• Vanessa Mitchell

Top marketing campaign fails and scandals of 2020

For the most part, brands have kept their heads down during 2020, knowing marketing efforts during a pandemic will fall flat unless they offer authentic, valuable help or information to consumers.



There have been a few notable exceptions however, from brands who certainly didn’t ‘read the room’ before ploughing ahead with their campaigns.


We get it, months of planning go into a marketing campaign, and it’s a big call to yank it before it even runs when you’ve spent all that money.


However, as the below brands found out, running a tone-deaf campaign in a pandemic year can end up harming your brand and undoing all the loyalty you’ve carefully cultivated over the years.


Edelman’s Trust Barometer report this year found 71 per cent of people said if a brand is perceived to be putting profit over people at this time, they will lose trust in that brand forever. Meanwhile 77 per cent said they want brands to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and its impact on people’s lives.


Here are some of 2020’s ‘epic marketing fails’ to learn from:


The Kylie Jenner ‘not knowing your market’ fiasco


In yet another Kardashian blunder, the Kylie Jenner part of the Kardashian equation recently posted on Twitter spruiking her new localised websites for her brand ‘Kylie Skins’. This seemingly innocuous tweet about localised sites were accompanied by the national flags of each country.


Long story short, Australia is apparently part of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands – a flag which apparently resembles the Australian flag.

I guess to Jenner, near enough was good enough. The resulting backlash was fair enough.



The Safety Warehouse giving away money blunder


The Safety Warehouse in New Zealand advertised a live $100,000 money drop, causing people to travel from far and wide to participate in the stunt. Not only did the money drop result in a riot, where people were injured, but it turns out they weren’t even fighting over real money, but instead discount vouchers made to look like $5 notes.


Lawsuits have been filed and petitions started as a result, and this brand is unlikely to ever recover, particularly after doubling down and refusing to apologise to the struggling people who paid for accommodation and took time off work to participate in this faux money drop. Let’s just say Jacinda was unimpressed…



Airbnb’s ‘kindness card’ confusion


This year has seen hundreds of millions of people globally lose their jobs. Given this climate, money raising for landlords seems beyond the pale. However, AirBnb thought it might be a great time to raise money for multi-million dollar property owners.


Airbnb’s ‘Kindness card’ campaign, sent an email to guests asking them to write a digital comment card with an encouraging message to Airbnb hosts, with the option to add a donation. Understandably, those who currently face losing the house they live in were less than pleased.


Dominos and the ‘Karens campaign’


Dominos decided to run a giveaway campaign ‘Calling All Karens’, asking ‘nice’ Karens to write in and explain why they weren’t a bad Karen to receive a free pizza.


Now, while the intention behind this might have been tongue in cheek, rightly or wrongly Karen is now a name synonymous with white privilege, so giving already privileged people free pizza seems pretty insensitive. This campaign would have been far better received if gave away free pizza to the struggling or front line workers.





VW and the racism gaff


VW Germany takes the fail of the decade. In an Instagram and Facebook video promoting the new Golf which was swiftly yanked, a dark-skinned man is pushed off a city street and onto a sidewalk by a giant white hand. Then another giant hand takes him by the head and pushes him toward a doorway, before he is flicked inside a cafe called the “Little Colonist’. An animated slogan that appears at the end: “The New Golf”.


Good lord. Fail isn’t a strong enough word.


Tips for marketing campaigns that will resonate at this time


Edelman’s Trust Barometer reports 89 per cent of people are asking brands to shift to producing products that help consumers meet the challenges of today, and to offer free or lower-priced products to health workers, people at high risk, and those whose jobs have been affected.


Importantly, the same report says 57 per cent want brands to stop any humorous or light-hearted advertising or marketing and 54 per cent said they are not paying attention to new products at present unless they are designed to help with their pandemic-related life challenges.


We all now understand marketing at this time very important to feed the sales funnel, however, some careful adjustments need to be made. Before spending a fortune on marketing:

  1. Know your audience. Who is your audience and what are they going through right now? What do they really need from you?

  2. Read the room. People are scared and lonely, and many people are genuinely struggling. Be sensitive to their journey and perspectives.

  3. Authenticity. Cynicism is through the roof, so do not make claims you can’t back up or offer fake value and non-discounts.

  4. Is it necessary? Unless what you have to say is valuable to your audience or the world, it will just add to the noise.

  5. Is it well-intended? Shameless cash grabs at a time when people are struggling will not be well received. Always keep your brand purpose in mind.

Vanessa Mitchell is the Director of Content and Communications at AZK Media.


This article was originally published in B&T.

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