Four Marketing Campaigns that Flopped and What We Can Learn From Them

Creating marketing campaigns that stand out from the crowd is a hurdle that often trips up even the most innovative marketers. If you’ve ever created a campaign that fell flat with consumers, you’re not alone. We’ve found four cringe-worthy campaigns from the past few years that serve as examples of what not to do in your marketing efforts.


Source: Levi's ad from Cleo Magazine and

Levi’s released an ad campaign in 2010 that was supposed to show how its new Curve ID jeans worked with a variety of different body types.

Unfortunately, the women who appeared in the ad, featuring the tagline “Hotness comes in all shapes and sizes,” were anything but different. noted that the women all wore a substantially smaller size than the national average (size 14) and were predominantly caucasian.

While the company intended to show its diversity, the result was quite the opposite. Viewers had no problem voicing their opinion of the ad, with comments such as “The company doesn’t seem to understand what ‘different’ means. See ‘hotness comes in all shapes and sizes’ as long as those shapes are minute variations on the same thin, ponytailed woman.”

Marketing Lesson: Test each campaign to ensure it conveys the intended message.
If you run a campaign with the intent of conveying a message to a specific demographic, make sure you communicate that message properly. It’s apparent that Levi’s didn’t do its homework, because the very people it was targeting rejected the ad the most. The mistake could have been prevented if the ad had been viewed by focus groups before being publicized.

You should always run your major advertising campaigns by the demographic you are targeting as well as people of different ages, ethnicities and genders to gauge their reactions.


Well-known athletic shoe and apparel producer Reebok gave out some unwarranted relationship advice last year when it displayed an ad that read “Cheat on your girlfriend, not on your workout” in a gym in Germany. Even though Reebok only ran the advertisement in that one gym, social media allowed the whole world to be made aware of the marketing faux pas. CBS Local reported that Reebok was quick to release a statement saying, “The signs were removed as soon as we were made aware of them. I can assure you that Reebok does not condone this message or cheating in any way. We apologize for the offensive nature of these materials, and are disappointed that they appeared at all."

Marketing Lesson: Abandon offensive campaigns and apologize ASAP.
While this advertisement was obviously a mistake, Reebok at least did one thing right: It quickly owned up to the slipup and apologized. Consumers can relate to and respect a company that can admit when it's wrong. If you run a campaign that offends or upsets people, the best thing to do is simply apologize and move forward.


Lifelock is a company that prides itself on protecting people from identity theft. In an attempt to pull the ultimate publicity stunt, CEO Todd Davis publicized his social security number on a Lifelock commercial, website and billboard to advertise his confidence in the company's services. What he didn’t foresee was that identity thieves were ready to accept his challenge. According to, Davis had his identity stolen a staggering 13 times, and the FTC fined Lifelock $12 million for deceptive advertising.


Marketing Lesson: Don't make promises you can't keep.
Make sure your product lives up to your claims. The more ridiculous the claim, the more people will want to disprove it. Intentional or not, deceptive advertising is incredibly difficult to recover from. It could cost your company its reputation and millions of dollars as well.


Online coupon vendor Groupon attempted to be humorous in a parody commercial that aired during the Super Bowl in 2011. The morally questionable ad began with picturesque scenes of Tibet with a voice-over explaining that the Tibetan people and culture were in trouble. The commercial then quickly cut to a scene of actor Timothy Hutton eating in a Tibetan restaurant and exclaiming, “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry.”

Groupon experienced immediate criticism for being insensitive and trivializing a serious issue. They were even dubbed the Super Bowl's lamest commercial of 2011 by Everything PR. All of the criticism caused Groupon to pull the advertisement just four days after it aired.

Marketing Lesson: Approach humor with caution.
Cultural insensitivity is never funny. Groupon’s intention was to create an ad campaign that satirized celebrity endorsements, but the majority of viewers received a different message entirely.

This failed attempt at humor emphasizes just how cautious you should be when using comedy in your marketing. Humor is easily misconstrued, because what is considered humorous to some may be highly offensive to others. Shy away from poking fun at serious cultural topics and stereotypes, as they are sensitive subjects for many people.

The most important lesson to learn from the mistakes of these companies is that failure does not have to constitute demise. Levi’s, Reebok, Lifelock and Groupon experienced failure and negative publicity, but they didn’t accept defeat. They kept moving forward and went on to create new, improved marketing campaigns. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”