At least once a year there is a great example of a fairly large marketing mistake by a large and very recognizable company. The reasons behind these mistakes could be anything from overconfidence in your brand power to just not hitting the mark with a target audience. innovation and trying different things carries a level of risk that can result in snafus like this, but they can also result in very rewarding campaigns, for example; Old Spice. Whether it was bad luck, bad judgement, or bad timing, here are some of the worst marketing disasters in recent memory.

Apple & U2

In 2014, Apple paid $100M in order to provide all of its 500M iTunes subscribers with U2’s first album in 5 years, Songs of Innocence. Whether apple overestimated U2’s popularity or iTunes want for free music from a band they may or may not like, or have even heard of, the feedback was sour. The fallout came when people realized that their devices had been infiltrated, without permission, with an album of music they didn’t request, or even want. Social media lit up with questions and solutions as to how users can delete the tracks, prompting Apple to create a special button to help users remove the songs.

Coors Light

Coors Light thought that their search and rescue campaign would yield big popularity throughout the Canadian market. The idea was to rescue Canadians from dull summer days by placing briefcases filled with prizes across the country. Prior to 9/11 this campaign would have probably worked, but with general public fear and safety as a growing concern it was doomed to fail. When a cop in downtown Toronto noticed one of the briefcases chained to a public metal railing he took action. This resulted in streets being closed and traffic screeching to a halt while police and the bomb squad investigated. Social media feedback wasn’t pretty either, as people voiced their complaints about being inconvenienced during their daily commute.

Malaysian Airlines

In July of 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down and crashed in the Ukraine, while in March of the same year MH370 disappeared over the South China Sea. With these recent crashes and large losses of life so fresh for potential customers, Malaysia Airlines still went forward with a campaign labeled “My Ultimate Bucket List”. Essentially, a bucket list is a list of things to do before you die, which was clearly an insensitive- sentiment considering the recent crashes. The fallout from this campaign launch was worldwide, quickly prompting the company to cancel the program.


In 2013 Jägermeister gave everyone a great example of what not to do at a promotional pool party in Leon, Mexico. This promotional pool party was going well until someone on the Jägermeister promo team added liquid nitrogen to the pool in the hopes of setting the mood with really cool fog over the water. What wasn’t considered was the chemical reaction between the chlorine in the water and the liquid nitrogen that created toxic gas. This left 1 man in a coma and 8 others hospitalized.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters is known for making marketing mistakes and controversial decisions. Most recently they released a vintage Kent State University sweatshirt. Sounds innocent enough until you throw some blood spatter into the design while forgetting that four students died during anti-war protests at Kent State in 1970. There was plenty of backlash, which led to an apology and an explanation indicating there was no malicious intent to relate the incident and the sweatshirt.

DiGiorno Pizza

In 2014 the hashtag #WhyIStayed was being used for women to share their stories about why they stayed in abusive relationships. Unfortunately for DiGiorno they either didn’t understand what it was being used for or someone had a poor sense of humor. This led to DiGiorno tweeting “#WhyIStayed You had Pizza.” The brand immediately went into apology mode and responded to hundreds of users who were offended by the tweet enough to tweet back.

Bud Light

In addition to protests making national headlines, the “Up for Whatever” campaign saw its fair share of social media backlash as a result of label messaging. The slogan, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” appeared on bottles of bud, which quickly led to backlash from sexual assault advocates and the general public. While this line was 1 of 140 used across the campaign, it was enough to spawn retaliatory hashtags like #upforconsent.

Victoria’s Secret

There is a healthy, ongoing, and unofficial campaign to ensure women of all sizes feel comfortable with their bodies. Spurred and fueled by the Dove “Campaign For Real Beauty”, women are continually challenging unrealistic body types. On the other hand, Victoria’s Secret launched a campaign called “The Perfect Body”, which featured a collection of supermodels wearing Victoria’s Secret products. The general public wasn’t pleased and after some online backlash the company changed the campaign name to “A Body for Every Body”.

There are some marketing mistakes that are simply mistakes, with negative outcomes that can’t be anticipated. There are also tragic failures that should have been seen coming from miles away. Either way, while it’s a good idea to push the envelope in marketing, making mistakes that could have been easily avoided can result in anything from weeks of bad press, to lost revenue, to a damaged brand image.

Tell us about your favorite marketing failure in the comments below.

Read more: