Five funny marketing mishaps - and what we can learn from them

15th Jul 2016

How many times have companies inadvertently quoted Cher by saying: 'If I could turn back time...'?

Whether a thoughtless faux pas, a catastrophic oversight or misplaced over-confidence, some cringeworthy mistakes have been made by major brands over the years. 

Let's take a look at some of the more memorable marketing mishaps that have taken place - and establish what we can learn from them. 

1. Loosen up

When American beer brand Coors took its 'Turn It Loose' tag line campaign to Spain, its message was lost in translation. Having failed to do its research, it turns out the Spanish translation of 'Turn It Loose' is roughly interpreted as 'Suffer from diarrhoea'. This certainly made an impact on the shoppers – probably not in the way Coors was hoping!

If I could turn back time: This is not the first time a marketing company has failed to understand the local lingo. Back in 1987, Braniff Airlines wanted to celebrate its swanky new leather seats so used the line 'Fly Leather'. Whilst this works fine in the US, the Spanish translation also means 'Fly Naked'. The lesson here is always do your research thoroughly before you take your brand global.

2. Timothy keeps on giving

To increase its social media influence, coffee brand Timothy's Coffee decided to use a common marketing technique: a free sample or coupon for every follow on social media.

Unfortunately, it underestimated how much people love its coffee. Its K-cup packs were all but gone in three days. Timothy's Coffee frantically backpedalled, insisting the offer was now on a first come first serve basis. But this was two weeks late. The caffeine-incensed public were far from impressed, despite an apology video from Timothy's and the offer of a coupon in the mail.

If I could turn back time: Too little too late, my marketing friend! With promotional offers, the devil's in the details. Make sure you've covered all the bases – stock, small print, your ability to follow through on the offer – before you announce it to the public.

3. Tattoos aren't just for dinner time

San Francisco dining company Casa Sanchez narrowly avoided losing millions of dollars on a tattoo. Its 1999 promotional campaign told customers that if a person got a tattoo of the Casa Sanchez logo, they could eat there for the rest of their lives, for free. That's quite a statement to give to the hungry public.

Under an onslaught of red raw tattooed customers, the brand quickly had to cut the number to 50. Disappointing, but to give them credit, the campaign was later taken up again with new restrictions:

  • The tattoo must be a certain size.
  • Only one free meal per day.
  • Prospective free diners are interviewed by the co-owner.

If I could turn back time: Crazy promises should not be made lightly in marketing. Often it's seen as a good idea as it gets lots of attention but is too crazy for regular customers to actually go through with it. But for every success, there's a case where the public go mad and you have to damage your brand's credibility by changing the offer.

Think it through, and weigh up how easy it will be for a customer to meet the crazy terms and conditions of your promotional offer. And also look up how many tattoo parlours there actually are in San Francisco.

4. Hot stuff

Heinz put a promotional QR Code on its Heinz 'Hot' Ketchup bottle. However, it was quickly discovered by a German customer that the code actually led to a pornography site. Not the kind of hot sauce that Heinz was intending to promote! The customer wrote to Heinz on Facebook, suggesting their product was 'probably not for minors'.

Red-faced Heinz apologised and mentioned that the bottle in question a remnant from a previous campaign (which just makes it sound worse).

If I could turn back time: In every company, someone has to have the job of checking links. The bigger the brand, the more products there are selling to the public, the more embarrassing and inescapable when a colossal mistake is made.

If you own a web address and have left it alone for ages, check on it. Before you make a QR code for an international brand.

5. Sucks to be you

Starbucks, the coffee brand that has thousands of stores, needs vans to deliver supplies. So a van pulled up to a store; displayed on the van side in expensive paint, was the Starbucks logo, and the brand name: Starbucks. Picture the scene.  

Unfortunately, vans have a habit of needing sliding doors which open and close. Due to the placement of the word 'Starbucks', when the door was slid open, the name now read 'Sucks'. So many vans: so much money: so many messages going out to the amused public.


If I could turn back time: Luckily this wasn't a complete marketing disaster, but still very funny. Although Starbucks has had a few mishaps with its brand over the years, anyone who works in marketing can confirm it doesn't help when your own brand is being negative. 

Mark Johnson is an enthusiastic writer and marketer, with a passion for ecommerce solutions and helping people build their brands online.


Replies (3)

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By stef737
18th Jul 2016 11:37

I understand when people misuse the word "loose" on facebook, but someone who is a professional writer should know the difference between the word "loose" and the word "lose". You wrote: "Casa Sanchez narrowly avoided loosing million of dollars on a tattoo."

You don't loose millions of dollars. You lose millions of dollars. (And you forgot the s on the word million)

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Replying to stef737:
By Neil Davey
18th Jul 2016 11:58

A not-so-hilarious writing mishap! Perhaps the result of a misguided effort to write the article through tears of laughter?

If he could "turn back time" I'm sure the writer would wait until he composed himself.

Thanks for the heads up - the superfluous 'o' and the astray 's' have been rectified.

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Replying to Neil Davey:
By stef737
18th Jul 2016 13:10

Thanks! Now I can actually share it :-)

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