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6 Times Marketing Campaigns Backfired – And How You Can Avoid It


To grab the attention of your target audience, marketing is crucial. That’s why marketing teams try each year to bend themselves to the consumer’s desires and create a campaign that will resonate with them.

However, not every attempt lands the company more sales and brand loyalty. Instead, a poorly informed marketing campaign can have long-lasting adverse effects.

Marketing campaigns backfire because brands fail to rely on consumer insights or engage with market research companies. As a result, they wrong guessed what their audience wanted to see and were subsequently punished.

In this post, we’ll explore a few such cases.

  1. Proactiv’s “Got Acne?” Campaign

Beauty products generally aim to help their customers feel beautiful and comfortable in their own skin. This is the focus of significant brands today, at least. Proactive didn’t get the message when they released a campaign targeted directly at their customer’s insecurities.

Their anti-acne product was advertised with the slogan “Got Acne? Just ask your boyfriend what to do. Oh, that’s right, you don’t have a boyfriend.”

Unsurprisingly, audiences were not impressed. There was even a male version of the product with the same slogan reversed. The campaign inspired a petition against the company at, which isn’t the kind of publicity you want.

  1. Pepsi’s ad with Kendall Jenner

Pepsi tried to create a campaign that would thrive on the spirit of unity and join forces to make positive change in the world. The ad was released in 2017 and depicted famous Kardashian Kendall Jenner joining in at the forefront of a protest. Towards the end of the ad, she hands a can of Pepsi to one of the policemen standing opposed to the protesters.

The ad painted a remarkably tone-deaf picture of the severe injustices the Black Lives Matter Movement was trying to fight at the time. It painted a romantic image of unity, peace and understanding that simply wasn’t felt by the masses. Pepsi was heavily criticised for the ad, and Kendall Jenner apologised for her involvement.

  1. Axe Found Its Niche

Axe decided to market its ads to a category of a man they had deemed to be a likely axe user around the time the ad launched. The target audience was “insecure novice” – a man stereotypically assumed to be awkward around women with no idea of what they were “doing”. Their ad showed this target group being irresistible to women – with the latter literally falling from the sky to follow the confused young man for his deodorant scent alone.

Unfortunately for Axe, this ad outlined their target audience so clearly that their brand soon after became associated with this particular type of man. It took on some negative connotations and is now widely known as a deodorant for teenage boys.

  1. Dove’s Body Positive Soap Bottles

You read that right. Dove has long been known as a beauty brand that features real women in positive ways. They have succeeded in doing this many times over, and their “Real Beauty” campaigns have been running effectively for over a decade.

However, following one such campaign, Doves released a limited edition packaging in England with seven different shaped soap bottles that aimed to represent the various figures of women. This backfired as many women couldn’t find themselves represented amidst these bottles and were now forced to compare themselves to the closest possible fit. This led to insecurity and offence on social media, and the packaging line became a punchline and source for concern on Twitter and Facebook.

  1. Sony’s Play station Ad: “White is Coming”

When Sony promoted their new white PlayStation portable in 2006, they made a grief error in choosing the wording and imagery for their campaign.

The print campaign showed a white woman grabbing the face of a black woman, who looks in comparison to her counterpart passive and even submissive. This wasn’t helped by the tagline that read “White is Coming”.

Whilst Sony might have intended for the ad to simply highlight the contrast between the device’s colours, it was very poorly received and found Sony accused of Racism.

  1. Adidas’ Boston Marathon Email

If reading that headline immediately evokes thoughts of tragedy, you might hope that anyone advertising around the time would equally appreciate the gravity of the Boston marathon in 2017.

However, Adidas’ customers who participated in the marathon at the time received an email shortly after that read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

Under normal circumstances, this formulation wouldn’t have upset anyone. However, as this was sent with the memory of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing still very much alive, people were naturally offended.

How to Avoid Marketing Fails Like this

Many of these advertising missteps leave us with a feeling of abject horror, or at the very least third-hand embarrassment! What makes these campaigns worse is that they could easily have been avoided with proper market research.


ZAK is a consumer insight company based in London, and we work closely with our network of U-30 consumers to understand their needs and complex opinions. We appreciate that it’s crucial to stand behind issues that matter to your target audience in today’s age and take the time to understand their individuality and perspective.

Get in touch today if you want to learn more about your target audience.