Many of us are cooped up at home right now, trying to while away the hours, maintain sanity, and do our bit for the cause.

Luckily for humankind, the internet exists, and it’s packed full of fantastic content that delights, engages, and informs, all at the same time.

As a creative marketing agency, we like to write entertaining stuff about – you guessed it – marketing. In honour of April Fool’s Day, traditionally a time for pranks galore, we decided to throw in a wildcard, have a little fun, and hopefully give rise to a (self-isolated) chuckle or two…we could all do with some levity at the moment.

Introducing 5 of the best marketing blunders…some might surprise you.

1. Burger King

It started with a tweet, fired off from Burger King’s official account:

Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK. #justsaying.

What’s the big deal? Turns out, it was a whopper of a deal.

‘Milkshaking’ – throwing a milkshake at a political figure in an act of protest – was growing in popularity at the time of the tweet. The majority of the Scottish public stood in strong opposition to Brexit, and chief Brexit cheerleader Nigel Farage was due to make several public appearances in Scotland…see where I’m going with this?

Milk splash

To discourage milkshake vigilantes, McDonald’s restaurants in Edinburgh publicised their decision to refrain from selling milkshakes at times when Farage was due to speak. So, what did Burger King do? Advertise the availability of its own milky drinks.

Burger King has enjoyed a sizeable slice of success piggybacking on trending topical moments with timeliness and wit, but, on this occasion, it didn’t go down so well. The Advertising Standards Authority stepped in and banned the tweet, ruling that it had the potential to incite “anti-social behaviour”.

Learning:

Now more than ever, the public expects brands to tackle social issues, but it’s important not to shoot from the hip. Whilst a little controversy can boost customer engagement, it’s always wise to proceed with caution and sensitivity when commentating.

2. Gap

In a bid to modernise their look, Gap invested in a shiny (probably pricey) new logo, back in 2010.

The logo lasted…six days. The problem was that, in a bid to reinvent its image and win over a younger, trend-conscious crowd, the clothing retailer lost sight of its target buyer personas.

Gap’s loyal customers are people who want good-quality basics suited to everyday life. They’re not looking for fads or hyper-fashionable looks straight off the runway.

When the new logo premiered, many felt that Gap was cutting ties with its original brand identity – one they had come to love. The customer base felt alienated by the replacement logo and Gap had some major face-saving to do.

Learning:

Consistency is everything when it comes to brand identity, so never lose sight of the qualities that drew customers to you in the first place. These qualities should govern every move you make, whether you’re considering a full rebrand or simply posting on Instagram.

3. Walkers

A much-loved snack manufacturer, Walkers is known for its tasty, colourfully packaged crisps and widely popular marketing campaigns featuring stars such as Mariah Carey.

Crisps

Things went awry when Walkers decided to kick off a social media campaign that asked customers to post selfies and compete for a chance to win tickets to the UEFA Champions League final. Thing is, not everyone wanted to send in a selfie. Some thought it would be more amusing to submit photos of notorious serial killers, criminals, and other less than savoury characters.

It gets worse though. Every time users sent their selfies to the corporate account, an automated bot added them to an animated video featuring Walkers ambassador Gary Lineker holding up their ‘portrait’.

Soon enough, the faces of Harold Shipman, Peter Sutcliffe, and more were popping up in #WalkersWave clips promoted by the official Walkers account. A PR nightmare, to say the least.

Learning:

Prior to launching a new campaign, consider the best and worst-case scenarios. Take the time to determine the correct safeguarding measures, taking extra care if you’re integrating automated processes.

4. Starbucks

The release of the new Starbucks blonde espresso went out with more of a stifled snicker than a bang.

Billed as a sweeter, less punchy option than the classic Starbucks options, the blonde espresso’s grand unveiling was undermined by messaging that seemed to obfuscate its perks rather than platform them.

A vibrant yellow advert featuring the drink featured copy that read:

“Who says espresso has to be intense? We have for 43 years. But we’re Starbucks Coffee Company. So we did the exact opposite.”

Um…right. Whilst people could just about work out what Starbucks was trying to communicate, an attempt to be playful and hip read like absurdist marketing-speak. And does anyone feel comfortable ordering a ‘tall blonde’?

Learning:

When it comes to copy, never prioritise style over substance. Keep it clear, impactful, and consistent with your brand – that’s what sells.

5. Dominos

Last, but by no means less ridiculous, comes Domino’s Forever, the misguided Domino’s campaign of 2018.

Trouble started brewing when the Russian arm of the brand offered 100 free pizzas – every year for 100 years – to customers who tattooed the Domino’s logo on their flesh.

Pizza boxes

“Barely anyone will actually do it, but it will generate so much buzz”, I imagine the marketing execs agreeing. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. Hundreds of posts from newly branded pizza-addicts piled in.

After the horse had well and truly bolted, Domino’s hastily issued a list of restrictions, including a 350-person limit on the offer and specified size requirements for eligible tattoos. This attempt at damage control failed and, after only a few days, the pizza chain had to do away with the offer entirely, as thousands of eager pizza fans kept on signing up.

Learning:

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you decide to run a promotion, clearly define the terms of any offers you make, and ensure you can adequately accommodate customers’ expectations.

Marketing that gets you noticed (for the right reasons)

When it’s done well, your marketing can act as the rocket fuel that drives your business forward – even in these uncertain times.

Team Resolution has over a decade of experience in delivering exceptional marketing that stays true to our clients’ values. We’ll get you noticed for the right reasons – no figurative banana skins in sight.

If you’d like to find out how we can help you, let’s chat.

Written by. Amalie Bleackley

Amalie Bleackley