Big Brand Mistakes And Worst Marketing Campaigns

Sometimes, even the biggest brands can manage to make mistakes in their marketing campaigns –Whether it be a poor “revisioning” of a popular product, unappealing ads, or losing touch with consumers and creating content that doesn’t capture what people really want. We’ve delved into successful marketing campaigns in the past, but now let’s have a look at some of the worst campaigns that were launched for major brands and why they failed so hard with consumers.

New Coke

In April of 1985, the Coca-Cola company made what would later be considered one of the worst moves in marketing history with the release of their newest product at the time, “New Coke.”

New Coke was the first time the company had deviated from their signature formula in 100 years, but after noticing shares for the original Coke were falling, the company decided it was time to reinvent their brand and try something new, a decision that ended up leading to disastrous results. Almost immediately after New Coke was presented to the general public, consumer outcry for the return of the beloved soft drink in its original form echoed throughout the country – thousands of angry phone calls and letters were sent to the company and grassroots campaigns were started in order to force Coca-Cola to bring back the original formula. It took only a few months into the launch of New Coke before it was decided, after backlash from press and fans alike, that the return of Coke’s original formula was underway. “We’re bringing it back, the original taste of Coca-Cola returns as Coca-Cola Classic and soon America will have a real choice: the new taste of Coke or the original taste of Coca-Cola Classic,” a quote from the president of the Coca-Cola company during a television commercial announcing the former formula’s return.

New Coke was eventually taken off the shelves completely, at least in the U.S., and by the end of 1985, sales for Coca-Cola Classic were soaring, outselling New Coke and competing soft drinks at the time.

Why It Failed:

Despite a slight dip in sales at the time, the original recipe for Coca-Cola was enjoyed by consumers. The saying, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” applies greatly to this example of a marketing failure – people genuinely enjoyed the brand as it was, so to take an already perfected formula and throw it out for an experimental re-imagining, it went against everything consumers wanted at the time.

Consumers decide on what to buy based on what they know – meaning that brands that are familiar to them, that they enjoy, will typically beat out the unfamiliar; Therefore, throwing out the original formula in exchange for a brand-new product took away the people’s ability to choose and instead forced the new formula onto consumers when it wasn’t needed.

Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad

In April 2017, Pepsi launched their “Live for Now – Moments” marketing campaign in hopes of appealing to millennials with a message of peace and unity among the people. The television commercial in question depicts Keeping Up with the Kardashians star Kendall Jenner approaching a police officer during a Black Lives Matter protest and offering a can of Pepsi. The beverage which protestors can be seen drinking throughout the ad effectively turned a tension-filled standoff into a peaceful celebration of unity amongst officers and protestors alike.

Immediately after the commercial was aired, social media was alight with complaints about the ad – deeming it insensitive, unrealistic, and just a cringy attempt in general to communicate with younger audiences on current issues going on in the U.S. during that period.

Following the backlash that ensued upon the commercial’s release, it was pulled from television and Pepsi released a statement apologizing, saying, “Trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize.”

Why It Failed:

Beyond the obvious fact that making light of a serious situation in hopes of promoting the sale of your product is a bad idea, Pepsi also failed to create a successful marketing campaign because they opted to use an in-house creative team to develop the campaign in place of an actual marketing agency to save money. Any marketing expert could tell you that Pepsi’s campaign was destined to fail due to its tone-deaf methods of reaching out to the public. Had Pepsi spent just a little bit more in their big budget campaign to employ the right marketing agency, they likely would’ve avoided the whole fiasco.

GAP’s New Logo

In 2016, the fashion retailer GAP completely redesigned the logo which had been synonymous with their company since 1986. The original design featured a deep blue background with white, lengthened serif letters that spelled out the brand’s name. In the updated version, however, the blue square background had been minimized, re-shaded, and moved to the upper right-hand corner of the logo. The letters “A” and “P” were also made lowercase and printed instead in black, sans-serif Helvetica lettering. While GAP’s choice to change their iconic logo may not seem like a big deal, it was. In fact, the disdain for the new logo was so great that the company changed the design back only days after launching the new one.

People just didn’t like the updated logo – they deemed it an eyesore rather than an improvement for the company. Additionally, many felt that Gap’s attempt to evolve their brand simply by changing up their design lacked any meaningful change or effort to grow as a company.

Why It Failed:

In short, GAP’s logo re-design was not appealing to consumers – they hated it and they let that be known. If you’re looking to change up a design that’s already well-established with your brand and generally well-received by your audience, it’s important that you find designers that know what works and what consumers like. Your logo is the face of your brand and how people will recognize your products. If you create something that’s uninspired and unappealing, people likely aren’t going to want it, regardless of the quality of your goods.  

Starbucks’ #SpreadTheCheer Campaign


Since the coffee giant Starbucks opened their first store in 1971 at Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, Washington, their booming success has led to the chain expanding to a whopping 31,256 stores globally as of 2019. While the majority of the popular coffeehouses’ marketing endeavors have been well-received, some were quick to fall flat with consumers.

The company’s #SpreadTheCheer was a perfect example of such an instance. During Christmas time of 2012, Starbucks launched the #SpreadTheCheer campaign through Twitter encouraging fans to spread some holiday cheer via the social media platform. What was meant to be a light-hearted holiday call to action, however, quickly turned ugly when the company began receiving dozens of tweets using their campaign’s hashtag to send negative comments regarding Starbucks’ treatment of their staff. At the time, the company was reducing paid lunch breaks, maternity benefits, and sick leaves for their employees in the U.K. Only adding insult to injury, Starbucks was unknowingly displaying the angry tweets with their campaign’s hashtag on a screen at the Natural History Museum in London, where the coffeehouse sponsors a Christmas ice rink.

Why It Failed:

The issues here are pretty obvious. Starbucks was trying to project this image of Christmas cheer, when in reality they were being a Scrooge to their employees. Attempting to dress the brand up in bows and wrapping paper wasn’t going to be enough to convince the masses that the company had suddenly changed their ways. The point is, your employees are what keep your business running smoothly, they’re the ones out there every day representing your brand, meaning they should never be taken for granted. When you treat your employees poorly, people are going to find out, and no amount of bells and whistles in your marketing campaign are going to make that fact any less apparent. Don’t use campaigns as a means to sweep your company’s dirt under the rug, it’s almost always going to backfire.

The Bottom Line

Marketing is more than just dressing up a product or company to look good, it’s about understanding how people think, what they like, and what will speak to them most. If you can discover what your audience really likes about what they’re buying, even down to the smallest details, you’ll have the tools you need to create a successful brand name. Once you’ve found success, however, it’s important that you never lose touch with what consumers expect of your brand. While marketing isn’t rocket-science, it’s still important to make sure that the people you’re entrusting your company’s image with are reliable, knowledgeable, and understand what it takes to succeed. Looking for marketing experts to help you reliably launch a successful campaign for your brand? Call Olive Group today and schedule a meeting.