4 Marketing Fails Every Agency Can Learn From.jpg

As marketers, advertisers, and general creative types, you know that campaigns are carefully scrutinized. By the time you see an ad online, in print, or on television, you know that numerous people at an agency or marketing firm have studied and deconstructed it. With the amount of eyes that go into a campaign, it can be baffling when major brands or companies willingly distribute offensive, unsuccessful, or downright cringeworthy ads.

Rather than simply laugh at the expense of others’ shortcomings, we’ll instead take a positive spin. Below are four marketing fails every agency can learn from.

1. Amazon’s Fascist Overtones

Nazi references in 2016? Really? To promote its series The Man in the High Castle—an alternate reality series that envisions a world in which the Axis powers had won World War II—Amazon decked out New York City subway cars with suggestive imagery. While the adverts didn’t explicitly feature historically accurate symbols, it was enough for people to get the point.

While Amazon wasn’t the only company to blatantly reference, well, pretty much the worst historical chapter in history, it’s still disheartening to see a major organization employ shock value as a tactic. We’re all for pushing the boundary, but c’mon…

Triple-check your work, people. And be sure to run it by enough people to see if they can tolerate it.

2. Starbucks Attempts to Discuss Race

We’ll admit that 2016 was a bit of a doozy when it came to racial and classist issues. In an attempt to break down the barriers, Starbucks had its baristas write “Race Together” on coffee cups, in an attempt to get a conversation centered on race started.

While this campaign may have sounded like a good idea in the boardroom, it was ultimately an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. After all, who wants to engage in an awkward, forced conversation when they’re on the go?

Sure, it’s progressive to get consumers to think about cultural issues. But to force them to talk about them can be just awkward.

3. Rhode Island Wants to Be Iceland

Iceland’s tourism campaigns are gold. They’ve bolstered an entire industry and have helped resurrect a faltering national economy. While flattery is the best kind of compliment, it’s a bit different when you blatantly rip off a successful campaign.

Rhode Island was called out this year for using direct footage of a skateboarder in Iceland, in an attempt to promote the “uniqueness” of Rhode Island. While the mistake could certainly happen to anyone—stock footage, people!—this one seems a bit more intentional.

It’s one thing to pay homage to a successful campaign. It’s another to copy it.

4. Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Gets the Best of the Company

In an experiment of “conversational understanding,” Microsoft created an AI chatbot to engage people in Twitter conversation. Unsurprisingly, it took less than a day for this seemingly innocent social experiment to be corrupted by Internet trolls.

Despite Microsoft’s good intentions, Twitter users quickly taught the bot, named Tay, to tweet offensive, sexist, and racist statements. The lesson here? Know your audience. And at the least, know the influence your audience holds over your brand.

While these four marketing mishaps probably could have been avoided, they all provided valuable lessons we can still learn from today.