Marketers & Advertisers Beware These Marketing Gaffs & Blunders

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Warning, these big promotional advertising blunders will either make you laugh or cringe in disbelief. But there are serious lessons to be learned for marketers at every level of experience that marketing can be a double-edged sword.

Let your diligence guard down and you may find yourself impaled on your own sword!

And with that in mind I could not resist sharing these 7 dumb advertising mistakes courtesy of Pawel Grabowski at Ad Espresso.

Advertising with a Serial Killer. 7 Dumb Mistakes Companies Have Made in Their Ads

… might say that mistakes are good, teaching us new stuff, there are some situations where even a small error could cause a huge problem.

Like a seemingly innocent photo an agency I freelanced for years ago used in an ad promoting a well-known bank in the UK. Whoever looked up the image on Google never checked who the person on the picture was (I’m leaving the fact that they didn’t clear the copyright either).

As it turned out, it was a picture of a serial killer mother, who also murdered her own children…

I’m sure you’ll agree; that’s certainly not an image you’d like to promote a bank with. Luckily, the client inquired about the image, and the whole mistake was spotted before the ad went to print. But imagine what would happen if they didn’t…

And so, in this week’s post, I decided to gather together similar advertising fails that actually went live.

But the purpose of this post is not to laugh at the advertisers’ mistakes. Instead, I want to show you how easy it is to mess up an ad… and never even realize it. So, in between laughs, think for a moment, if your company has processes in place to minimize a potential for similar errors.

Let’s begin.

#1. Playing Clever

Example of a sexual innuedo marketing mistake

Sexual innuedo marketing mistake

Every copywriter knows this: The role of a headline is to attract attention.

Next, it should communicate the offer. And finally, entice someone to read the rest of the ad.

But first and foremost, it should grab the viewer’s attention.

Many writers take this advice too literarily. They fall into the trap of using clever wordplay or puns in hope that the resulting headline will attract attention, and sell the product.

But more often than not, the customers’ only reaction is laughter. Like in the case of this ad…


I mean, what th-?!

#2. Using “Smart” Hashtags

Example marketing blunderI admit: Hashtags are amazing.

You string a couple of words together and BAM! As if by magic, you have something your followers can use to watch the conversation going or add something to it.

It’s just… sometimes joining words together produces results far from what you might expect.

Just like the team behind Susan Boyle’s album launch had discovered:

#susanalbumparty…really? Because, you know, I don’t think I want to read it out loud….

#3. Not Understanding the Topic

Agreed: Pictures can make the ad.

But for heaven’s sake, if you want the picture to work, make sure you use a relevant one, not just the first thing you’ve found online.

And this ad illustrates this mistake perfectly – a banner celebrating Women’s Wall of Honor, featuring… only blokes. I mean, c’mon!

Ad image not matching ad message

Ad image not matching ad message

#4. Killing It with Humor (Literarily)

Did you know: Funny ads attract the most attention, have the highest ad recall and generate brand recognition.

No surprise that so many advertisers try to inject some humor into their ads.

But here’s the catch: it’s darn hard to do so, especially if you’re trying to be smart at the same time.


Example of the dangers of humour in advertising

Humour in advertising can backfire

Kenneth Cole discovered that first hand, after poking fun at Syria on Twitter in an attempt to promote their products.

(And even though it’s not an ad, this example illustrates very well how dangerous using humor can be).

#5. Sleaziness

Poking fun at a competition isn’t anything new. And hey, if you do it well, it can result in some memorable ads that put the competitor to shame.

Virgin Airlines is a good example of this strategy done well. Poking fun at its rival, British Airways has become the staple of their advertising for quite some time.

For example, after introducing shiatsu massage cushions onboard, the company ran banner ads saying:

“British Airways doesn’t give a shiatsu!”

(Note, I’m quoting this ad from memory after reading about it in Richard Branson’s Book, The Virgin Way)

Needless to say, these banners made many an onlooker giggle… and remember the Virgin’s new offer.

But there’s a fine line between poking fun and being outright sleazy, something another airline, Easyjet discovered first hand. Funnily enough, they were trying to poke fun at British Airways too.

Easyjet responded to British Airway’s advertisement, saying “To Fly. To Serve” with their own ad, “To Fly, To Save”, featuring the following copy:

“When we launched 15 years ago, those four words summed up what we believed in. And they still do.

We don’t need to paint them on the tailfins, like some advertising slogan. That would just be a waste of your money.”

A result? Huge backlash and a massive social media fail when the company started removing negative comments…

#6. UGH, This One I Can’t Even Describe

advertising mistake by well know brandMistakes happen.

But it’s one thing when you overlook a missing comma in the ad…

…it’s another if you don’t notice that a QR code you included sends people to a porn site!

But that’s exactly what happened to Heinz.

A QR code the company used in Germany would open such a site. No kidding!


And yes, I agree, QR codes are way out of date. It doesn’t mean that companies don’t make similar mistakes….

#7. Using Sexist Themes
Ok, I get it: Sometimes the line between sexist and non-sexist ad can be blurry.

But how often companies outwardly cross it, without even realizing it?

IHOP, for example, used a suggestive image depicting a centrally butter-dolloped stack of pancakes with a tagline:

“Flat but has a GREAT personality”


sexual innuedo ad that goes wrong

IHOP marketing blunder

Within two hours the company posted an apology. And rightly so.

[Check Out the Original story at AdExpresso]

And following on from the above theme, who remembers these 2 great examples of big brand advertising blunders televised over the last few years that attempted - badly - to use sexual innuendo as humour, but getting it fantastically wrong!

1. The Snickers Mr T ad

In a 2012 Snickers commercial the company filmed Mr T in an action shot that saw him crashing through homes in hot chase of an effeminate male speed runner.

example of a bad advertising mistake by Snickers

The Big Mr T ad


Evidently Mr T did not think men should speed walk and so shot snicker bars from a Gatling-style gun at the male runner to man-up and run like a real man. Not surprisingly, gay rights movements did not see the ads' humour, accusing the company of approving of discrimination. The ad was pulled.

2. Ashton Kutcher's PopChips Ad

Popchips got into trouble with Ashton Kutcher's take of a bollywood producer who on referring to Kim Kadasian's "hot figure" said he would "give that dog a bone"!!!

Advertising mistake that will make you blush

The ads that make your blush


Ouch!! Not only was Kutcher's Indian accent appalling, which made the commercial all the more sleazy, surprisingly the professional writers hired by Popchips clearly didn't see anything untoward in that short 5 word sentence, which beggars belief.

Top tip of the day. Don't make any of these mistakes!!!

Hope you enjoyed these funny but educational marketing mistakes that all businesses and marketers can learn from.