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Sometimes Even the Best Brands Strike Out

January 14, 2021

Successful marketing depends on two things: having a good understanding of your audience and using what you know about them to create value. Some brands do this through humor, others by tugging at the heart strings.

“Successful marketing depends on two things: knowing your audience and creating value.” – Click to tweet

Brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Nike are well known for their hugely effective marketing campaigns. But sometimes even the best brands strike out. Like in these four examples of global marketing gone wrong.

Dehydrate with Coca-Cola in Saudi Arabia

In a webinar on the importance of having a global mindset, Thunderbird professor Mansour Javidan, Ph.D. presented a humorous example that illustrates the challenges of cross-cultural marketing. The story was about a Coca-Cola salesman’s misadventures in Saudi Arabia. The salesman didn’t speak Arabic so he decided to make his sales pitch via a series of three posters, which were posted around the country like so:

Coca Cola Posters

The problem? Saudis read from right to left. Definitely not the message Coca-Cola wanted to send. Not surprisingly, the salesman’s overseas post was short-lived.

“How can you avoid embarrassing marketing mistakes? Get to know your audience.” – Click to tweet

Finally, a pen just for women! No?

Bic Pen for Women

A mocking Facebook post from employees of Innocent who were sent Bic for Her pens to celebrate International Women’s Day. Photo credit: Womenyoushouldknow.net

Good marketing requires understanding a social environment and how your audience might relate to it. In this marketing-gone-wrong example, Bic clearly did not. In 2012, at the start of what is now referred to as the fourth wave of the women’s movement, Bic launched a new line of pens, just for women. ‘Bic for Her’ pens came in purple and pink (with bedazzling) and were “designed to fit comfortably in a woman's hand.”

This out-of-touch product release was met with sarcastic Amazon reviews, a series of scorning social media posts, and even a mocking commercial created by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, well-known for her stance on gender equality. In response, Bic apologized and expressed its support for and “celebration” of women – a value lost in translation. 

“Good marketing requires knowing what your audience wants and needs – and doesn’t.” – Click to tweet

Real beauty or real racist?  

Dove Global Marketing Gone Wrong

Photo Credit: @NayTheMua via The Gaurdian

With its position on positive body image made clear through the “Real Beauty” campaign, Dove is a perfect example of a company that knows its audience well and knows how to create value for that audience. Usually. The company did indeed “miss the mark” on an ad it produced earlier this year which showed a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman.

“There’s a fine line between bold marketing and offensive marketing.” – Click to tweet

Accusations of racism flooded social media and news outlets, with many people questioning, “Just what mark were you trying to hit, Dove?” The company issued an apology, but many people continued with the #BoycottDove Twitter campaign. The moral of the story: There’s a fine line between bold marketing and offensive marketing.

Pizza Hut’s hunger strike ad strikes out

Pizza Hut Marketing Gone Wrong

Photo credit: yournewswire.com


Many brands have found great success using current events to create ads that resonate with their target audience – but only when done with great care and tact. If a company isn’t careful, using current events can totally backfire. Like when Pizza Hut poked fun at Palestinian hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti after a video was released of him eating candy and cookies in his prison cell. 

“Using current events to create ads that resonate with and engage your target audience can lead to great success, but only when done with great care and tact.” – Click to tweet

Pizza Hut ran an ad on Facebook with the message, “Barghouti, if you are already going to break the hunger strike, isn’t pizza better?” Unsurprisingly, people didn’t think the jab was very funny and launched a boycott of the fast-food chain on Twitter.

Lesson learned? Cultural sensitivity is a critical element in marketing.

These examples go to show that successful marketing depends on a combination of a deep understanding of your audience, creativity, and tact. With all three elements in place you can avoid marketing fails like these.  

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