Marketing Blunders, Part 2: A Case of Mistaken Identity

You’ve spent years building a solid brand identity. Your customers know who your company is, what you stand for, and why they chose you.

But one marketing mishap can rip your brand identity to shreds.

Some of the biggest players have blundered with marketing campaigns that ignored their brand identity. Let’s take a look at a few of the worst offenders in marketing history.

Late to the (Tupperware) Party

Tupperware has been around since 1942, when Earl Tupper designed airtight containers that could keep food fresher than ever before. The brand spent the next half-century enjoying a popularity that was generated most effectively by its “Tupperware parties.” Tupperware consultants would host these parties in their homes, inviting housewives to sample the difference between foods that were stored in a Tupperware container and those that were not. In fact, 90% of the company’s sales by the early 21st century were from Tupperware parties.

In 2004, Tupperware decided to move outside of its comfort zone by selling its products at Target stores. In less than a year, the company realized its mistake and pulled its products from Target. But the damage was already done: Its sales had dropped an astonishing 17 percent! 

Yes, selling through Target made its products more accessible to consumers. At the same time, however, it undercut the Tupperware party, which had been a major component of the company’s success for decades. Suddenly, the company’s main marketing technique was rendered obsolete—and they could blame no one but themselves.

Let Them Eat Paste

Other times, a company decides to extend its brand in a way that just doesn’t work.

Take Colgate, for example. The brand had a sterling reputation as a great toothpaste brand. Until the 1980s when Colgate decided to branch out into…frozen dinners.

That’s right. Colgate Beef Lasagna. Yum.

For some reason, no one wanted to buy lasagna that sounded like it would have a minty aftertaste.

Brand extensions can be a great way to grow your brand. For example, when Colgate was known purely for its toothpaste, it started a new line of toothbrushes. This move launched the company into its current place as the third largest player in the oral care market. When it comes to a brand extension, the goal is to ensure that you’re extending into an area that still fits with your brand’s identity.

Another example of a flawed brand extension is Harley Davidson’s foray into cake decorating. The motorcycle brand launched a cake decorating kit, which obviously didn’t match its macho reputation. Fail. 

And then there was Zippo’s cologne fiasco. Turns out that men don’t want to spray themselves with a substance that they mentally relate to lighter fluid, especially in a case that looks like a cigarette lighter.

What Were They Thinking?

For years, Dove was lauded as a company that valued womanhood and understood the many pressures that girls and women undergo. From its “Real Women” ads in 2004, featuring six non-models with various shapes and sizes, to its 2013 “Real Beauty Sketches” commercials that explored women’s likelihood to self-criticize, its brand became known for supporting women in their universal struggles.

In 2017, a major gaffe threatened to kill this reputation in one fell swoop. Dove prepared to launch a new line of shower gel bottles in six different shapes, each supposed to reflect a different body contour. Here are three of them:

While the idea seemed to dovetail with their brand identity at first glance, on second thought it did just the opposite. Women standing in the toiletry aisle would be forced to choose which bottle most nearly matched their own body type—a concept that upended the concept of body positivity. After all, which consumer would choose the short, squat bottle and still have a smile on her face? What a PR fiasco.

Similarly, Burger King has always centered its marketing on its big, beautiful Whopper. In recent years, they have removed all preservatives from their products. In an attempt to let burger-lovers know about this move, the company put out an ad in 2022 showing what a 33-day-old Whopper would look like:

Sure, consumers will remember that the Whopper doesn’t contain any preservatives. But is embedding this disgusting photo in their heads a good way to showcase the company’s most popular menu item?

Oops! Mie Badd

 

While all marketing departments should beware of typos and similar errors, if you’re the Department of Education, you need to be especially careful. In a tweet about the importance of education, the department quoted W.E.B. Du Bois and accidentally misspelled his name. 

And then, to make matters worse, when writing an apology tweet they misspelled the word “apologies.”

Sure, you’d never do anything as foolish as the Department of Education—especially if your company revolved around, well, education. But keep in mind: They didn’t think they’d do something like that either.

At the end of the day, think long and hard before launching a marketing campaign or even a simple tweet. Consider how each marketing-related action will impact consumers’ view of your company. If you don’t, you’ll risk going the way of Colgate’s Beef Lasagna.

This article is part of the Marketing Blunders series. These articles discuss common marketing fiascos and how to avoid them. See all the articles in the series here.