What We Learned from 2018’s Worst Brand Marketing Decisions


We took some time to reflect on the major marketing mistakes of the year and summed up takeaways for marketers to learn from.


It’s the time of the year to look back and reflect on what we’ve achieved, or what we have done wrong.

In 2018, we’ve seen some of the biggest marketing fallouts from brands across all industries. Below is a list of what some of those, and what marketers can learn from them.


Addressing controversies like race and gender


In January this year, H&M underwent a serious reputation crisis for tolerating racism, because of a modeling photo featuring an African-American boy wearing a green hoodie with “COOLEST MONKEY IN THE JUNGLE” on it. It was made trending on Twitter by blogger Stephanie Yeboah, who tweeted “Whose idea was it at @hm to have this little sweet black boy wear a jumper that says ‘coolest monkey in the jungle? I mean. What.’”

In response, H&M issued an apology saying “We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.” The media relations team told PR News that the item would no longer be for sale, and that the incident happened because internal procedures weren’t followed accordingly.

Another aspect that can get just as complicated as race is gender. This year on International Women’s Day, McDonald’s flipped its signature yellow “M” upside down on social media profiles and even in 100 restaurants across the country. With “W” standing for women, McDonald’s was expecting some applause from the public recognizing their effort in celebrating women. However, the campaign was faced with criticism as a misstep.

People expressed outrage on social media, condemning the brand for focusing onleft-wingan initiating real change to support women, especially in equal pay. The Guardian reported that Momentum, a British left wing group, posted a video about how McDonald’s low wages endangered women workers who face poverty and homelessness.

“This empty McFeminism has nothing to do with women’s liberation and everything to do with McDonald’s attempt to sanitise its image,” Laura Parker, Momentum’s national coordinator, told The Guardian.

Consumers nowadays don’t buy into empty pledges or stunts anymore, and they expect consistency from a brand. For H&M, similar crises will almost for sure pop up again in the future if they don’t make an effort to ensure that important policies and values are followed in every step of carrying out a campaign or producing a product. And for McDonald’s, the Women’s Day gesture came from a good place, but they needed to make sure controversial issues that bear any relevance to a campaign like this were addressed beforehand.


Backfire of influencer marketing


Influencer marketing is such a hot topic that all brands want to give it a shot, however, when not executed properly, influencers can be the ones that initiate a loss of value and controversy, but not popularity.

After Snap integrated its redesign this February, Kylie Jenner, one of the internet’s most popular influencers who has a 25 million following, tweeted out something that Snap found quite hard to take, financially.

Following this tweet, Snap’s market value drop $1.3 billion overnight. Though her tweet might not be the only reason causing the drop, it most definitely had something to do with it.

In cases like this, it’s hard to predict which influencers won’t be happy about your brand’s new design or campaigns. It then becomes important to follow up with influencers, discuss in-depth what they want, and work out a plan to offset negative impacts.


Behaviors and words from top figures


A company’s CEOs nowadays are important public figures, sometimes even a bit like celebrities, to the public. And for big companies like Papa John’s, it’s hard to keep the secret in when something inappropriate happens. Back in July, Forbes reported that Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter made racial slurs and used the N-word during a conference call. Following the report, Schnatter had resigned as chairman of the board, though this incident has caused some serious reputational damage to the pizza chain.

It’s sad news for Papa John, especially since Schnatter has been very attached to the branding and stories of the chain. And for brands like Dolce & Gabbana, lead figures like designers can also cause huge marketing chaos.

Just last month, screenshots of an Instagram messages exchange between Dolce & Gabbana’s co-founder, Stefano Gabbana and an Instagram user, model Michele Tranovo, caused huge outrage in China. In these messages, Michele accused the brand of running a racially inappropriate ad featuring a Chinese model having difficulty eating Italian food with chopsticks. The designer seemed to not be happy about it and started fighting back by accusing the model of dog-eating habits, a stereotype against Chinese.

The exchange soon went viral and has led directly to the cancellation of the brand’s fashion show in Shanghai as celebrities originally signed onto the show canceled their attendance last minute and expressed extreme anger online. It’s for sure not to smart move for one of the brand’s top two designers to have irritated its biggest market.

The marketing nightmare didn’t end there. The designer later posted “NOT ME” on his Instagram trying to shed off the responsibility by saying his account has been hacked.

Top figures of a brand can sometimes be as influential to the company’s reputation as an influencer. A simple word said wrong can cause huge catastrophe, which is why everything they say should be carefully looked through and managed.


Managing data breaches


Facebook came under fire this March when it was revealed that the data company, Cambridge Analytica, had collected personal information of more than 50 million Facebook users through an app that scrapes data.

This damaging breach adds even more heat to the platform, especially at a time when it has already been constantly accused of not doing enough to protect users privacy.

Social platforms are easy targets for hackers as being great data sources. And the aftermath of this crisis spreads further than just the data spectrum. Leadership like Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg are under constant scrutiny; the public is experiencing a trust crisis with the platform and some of them even choose to leave forever; not to mention that the platform continues to struggle with user engagement and market performance.

It’s time for brands to think more carefully about the era of great data we are living in, and what are the steps to take when data breaches and privacy issues like this occur.

Article written by: Bianca He