Dating website Match.com ads in London’s underground suggested that red hair and freckles were “imperfections.” The Twitterverse lashed back — with some formal complaints filed with the Advertising Standards Authority.
As a general rule, throwing shade on physical features isn’t a smart call in marketing. Match.com responded by issuing a public apology and taking down the offending billboards.
Political climate and integrating customer feedback is a key to brand management. Marketing isn’t meant to be developed within a silo. Marketers should reach out to their colleagues in finance, sales, customer service, product and engineering for valuable help and guidance.
Branding is a feeling. Do not jump on the wrong wave. Do not use bad news to do your marketing or get into a big mess on accident.
Cheerios recently received the pushback for acknowledging the passing of Prince in a tweet, which was meant to pay tribute to the music giant, that read “Rest in peace” with a Cheerio where the dot above the “i” would be. The sign was in purple and tagged #prince.
Fans felt the tweet was insensitive and used the musician’s death for company gain. So Cheerios quickly apologized and removed it.
‘Racially insensitive’ Gap ad
Gap got in hot water this April, after it ran a photo that was deemed by some as “racially insensitive” as part of an ad campaign featuring four young girls who are part of traveling circus Le Petit Cirque.
The photo in question features a taller Caucasian girl propping her arm on top of the head of a shorter African American girl.
Gap announced the Le Petit Cirque campaign, and the Twitter backlash was swift. Gap quickly issued a public apology and replaced the offending picture from its campaign.
Bloomingdale’s holiday ad suggesting date rape drug
Bloomingdale’s holiday catalog ran an ad 2015 Christmastime that earned the clothing retailer some serious flack. The ad featured a woman dressed up for a holiday party laughing while a man looks at her.The scene is captioned: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”
The backlash was immediate. Tweets spewed outrage over the ad, which many thought suggested date rape.
More suggestions of ‘date rape’ from Bud Light
In this no-means-no day and age, Anheuser Busch made a big mistake in its #UpforWhatever campaign that launched last year when it printed the tagline on a Bud Light bottle:
“The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever”
The tagline instigated a storm of criticism on social media, from outrage that the tagline promotes reckless drinking to accusations that it promotes sexual assault.
Following the pushback, Bud Light said, “It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.”
Sprint calls T-Mobile ‘ghetto’
A recent Sprint advertisement earned the company accusations about race and class insensitivity. CEO Marcelo Claure was speaking to customers in a video about their perceptions of phone service:
“I’m going to tell you a carrier name and I want you to basically tell me what comes to your mind.” When he says, “T-Mobile,” a Caucasian woman responds that the first word that enters her mind is “ghetto.”
Angry tweets followed the release of the Sprint video. At one point, the company’s CEO responded to the outrage on Twitter by attempting to justify the video’s contents, tweeting “Sometimes, the truth hurts.”
However, Claure soon caved to public demand, tweeting that he was taking the offending ad down.
Fiat car maker writes creepy letters to Spanish women
In 1992, Fiat launched a direct marketing campaign targeting independent working women in Spain. Targeting being the key word, because the campaign’s execution came off as creepy and stalkerish.
Fiat mailed anonymous love letters addressed to 50,000 women — with no indication that it was a marketing gimmick. The letters contained turns of phrases such as, “We met again on the street yesterday and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction.” The reader was then asked to join the letter sender for “a little adventure.”
At the time, Spanish newspapers reported that women responded by staying at home for fear of being attacked by a stalker. The love letters also ignited jealous fights between couples.
Fiat cut the campaign short; however, it defended itself and said that the letters were part of the first phase of a marketing campaign that would have been revealed in its second phase.
Spirit Airlines makes light of the devastating Gulf oil spill
It should be obvious to not make light of a devastating oil spill, but that’s exactly what Spirit Airlines did in 2010 when it ran a travel advertisement on its website following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with a woman in a bikini lying on a beach with a bottle of suntan oil next to her. The tagline read “Check out the oil on our beaches.”
People protested the ad on social media, calling it “tasteless” and a “remarkably poor choice.” Spirit Airlines responded by pulling the ad and running a lukewarm mea culpa on its website:
“It is unfortunate that some have misunderstood our intention with today’s beach promotion,” the statement read. “We are merely addressing the false perception that we have oil on our beaches, and we are encouraging customers to support Florida and our other beach destinations by continuing to travel to these vacation hot spots.”
Nike’s ad with Oscar Pistorius with a gun metaphor
In 2013, athletic wear company Nike came under scrutiny for its affiliation with Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee Olympian runner from South Africa who was a Nike spokesman and made headlines for shooting and killing his girlfriend in their home.
In true happenstance, Nike had an ad with Pistorius, poised for take off with the tagline: “I am the bullet in the chamber.”
The bullet metaphor took on a whole new meaning after the shooting, and Nike issued an official statement:
“Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families concerned following this tragic incident. As it is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”
The athletic company responded by dropping Pistorius like a hot potato, and the incident illustrated two takeaways in the world of brand marketing:
- Timing is everything
- It’s risky biz to have a brand spokesperson
Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise