This week, rather than focusing on the best ads and activation's of 2017, I am going to discuss the biggest brand fails of the year and how marketers can learn from them.
In the spring of 2017, McDonald’s released a 90 second ad named “Dad.” This commercial focused on a boy asking his mother questions about his late father, clearly trying to figure out what the two of them might have had in common. After a few attempts at asking questions, the boy failed to find common ground with his father until ordering the Filet-O-Fish at McDonald's where his mother quickly explains “that was your dad’s favorite too.” Of course viewers immediately called out the fast food chain for exploiting people’s pain and tragedy to sell their Filet-O-Fish sandwich. Soon after the negative comments started rolling in, McDonald’s pulled the ad and publicly apologized for making consumers feel uncomfortable. It is unclear how McDonald's let this commercial run, but if there is one thing to learn from it, do not exploit grief and pain while promoting your product, it won’t end well.
Another company that received backlash for an ad they put out in 2017 is Dove. Just a few months ago Dove posted a social ad on their Facebook page that featured a black woman taking off a shirt similar to her skin tone only to reveal that she had turned into a white woman wearing a shirt similar to her skin tone. As one would expect, people immediately started criticizing the ad for being racist. After receiving what I believe is deserved disapproval for the ad, Dove took it down and apologized for offending anyone. Interestingly enough, shortly after the ad was pulled the featured black model, Lola Ogunyemi, released her own statement that gave consumers context, and claimed that the TV version of the ad “does a much better job of portraying the campaign’s message loud and clear.” While Lola’s statement might have calmed a few people down, it goes without saying that brands should never create ads that can be taken out of context so easily, especially while dealing with the very important and sensitive topic of race.
Last but definitely not least is Pepsi. In April 2017 Pepsi released the most controversial and honestly most hated ad we’ve seen in a while. For those living under a rock, this was a two-and-a-half minute ad called “Live for Now” that featured Kendall Jenner leaving her modeling job to join a nondescript protest going on outside. As tensions rise between police and protesters Kendall steps in and miraculously solves everything by simply opening a Pepsi and handing it to the cop. Not only did this ad not make much sense, but people were very offended that Pepsi made light of the current political climate involving real movements and protests around the world. This 2 minute commercial started a whirlwind of controversy making Pepsi have to immediately pull it off the air, and forcing Jenner to publicly apologize multiple times for being a part of it. Similar to Dove, Pepsi learned that brands should never try to make light of social or political issues, especially issues that are so present in today’s society.
In every example above it is clear that exploiting people’s pain and issues will backfire when it comes to marketing so it is important for brands to focus their creative energy on one thing, selling their product. On the other hand, people often say “no press is bad press…” what do you think?