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7 epic marketing fails of 2015


Call it the season for schadenfreude. Or maybe it's the time of year when you breathe a sigh of relief that your brand didn't make it onto this list of marketing fails. Either way, it's that special time when we take a moment to reflect on some of the worst marketing moves in 2015.


Most fails require a single apology, but this year Bic really outdid itself with an ad that required two apologies. Here's a Tweet of an ad Bic ran for National Women's Day in South Africa.

Predictably, the ad caused an uproar online, but Bic fanned those flames with a half-hearted apology (later deleted). Eventually, Bic took to its Facebook page to make things right with a full apology.

"Hi everyone," the brand wrote on Facebook. "Let's start out by saying we're incredibly sorry for offending everybody -- that was never our intention, but we completely understand where we've gone wrong. This post should never have gone out. The feedback you have given us will help us ensure that something like this will never happen again, and we appreciate that."

Kind of amazing when you think about it. The copy offended "everybody," yet Bic needed online feedback to "ensure that something like this will never happen again." Perhaps Bic's marketing department should revisit this episode as a hiring opportunity.


So IHOP tried to make a joke about women's breasts and failed. In retrospect, it's hard to see how a joke like that could go well, since there's nothing gendered, sexual, or anatomical about the IHOP brand, or pancakes for that matter. Predictably, the internet slammed IHOP and IHOP apologized. But that's what's so dumb about this fail -- it was totally predictable. Sure, some low-level marketing rookie, or maybe even an intern probably sent the offending Tweet. And yes, we're sure the culprit was reprimanded. But how on Earth did someone with such poor judgment get access to the brand's Twitter account in the first place? After all, anyone who has spent at least an hour on the internet in the past three years would know that a restaurant brand making a joke like that would only cause problems.


Christmas sweaters are a thing. And thanks to the internet, ugly Christmas sweaters are also a thing. But the idea behind an ugly sweater is to poke fun at the unflattering aesthetics of the holiday garment, not people who suffer from a mental health disorder.

But despite claims that Target was making fun of people with a mental health disorder, the brand said it plans to continue selling the sweater. Still, Target did offer an apology.

"We never want to disappoint our guests and we apologize for any discomfort."

And that's exactly why the OCD sweater episode is a fail for Target. If your brand has done something wrong, you apologize. But if you need to apologize, you also need to be accountable and stop doing the thing that brought about the apology in the first place. Apologizing while continuing to sell the sweater is just paying lip service to your customers; it's a disingenuous move. What Target did here was acknowledge that it made a mistake on one hand, but then on the other hand, it said it would keep making that mistake.


Hacks happen. All brands are vulnerable no matter how good their security measures are. So when hackers attacked Chipotle's Twitter account and posted racist messages, it wasn't exactly a brand fail. And of course, Chipotle was quick to apologize, even though the offending messages came from the hackers, not the brand's marketing team. But the incident reminded some that Chipotle had faked a hack on its Twitter account a few years back. At the time, that "hack" looked like a silly stunt, but in the aftermath of an actual hack, that kind of move looks especially naïve because in combination, the real hack and the fake hack only serve to diminish the veracity of the Chipotle brand.


Travelers love Airbnb. Homeowners love it too. But the service has drawn criticism from some cities because of its impact on the local rental market. When that fight came to San Francisco this year, Airbnb tried to sway public opinion with an outdoor ad campaign. The trouble was, that campaign came across as petty and passive aggressive, and according to some reports, really pissed some people off.


It's hard to see how the art and copy in this ad got approved, but somehow it did. Then again, Bloomingdale's is only the latest brand to put out an ad with a wink and a nod to date rape.

In a statement, Bloomingdale's apologized for the ad.

"In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale's sincerely apologizes for this error in judgment."

While the apology was the right thing to do, it's hard to see why the brand didn't see the problem until after they got feedback from their customers. Also, why does the guy in the art look like such a creeper?

Osaka department store

Obviously, something got lost in translation. And while it's nice to see that this department store in Osaka, Japan was excited about its sale, we'd encourage them to run their English language copy through Google Translate before sending it out for production.

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"Girl having computer problems" image via iStock.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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