Commercials Gone Wrong

McDonald's Big Mac on an Olympic Podium
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Commercials can bring in the big bucks when done properly, and cost major bucks when done improperly. When they are produced with a lack of preparation, research, or logic, they can damage a company’s brand image. Here are some commercials that hurt sales, brand image, or were a complete waste of marketing budget.

McDonald’s: The Giveaway Gold Medal Finalist

During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, McDonald’s ran a promotion offering customers free items based on the U.S. teams’ performance. When customers would eat at McDonald’s, they would peel a sticker which would name a random Olympic event off the side of their food boxes and drinks . If the United States medaled in that event, consumers would win free food depending on the medal. For gold, silver, and bronze, consumers would will a Big Mac, French Fries, and a Coke respectively.

The problem with the campaign was that the Soviet Union boycotted the Olympic Games and the U.S. dominated the competition. At the end, the U.S. won over 170 medals, 83 of which were gold medals.

The lesson here is to make sure that you only offer free products or services when you know the finite number of how many will be given away.

Snickers: The Manly Candy

When you think of manly, is Mr. T the first person that comes to mind? Apparently Snickers thought so. In 2008, Snickers ran an advertisement where Mr. T drove a jeep with a mounted minigun that shot Snickers at an effeminate male speed walker while screaming that he was ashamed of the speed walker for not being manly.

Did no one see a problem with this before it was released? Here is another case of “How was this possibly released?” Even if there was no malicious intent with the content, advertisers need to look at messages from the perspective of their viewer. In this case, audiences were offended with the commercial, which was accused of being homophobic. Watch the commercial for yourself and see what you think. The lesson here is to err on the side of caution. If you think that people will take the message the wrong way, do not air the content. Popchips recently failed to play the devil’s advocate with their own brand. Here is the Branding Blunder featuring the chip company.

Skittles: Taste the Sadness

This Skittles advertisement is really depressing. The main idea behind the commercial is that a man turns everything he touches into Skittles. Now, this idea alone isn’t bad. One way that this commercial could have been successful is through comedy. After all, the subject is a candy. Unfortunately for Skittles, they chose the depressing route. In the commercial, a clearly depressed man sits at a desk, while two other people listen in to his problems with his unique “gift.” He mentions that he can’t dress himself and that he couldn’t touch his newborn baby. Depressing right? Did he turn the baby into Skittles? How sad is that? He also mentions that he touched a man on the bus, and even says that the man will never see his family again. Who thought this commercial was a good idea?

The commercial does not end there. The phone rings and the man picks it up, turning it into Skittles. He then accidentally turns his desk into Skittles as well. The lesson here is to never depress your audience when trying to sell something. There is no reason to make customers associate Skittles with sadness.

British Petroleum: What is Public Relations?

We all know the story with the BP oil spill. People around the world grew disdain for the brand after the spill. The commercial itself is not a bad idea. Publically telling people how you are going to fix the situation is great. However, there were a few mistakes, which did not go over well. When CEO, Tony Hayward, brought up the families affected by the spill, all he said was “We are sorry,” as if that fixes their financial situations.

The video was not received well by audiences who saw it as BP’s attempt to save face. Another factor that hurt the commercial was that Tony Hayward was recorded saying “I’d like my life back” by a news reporter. Here is a video from CBS News explaining how people reacted to the video and to his comments.

The key factor here is to think in depth before creating an advertisement. McDonald’s did not prepare for the loss of so much product. Fortunately the brand did not suffer long term consequences for the 1984 mistake. The Snickers marketing team should have looked at how people would view their commercials. They clearly care about what people think because they pulled the advertisement quickly, but not before the backlash hit. Skittles is fortunate because they probably did not outright offend anyone; they just wasted money and time on a commercial that puts Skittles in a sad light. BP had no chance to immediately redeem their image, however the actions of their PR team and company CEO, Tony Hayward, only made matters worse.  The long and short for a successful advertisement: consider all possible audiences, paint your brand in a good light, and be sincere.

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