Seven Lessons From Famous Marketing Blunders

When I took a graduate level marketing course, my professor, Dan Chamberlain, had worked as a VP of marketing for Proctor and Gamble, Heinz, Schweppes, and other companies. He demonstrated marketing principles that worked. But his stories of marketing principles that didn’t work were also very informative because, in every case study, the market failed to follow the basic principles:

  1. Know your market
  2. Know the market’s needs
  3. Communicate the solutions to the need
  4. Ask for the order

He taught that most marketing blunders could be traced directly to a lack of understanding the target audience, and forgetting to put them first. Audiences and customers want to know how the product or service will solve their unique problem. They want to know how to obtain the solution. They will not act unless you “ask for the order.”

target audience

They don’t want to be confused by your message. Don’t expect them to try to figure out what you are saying. They want quick, clear, concise messaging. Customers are busy. It is not their job to help you sell the product and service. But some sellers do just that.

Here are some famous marketing blunders and the lesson they offer to avoid repeating the same mistakes:

  1. Coke versus New Coke:

The audience liked regular coke, there was no complaint about the flavor and it was a popular brand. Coke occupied a huge market share. They wanted to improve the flavor and phase out the old brand. New Coke is a good example of not listening to your audience.

The company was moving in their own direction without any thought that their customers would reject it. It was one of the biggest flops in product introduction. It was so bad, the old Coke was rebranded “Classic Coke” to regain their customers who decided to drink other beverages.

Lesson Learned:        You must keep your audience in mind when you are creating any type of product. Coke customers were already happy. Resources did not need to be wasted replacing the product.

  1. Badly Named Diet Candy:

In the 1970s, a very popular diet candy called Ayds came onto the market. Shortly thereafter, in the early 1980s a horrible disease called AIDS was sweeping the nation. The bad image killed sales of the candy.

Lesson learned:         If the makers had kept their ears to the ground regarding trends in the news, they could have quietly changed their product’s name and marketed the candy with the new name.

  1. Bad Imagery:

Choosing the right images for your marketing campaigns are very important. Think about what happened to The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Album with their poor choice of cover. The original album cover displayed chopped up bloody dolls and witches. There was such a violent backlash, they got rid of the photos and switched album covers.

Lesson Learned:        Again, you have to know your audience. Obviously chopped up and bloody babies weren’t a good image for The Beatles’ audience. Here is a link to see the original cover and you will see what we mean by a terrible blunder. Click here to view the original cover.

  1. Underestimating the Creepy Factor:

You’ve seen the Burger King commercials, right? The King comes into people’s rooms, in their beds, and in otherwise private moments. This was wrong and creepy.

Lesson Learned:         The consensus for this commercial was repulsive and soon the King was gone. Humor is a good thing to use, but you must understand your audience and the type of humor they appreciate.

standing out


  1. Being Insensitive to Various Groups:

In the famous Snickers commercial, Mr. T (from the A Team TV series) bullies and makes fun of a speed walker for his choice of exercise and literally shoots him with Snickers bars. This commercial was not funny and did not bring home the message of a yummy, filling, peanut-filled snack to give you energy. Instead, it made people angry and they didn’t even notice the product.

Lesson Learned:        Your audience is first; product placement needs to make them feel good about using it.

  1. Going Too Far with a Joke:

You are likely familiar with Skittles and while those commercials were funny, the first foray into the Touch the Rainbow campaigns wasn’t as funny. Specifically, that commercial about a man who couldn’t touch anything, including his grandson, because he was turning everything into Skittles isn’t funny. It would be funnier if non-living things turned to Skittles instead of killing people.

Lesson Learned:        Death never translates well in marketing messages.

  1. Using Bad Puns as Marketing:

Maybe it was on purpose, maybe not, but when Disney Garden came out with Hannah Montana Red Cherries, it didn’t go over too well. It is very important to ensure that your message isn’t made into a bad joke.

Lesson Learned:        This starts with knowing your audience, understanding modern meanings for words, and testing your message.


How Can Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations Make Mistakes?

Most marketing companies do not mean to make bad puns, turn their company into a joke, or have the point of their advertisements missed all together. But, it does happen. And as you can see, it happens to large corporations with experts who should know better. Maybe it just goes to show that you cannot get to know your audience enough, or keep your ear to the ground enough, or test your messages enough.

Want to Learn How to Avoid Costly Mistakes?

Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days is an updated small business marketing guide that has been a popular series for two decades. This latest book updates the tactics with the new technologies available today. It will help you become better at marketing your home-based business. Click here to see the book.


Use your years of experience that transcends the experience of the kids in the marketing agencies. Show them that Baby Boomers still know how to market with effective marketing techniques for your own home based business. Somehow, I just don’t think you will do the blunders covered in this report!






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