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Four advertising disasters - and what we can learn from them

10th May 2017
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Inspired by the fall out from Pepsi's tone deaf "Live For Now Moments Anthem" campaign, last month MyCustomer examined some of the most ill-conceived advertisements of all time

With each passing year, Pepsi are investing more and more into their advertising. Last year, it was reported that Pepsi spent 2.5 billion USD worldwide, so it's baffling as to how the infamous video with Kendall Jenner slipped through the net and made its way across the globe, only to be pulled by Pepsi later on.

Having said that, the video has taught us all an important lesson - while it's important to be topical, it's even more important to play to your strengths and stick to what your brand is about. It’s also pertinent to not imply that the world is one can of soda away from peace.

But, of course, Pepsi isn't the only brand to have released a bone-headed advertisement. In fact, there are so many that one article simply couldn't it justice. So here's a second list of ad disasters, and what we can learn from them. 

Burger King, Connected Whopper

Earlier this month, Burger King tried to get creative with the influx of Google Home assistants by keeping their ad to 15 seconds and instead, prompting the devices to complete the list of ingredients at home, announcing the phrase “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”.

What they didn’t take into consideration is that Google Home reads out the details from Wikipedia, a collaborative encyclopaedia. Pranksters took the site to edit the content to reach some outrageous ingredients and Google turned off the functionality within 3 hours of its release.

It might have been a good idea at the time but now, the ad doesn’t really make sense. Whilst creative, it’s wise to keep your messaging within your control, instead of in the hands of external tools, and make it accessible for all viewers - not just those who own a Google Home device.

Kurl-on and Malala Yousafzai mattress ad


Put together some of the brightest advertising brains together and you think you will be left with a successful campaign, right? Wrong.

The usually spot-on team at Ogilvy and Kurl-on had to resort to apologising left, right and centre after releasing a tasteless campaign depicting the Taliban shooting Malala Yousafzai all in an effort to sell mattresses.

The concept, unbelievably, was that Kurl-On mattresses help you "bounce back", with the implication that Malala had bounced back from being shot by receiving a humanitarian award. 

Ogilvy subsequently apologised for the ad, and admitted it was "contrary to the beliefs and professional standards of Ogilvy & Mather and our clients." 

Before deciding to dish out your marketing budget, consider the implications of your content and how they will be perceived, you can never be too sensitive.

Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, Chinese New Year 2017

Videos with an underlying story or theme are extremely effective: strong narratives get consumers talking!

I suppose this is perhaps what Mercedes-Benz in Malaysia were attempting to do but the story falls flat and misses the mark.

Viewers reacted with scorn after the video was posted on the brand's Facebook page


The lesson: define your purpose and keep it simple when rolling your plan out in video. There’s no need for elaborate storylines that don’t make any real sense.

Subway, Fresh Fit

What once may have worked in the past, may not now. Over time, social mentalities change.

The objectification of women doesn’t sit well within branded content in this day and age - especially when it comes to selling sandwiches.

Ads with overtly sexualised protagonists are quick to be criticised. It’s best to keep the content relatively gender neutral, as this also increases your chances of resonating with a wider audience by not ostracising groups.

Benjamin Potter is the cofounder and creative director of CLICKON Media.


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