In a previous article I wrote, “Common Branding Mistakes“, I highlighted some pretty eliminatory mistakes that companies make with their branding. However some mistakes turn out to be blunders. Going through some of them, I thought it would be worth discussing, at least in my opinion, the top 5 branding blunders of 2018.
What surprises me about these blunders, is not the fact that they came from globally renowned brands, but that the creatives were conceptualized and approved without anyone noticing very obvious land mines.
H&M released an image of an African-American child sporting a sweatshirt with the slogan, “Coolest monkey in the jungle”. In a world where racial tensions hide very close to the surface, the image was bound to garner negative attention. Not only did Twitter light up with members expressing their disgust, but so did every other social media channel and news publication. H&M did apologize for it and said that it would pull the image and garment in addition to lodging a formal investigation into the incident.
Another ad campaign that really missed the mark big time was from Pepsi. It ended up leaving a bad taste in practically everyones mouth. Having borrowed imagery from the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, Pepsi was walking on egg shells from the very beginning. Outraged viewers felt that the ad ran contrary to the seriousness and dangers of protests and voiced their disapproval immediately. It drew viral criticism all over the internet. Several scenes from the commercial came under scrutiny. Some were called out for being in poor taste and others for being in stark contrast to what was known historically. Link to commercial
In March, Heineken ran a 30-second commercial where a bartender slides a bottle of Heineken passed three people of color to a light-skinned woman. The tagline ran, “Sometimes, lighter is better”. How that passed the internal police, I’ll never know. Link to commercial
Domino’s offered the Russian public a 100-years of free pizzas if they shared photos of their tattoos on social media featuring the company’s logo. The original promotion which was meant to last a couple of months ended pre-maturely (in under a week). Apparently, far too many people were willing to get inked in return for free pizzas.
Russian social media was flooded with tattooed evidence from fans causing Domino’s to act quickly and inform the public that it was ending the promotion earlier than expected. It did say that it would honor its commitment to the first 350 participants and requested those with tattoo appointments to have them cancelled.
DOLCE & GABBANA
Dolce & Gabbana, the luxury fashion brand, released a commercial ahead of their China runway show. The commercial featured a Chinese model attempting and failing to eat a variety of Italian foods with chopsticks. The commercial drew outrage at the insinuation that Chinese lack refinement and cultural awareness. Link to commercial
In October, Dove, a personal care brand owned by Unilever, pulled its Facebook ad which featured a woman of color removing her brown shirt to reveal a smiling white woman in a white shirt underneath. The advertisement was opposed aggressively.
The inference drawn was that colored people could use Dove to clean themselves into whiteness. Dove issued an apology and removed the ad immediately.
In April, Nivea pulled back an ad with the slogan, “White is purity” after being accused of racial insensitivity.
Global brands are very susceptible to backlash because of the level on which they play. It’s impossible to hide from controversy and requires quick reactions on the part of the accused. Owning up to such blunders should always be the first recourse. Denial only adds further fuel to the fire.
Businesses should always have a contingency plan in place when building a marketing campaign. It’s best to steer clear of political, religious or cultural sensitivities. In doing so they must avoid taking sides in controversies that could leave the target audience split.