is necessary to pay attention to multiple factors, starting from market research for the planned product promotion and ending with studying the preferences of the target audience, who can quickly spread the word about a failed campaign to the entire world.
Creating good advertising is a complex, creative, and extremely time-consuming process. Additionally, it may not even pay off, and no one is completely immune to failures because there will always be someone who dislikes the advertising for a million reasons. However, this is not a reason to despair. Mistakes made (especially if they are the mistakes of others) provide an excellent foundation for starting anew.
What is bad advertising?
Bad ads is the type of advertising that fails to achieve the main objectives of advertising: increasing brand recognition and driving sales. Instead, it generates confusion among users and creates a desire to avoid engaging with the brand that released something inappropriate in the media space.
Who is to blame for launching bad advertising?
There is no definitive answer to this question because it depends on how the process of launching advertising campaigns is organized within a specific company. It could be the advertising department, the chief marketer, a designer, or an individual who combines all these functions. In any case, the cause of failure is a poor understanding of the market and the society in which the promotion of goods and services takes place.
Are major brands immune to unsuccessful advertising campaigns?
No one is immune to unsuccessful advertising campaigns, neither smaller businesses nor large international corporations. History and the internet are filled with numerous examples, ranging from confusing billboards in small towns to huge banners in megacities.
What are some well-known examples of bad and unsuccessful advertising?
Major players always attract more attention because their customer base is much larger than that of small companies. But when it comes to the most memorable examples, giants like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s often make the top of the list.
Can unsuccessful advertising have a positive impact on a company’s revenue?
Yes, it can, if it leads to increased brand recognition, user interest, and purchasing activity. However, such cases are unpredictable.
What consequences can a company face after bad advertising?
Companies can experience various consequences. In our digital world, these consequences are likely to include the emergence of a dedicated hashtag calling for a boycott of the products, a large number of dislikes on social media, and a decline in financial performance.