Top Marketing & Advertising Failures

Many companies find that their marketing message gets “lost in translation” during international ad campaigns

It can happen to anyone. You’re having a conversation with someone from another part of the country – or maybe even from another nation entirely, and you say something that really makes him or her gasp. What an odd reaction, you say; until you realize that what you were trying to say didn’t translate with the intended meaning. Major corporations around the world have also encountered these types of communication failures – the kind that cause marketing managers to shake their heads in disbelief and customers to question the motives of those in charge of the ads.

Sometimes, marketing issues arise due to an incorrect translation between an English-speaking company and their international audience. Just ask Pepsi. Their international campaign targeted at the Republic of China touted that “Pepsi brings you back to life!” In China, this translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!” It is curious that a company as large and savvy as Pepsi wouldn’t ask for a consultation from a Chinese language or culture expert before launching a major ad campaign that promised to resurrect the dead.

Other companies have suffered similar marketing failures, especially those who have tried to jump all over the popularity of newsworthy world events. Kenneth Cole, the great, Brooklyn-based purveyor of trendy clothes and fashion accessories, decided to piggyback on the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 by tweeting “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online — KC.” With people dying in the streets and a nation facing severe political unrest, it was obviously considered in bad taste to make light of such a serious situation.

Several other companies, from Chevrolet to Gerber Baby Food, have committed catastrophic faux pas through a variety of marketing campaigns. Many marketing fails have resulted in absolutely hilarious situations – some of them providing lessons and insights into international customs and traditions that don’t end up aligning with Western marketing ploys. Others have emerged as truly insensitive or narrow-minded marketing activities that have tarnished the reputation of several well-known companies.

Whatever the result, there is a seemingly endless list of companies who have committed serious marketing fails over the past few decades. Here is a list of eight of the top marketing failures that demonstrate just how easy it is for an honest marketing message to get lost in translation – or for a company to offend millions via a simple Tweet.

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