The 5 Biggest Brand Fails of 2017

This year, there were many ads which had us wondering how they could have possibly made it past a team (teams!) of creatives and brand professionals, let alone out into the world? Here are the biggest brand faux pas of 2017. Relive. Relearn. Don’t emulate.

Pepsi
Pepsi’s two-and-a-half minute spot “Live for Now,” featured Kendall Jenner leaving her modeling job to join a nondescript protest. In the ad, tensions are mounting between protesters and police—that is, until Jenner magically solves everything by opening a Pepsi for a cop. The brand quickly pulled the spot, which was released in early April, and apologized. 

The lesson learned:
the biggest brand gaff Pepsi committed with this spot was putting its product in the center of social issues while simultaneously trivializing said issues. As writer, social worker and activist Feminista Jones eloquently put it earlier this year when asked about the ad, “brands should never make light of social issues related to people’s suffering; they should, instead, focus on selling their products in ways that don’t exploit the pain and suffering of marginalized people.”

Dove
In October, Dove posted a social ad on its Facebook page that featured a black woman taking off a shirt similar to her skin tone to reveal that she had turned into a white woman wearing a shirt similar to her skin tone. After receiving the much-deserved criticism, Dove pulled the ad and apologized: “In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused.

The lesson learned:
Dove—or any brand, for that matter—should never create an ad that could so easily be taken out of context, especially one that could read as having a racist message.

United
Things started off poorly for United this year when passengers took (and shared) video of a man being forcibly dragged off a plane by security when he was randomly selected — and declined — to forfeit his seat for airline maintenance workers. That alone was enough to cause an uproar on social media and tarnish the reputation of the brand, but things only got worse when CEO Oscar Munoz issued a cold, victim-blaming apology in which he praised his employees for following proper procedures. Proper procedure or not, delicate situations like this require warmth and understanding — and United Airlines wasn’t prepared to offer it.

The lesson learned:
There are two here: First, The customer is always right. Always. Second: If you make a mistake, admit to it. Every business is going to send out an erroneous or harmful tweet at some point. The ones that stand to recover easily are those that immediately and humbly admit to their mistakes, and try to make up for them.

Uber
It was a pretty disastrous year for Uber overall, with its company’s image enduring a huge series of hits for multiple reasons. But its marketing was no saving grace either and was in fact what kickstarted the downfall. Customer frustration with Uber first peaked back in January after the ride-sharing company appeared to try to profit off a taxi strike, deciding to eliminate surge pricing at JFK after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance went on strike to oppose President Trump’s immigration ban. Within a few hours, the hashtag #DeleteUber had gathered steam and people had started removing the app from their phones. Uber issued an apology and its ousted former CEO Travis Kalanick detailed the company’s stance on immigration. But the company didn’t take any further steps to support its position.

The lesson learned:
Today’s public wants to support companies whose beliefs align with their own—and skeletons won’t stay in the closet for long.

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