What Your Business Can Learn from These Marketing Hits and Misses

by | Aug 1, 2021 | Business, Content Marketing

Marketing can be the key to the success of any business, and knowing how to use it to your advantage can bring in substantial return on your investment. Sometimes, however, marketing can fail and, in the worse cases, leave consumers actively avoiding your brand. Sometimes, knowing how not to market your business can be as advantageous as knowing how to. Below are some examples of recent misses and successes in marketing.

Miss: Airbnb’s “Kindness Card” Campaign

The COVID-19 Pandemic had a negative financial impact on millions of Americans, and the owners of Airbnb were no exception to financial losses. In an attempt to help those people who owned Airbnbs, the company, in the midst of the pandemic, sent out an email to people who had previously stayed at an Airbnb.

In this email, Airbnb urged people to send a virtual “kindness card” to the Airbnb owners they had previously stayed with. With this card, they could include a monetary donation. The company felt that this would help Airbnb owners make up some of their lost income.

Why It Failed

In the middle of the pandemic, it was estimated that 30-40 million Americans were in danger of facing eviction in the coming months. This fact was taking a psychological toll on those who were already struggling with the stress and uncertainty of the global crisis. Many felt that asking to donate money to Airbnb owners when so many people faced their own eviction was in bad taste.

People went on to point out that while most Airbnb owners may be losing income, they still owned a house or property. Sometimes, people were asked to send money and kindness cards to people who owned multi-million dollars houses. Many felt it was tone-deaf and even insulting.

Lesson To Take Away

Consumers do not look favorably on brands when they feel they are operating strictly for profit, especially during a crisis like the pandemic. One survey found that four out of five people could name a brand that they felt responded positively to the pandemic with acts that were perceived as helping others during the crisis. This significantly increased their brand loyalty. On the other hand, people who felt a brand didn’t care what they were going through were much more likely to walk away from that brand.

Success: Fitbit “#MyReasonIs” Campaign

Fitbit’s Digital Marketing “#MyReasonIs” took success stories from Fitbit users and highlighted them. Showing inspirational stories from real users showed the very real ways that a Fitbit and its sports app could change people’s lives. This campaign included videos and blog posts that could be found on the internet and social media.

Why It Worked

The “#MyReasonIs” resonated with consumers because it demonstrated the real, specific impact Fitbit could have on their own life. The message felt personal and that there were real humans behind the marketing.

People like to hear about others overcoming hardships, and putting real faces on the product in a digital setting felt more intimate than a person who may or may not be a paid actor speaking on a television screen.

Lesson To Take Away

Consumers do not respond to messages that feel inauthentic. A marketing campaign that can demonstrate a company cares about their consumers’ health and that their product can produce specific outcomes resonates with an audience.

Miss: Coca Cola’s “Make Your Own Label” Campaign

As summer approached in 2021, the Coca-Cola Company launched a campaign where a consumer could go to its website, create a custom label, and order bottles of Coke with that label attached to it. The customization included user-generated custom text and a choice of backgrounds. The idea was that it would be fun for a consumer to make a specialized bottle of Coke that could express their thoughts and personalities.

Why It Failed

People using the service quickly tested the waters to see what controversial, hurtful, and negative comments they could get away with having printed on their labels. While the program blocked some slurs and hurtful phrases, the system was far from foolproof. People soon found that there many offensive phrases, including racist and homophobic slurs, and were not blocked, especially if they got creative.

People also found that causes they felt strongly for were blocked from being represented. For example, “Black Lives Matter” was banned from the system (although “White Lives Matter” could be printed).

Lesson To Take Away

A marketing campaign should never set itself up to have to police what is expressed by their consumers on their product. What a company decides to allow or block can end up being hurtful. For example, “Gay Pride” was blocked by Coca-Cola, and it felt like a slap in the face to the LGTBQ+ community.

Success: Gillette’s “The Best A Man Can Be” Campaign

In 2019, Gillette released a short film, “The Best A Man Can Be,” on YouTube. The film encouraged people to questions and redefine what their idea of “being a man” meant. It confronted issues such as toxic masculinity, bullying, and sexual harassment. It even questioned its own past ad practices, acknowledging its problematic past messages and that everyone should question their beliefs.

Why It Succeeded

Gillette’s ad campaign resonated with the changing times. Airing in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, it acknowledged that things needed changing. It clearly defined values of what the company believed in and backed these values up with the promise to donate $3 million dollars over the next three years to non-profits dedicated to men. The short film gained over 30 million views and had great exposure over social media.

Lessons To Take Away

An ad campaign that clearly defines what a brand stands for will resonate with an audience. While there was a small backlash against Gillette, the overwhelming success of the campaign overshadowed it. There was a #boycottGillette hashtag, but it took up less than 4% of the conversation on all social media.

Miss: The Pepsi “Kendall Jenner Protest Ad”

In 2017, Pepsi ran an ad featuring Kendall Jenner joining a random protest that looks like it will end with the conflict, and perhaps violence, with the police. The reason for the protest is not given, showing only that there is a crowd marching down the street and tensions are quickly growing between them and the police force. These tensions subside once Jenner gives a police officer a can of Pepsi and everyone cheers.

Why It Failed

The protests in the commercial felt very much like The Black Lives Matter protests going on in the United States and the world during that time. Many people found it in poor taste to suggest that very serious issues such as racism could be solved simply with a can of Pepsi. It didn’t help that Jenner, worth 18 million dollars, seemed like an elitist making light of the situation and cashing in on the movement.

Lesson To Take Away

While some have suggested that this ad failed is because it was too political, the real failure seems to be that the values being promoted by Pepsi were superficial. The truth is, the Gillette ad had many political implications, but their beliefs were clearly standing up for something. Pepsi’s ad didn’t have a cause attached to it and felt inauthentic and cheap.

Learn From Mistakes

Sometimes, in marketing, the best intentions can end up being horrible for a brand. Forgetting to take into account what your consumers are personally going through is a sure way to begin making missteps.


Cameron Contois