Business, Marketing, Public Relations, Strategy
September 12, 2019
Biggest Ad Blunders of 2019 (so far) and How to Avoid Them
Biggest Ad Blunders of 2019 (so far) and How to Avoid Them

By Felicia Guthrie

Creating an ad campaign as a small business can be tricky as you may not have anyone with marketing or advertising experience. Heck, even the big guys get it wrong sometimes and they have huge marketing, advertising and PR teams behind them. Mistakes (ad blunders), whether it’s in direction, imagery, tone, or language can be quite impactful. It can damage your reputation, cause people to want to boycott you, or just be very embarrassing. While some consumer reactions are worse than others, you don’t want to experience negative reactions at all. You want consumers to connect with you.

Everything is amplified by the internet (especially social media) and one bad ad can catch like wildfire. Once it’s online, it’s out there to stay.

The best thing you can do to avoid making mistakes is to look at examples where companies have dropped the ball. That’s what we’re here to help you with today and if you’d like even more help, feel free to contact us!

The Culturally Insensitive Ad

In 2019, fast food company Burger King received backlash on social media after sharing an ad on their New Zealand account. The ad, which was showcasing the new Vietnamese Sweet Chilli Tendercrisp Burger, showed diners struggling to use chopsticks to eat western foods.

The ad quickly gained negative attention and the New Zealand branch of Burger King was ordered to remove the ad, while the company also apologized for the insensitive ad.

Last year, fashion house Dolce and Gabbana, who are no strangers to being offensive, released a campaign with a similar theme. The ad featured a Chinese woman eating Italian dishes while the narrator ridiculed her. The ad quickly sparked outrage with many being offended about how the woman was being spoken to/about and the perceived message of the woman being inferior because of her culture and the way that she eats.

Due to the backlash, Dolce and Gabbana canceled their million-dollar Shanghai fashion show.

The first way to avoid a mistake is to review your ad several times. Try to see it from a different perspective. Could someone get offended if they saw it? Is there a negative undertone to it?

Next, do a bit of research. Burger King could have easily avoided their embarrassing and insensitive ad had they done more research and seen the backlash that Dolce and Gabbana received for their similar misstep. So, if you have an idea, do some digging online and see if it’s been done, if it has, how was it received? Did people love it or hate it? Once you’ve done your research, take it from there.

If you’re still unsure if your ad is offensive and think it could be, it’s likely better to just scrap that idea before fully executing it. This is one reason why it’s important to have diversity among creative teams. Before executing any ad and blasting it everywhere, show it to people you trust, test it with your team at work, your family, or close friends. Aside from cultural insensitivity, maybe they’ll catch something that you missed, such as an error in any copy, a lackluster image, or some other aspect that can be approved.

The Racist Ad

In 2019, we are still seeing major brands completely missing the mark and creating campaigns that are racist.

Nike, a brand that usually gets it right in their campaigns, recently had to drop their 4th of July sneaker after fans dubbed the shoe as racist. Former football player, Colin Kaepernick, who is known for his activism, and recently starred in a controversial but well received Nike ad, also criticized the sneaker.

The Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July sneaker featured the Betsy Ross version of the American Flag. The flag, which feature 13 stars, is seen as offensive because it’s linked to a period of slavery and had been associated with white supremacy.

Earlier in the year, fashion house Gucci found themselves in hot water after their 2018 Fall/Winter release gained attention for their racist clothing pieces. Part of the Fall/Winter collection featured a black turtleneck sweater that resembled blackface.

While Gucci apologized and tried to explain their “real” inspiration behind the sweater, the damage was done and the sweater removed.

Again, this is an example of how research and diversity in the workplace are important. Whether you’re putting out a clothing line, a product or an ad, review it yourself and with others in your community of work and perhaps friends and family because someone may catch something that could otherwise backfire completely.

The Ad that insults its customers

In early 2019, Gillette changed their longtime tagline of “The Best a Man Can Get” to “The Best a Man Can Be.” Although some enjoyed the campaign, and while the call for men to be the best versions of themselves and pushing others to be as well was fine, it was the execution of the ad that totally missed the mark for many in Gillette’s demographic. While the razor brand aimed to inspire their male target audience with their 2019 spot, they instead left many men feeling insulted – and it doesn’t need to be said that you don’t want to insult your customers.

Many men found the ad to be offensive in its portrayal of men’s behaviour, shifting the blame of wrongful behaviour completely on other men. The ad seemed to say that bullying, harassment (sexual or otherwise) was a male phenomenon which simply isn’t true.

While the message was good, the direction and execution could have been entirely different. There are a few ways that Gillette could have avoided such a mistake, and it could be a lesson for you as a small business owner.

When creating an ad, be sure that there are people behind the creation of the ad who are part of your demographic or test it with a select group that fit the demographic to capture initial reactions and make sure it connects in a meaningful and positive way. Gillette used a female director for the campaign, and while she’s absolutely qualified to direct an ad, it may not have been the best choice for a woman to direct an ad centering on what it is to be the best man you can be.

It is also important to be careful of language and tone as well, instead of shifting blame to consumers, think of an alternate direction.

If you’re hoping to inspire your audience like Gillette was hoping to do, take a look at brands that have done it successfully. Dove, for example, typically does a good job of inspiring their audience with their Real Beauty campaign. They consider what issues resonate with their demographic, such as confidence, and empathize with them. They urge and inspire consumers to see their own beauty, sometimes by showing how others positively see them.

There are many ways your ad can be a complete fail, but in 2019, it can often be linked to insensitivity and poor execution. As a small business owner, advertising your brand in the right way can be tough. You might not have a lot of experience or knowledge to get it done, and even major brands like those highlighted above get it wrong all the time. If you read this blog but you would still like some help with your strategy, check out our strategy package or get in touch at!

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