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3 Failed Ad Campaigns Teach Brands a Marketing Lesson

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Businesses love launching marketing campaigns that stir conversation to raise awareness about their brand. And sometimes, ads do become viral – but for unpleasant reasons.

Brands don’t always get it right when they release marketing content, so it ends up drawing flak from consumers. Although some quickly recover from their blunder, others have it worse. Some businesses launch poorly thought out ads that result in lost profits, damaged brand value, or lost customer trust.

Can you remember these three controversial ad campaigns?

Energizer’s Derivative Pink Bunny

In the ’90s, Energizer introduced a mascot in the form of a pink bunny repeatedly banging a drum. The company released the ad as a parody of competitor Duracell’s own commercial. During this time, Duracell was the more popular battery brand. So Energizer thought it could level the playing field by mimicking the leading brand’s widely recognized mascot, down to its bright pink color.

But because Duracell had already established its association with the pink bunny, the imitation by Energizer led to some confusion. An article by the Philadelphia Inquirer says 40 percent of the people who saw Energizer’s ad thought it was by Duracell, which hurt the former’s sales. A study supports the claim that repeating a competitor’s promotionsal strategy results in confusion, which only weakens brand association and recall.

The two bunnies settled the issue in court. The two companies agreed that Duracell can use the pink rabbit in Europe while Energizer reserves the right to advertise with the bunny in North America.

Burger King’s “Disturbing” King Mascot

Burger King provides another example of an ineffective use of a brand mascot. In the early 2000s, the fast-food chain hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky to try and capture a younger demographic. The result was a Burger King mascot donning a permanent grin that most people found disturbing.

To make things worse, the creepy mascot starred in even more disturbing commercials, depicting scenes where the king sneaks into bed with the main character or suddenly appears outside a woman’s bedroom window. And this seemed to impact Burger King’s sales.

Between 2003 and 2008, Burger King’s market share fell from 15.6 percent to 14.2 percent. This marks the period when the burger chain started acquiring Crispin’s services. At the same time, the market share of Burger King’s biggest competitor, McDonald’s, rose from 43.6 percent to 46.8 percent. McDonald’s average annual sales grew by 6.3 percent in this period, whereas Burger King only had a growth of 2.9 percent.

This incident highlights the importance of not only an experienced creative agency, but also strategic, insightful marketing content. So in 2011, Burger King let go of its partnership with Crispin Porter + Bogusky and dethroned the king mascot. But only to bring it back in 2015 as part of Floyd Mayweather’s entourage in his fight with Manny Pacquiao.

Dove’s Culturally Insensitive Ad

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Dove published a Facebook ad that drew flak as part of a campaign for a body wash. It’s a GIF that depicts a Nigerian model taking off a dark shirt to reveal a white woman wearing a lighter shirt. The way some consumers interpreted the ad was that the Nigerian model was the “before” model and the white woman was the “after” model.

Although there aren’t any reports about Dove’s financial performance during this controversy, the company gained massive backlash online. Social media users were quick to express their outrage about Dove’s tone-deaf and supposedly racist ad and the #BoycottDove trended on Twitter, especially since this directly opposes what the brand stands for: real beauty. The ad undermines Dove’s 13-year standing Real Beauty campaign, which brings the message that “You’re more beautiful than you think.”

Dove took down the clip and apologized in its Twitter account, saying that it “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.”

These three controversies show that brands shouldn’t aim for a viral post or ad. Instead, they should focus on how they can curate relevant content that captures a small yet accurately targeted audience.

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