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  • Writer's pictureCULT Marketing

4 Truly Horrific Marketing Fails That Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine

Halloween Skeletons talking about Marketing Fails

On a dark dark street, there is a dark dark house, and in the dark dark house is a dark dark cellar, and in the dark dark cellar are.... the horror stories that have haunted marketers for decades!

As the Halloween season is upon us, why not indulge in some of the spine chilling real-life marketing horror stories, and learn how you can avoid repeating history.


1. Tesco’s Horrifyingly Mistimed “Hit The Hay” Tweet

First up, back in 2013, while consumers were horrified by the horsemeat scandal, one unaware social marketing intern posted a tweet that would shine the spotlight back onto the UK retailer.

Tesco Twitter Fail Example: "It's sleepy time so we're off to hit the hay!"

On its own, the tweet would have been innocent enough, however in the midst of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, the tweet caused Tesco to be labeled as insensitive and resulted in a public apology being issued.

This is not the first time, and it won't be the last, that a brand has trusted one of their most valuable marketing assets in the less-experienced hands of an intern. Naively many business owners assume that because we all use social media within our personal lives, that they don’t need a trained marketer to manage their brand's social media presence. However, this is a risky move as one wrong tweet can be more deadly than meeting Count Dracula in the dead of night.

2. Fashion Retailer Gap: Resurrection Of The Dead (Logo)

You could be forgiven for missing this marketing faux pas, as the horror was over as quickly as it started. Back in 2010, Gap unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, buried the classic Gap logo that had served them well for over 20 years. Often reported as one of the quickest rebrand projects, it’s no surprise that this vanity project fell flat on its face as Gap launched a new logo with no explanation or reasoning.

Following ridicule from the industry and rejection from their customers, after just six days, Gap resurrected their old logo and put the “new logo" 10ft underground for good.

What’s scarier is that had Gap not rushed through the rebranding process, completed stakeholder research with customers, and taken the new identity into testing, they would have saved themselves the humiliation as well as the whole in their pocket. So next time you think about a rebrand to improve sales, ask yourself is that what is at the route of your problems, or is there something else more fundamental like your product offering?

3. BMWs Great Houdini’s Vanishing Act

Back in 2006, BMW unexpectedly vanished from search results after they received a sanction from Google. The popular car manufacturer was removed from Google's organic search listings for three days after being caught manipulating search results to rank in position one for the search term “used cars”. BMW achieved this by deploying a technique known as "cloaking" where they redirected the user to their regular new car sales page when users clicked the listing.

So next time you fancy channeling some of the Great Houdini’s magic for your organic rankings, think again! Keeping your activity inline with Google’s rules and regulations is always the best course of action, even if it not as quick as a magic wand.

4. Hoover’s Customer Torture Act

Last but not least, I couldn’t create a blog about marketing fails without sharing one of the most epic marketing fails of all time and one that ultimately cost Hoover everything. Now nearly 30 years on, when I tell the tale to fresh-faced marketers they look at me in disbelief as if a spooky tail has been made up to scare marketers.

Back in the early 90s, household brand Hoover was facing dwindling sales as recession spread across much of the western world. Determined to turn things around, Hover partnered with a small travel agency to offer two return-trip plane tickets to any destination in Europe with any qualifying purchase over £100. Despite advice from consultants and Hoover knowing that if everyone applied they’d be in trouble, the team continued to move forward with the promotion but simply made the process as hard as possible to deter people from applying. After a successful launch on TV and Newspapers (this was the 90s after all!) Hoover’s sales were soaring… so they decided to go bigger, making a decision that would ultimately destroy their reputation and customer loyalty.

Hoover expanded the offer to include flights to America.

Hoover 1993 Marketing Fail Advert

As the take-up of the offer spiraled out of control, Hoover did everything they could to prevent customers from receiving the offer. They made the process impossible, they lied about losing paperwork, they deliberately offered flights from airports miles away.

It wasn’t long before the public found out that not a single flight had been granted, and they revolted. By 1993, Hoover was reporting catastrophic losses and their parent company was ordered to cover the equivalent of $72m on flights, however, this still left many customers without what Hoover had promised.

So why does this story make it to the top of this list? Well, I guess you can say I was one of the lucky ones… at 4 years old I took a family trip to Disneyworld, courtesy of Hoover, so this story is naturally close to my heart! But what's more, this horrifying tale is a warning of what can happen if your marketing campaigns don’t make financial sense and you don’t deliver on your promise to customers.

For years after the scandal, Hoover’s products were labeled as less reliable, their market share dropped from over 50% to less than 10%, and the British Royal Family even withdrew their Royal Warrant. So next time you have a great promotional offer, be sure to make sure it costs in AND that you can deliver on your promise!


Is your marketing giving your nightmares and sleepless nights? Schedule a free no-obligation chat to see how CULT could help you overcome your fears.



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