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Failed Advertisements: An Opportunity to Learn!

by Isha Vaidya

To err is human, and advertisements are created by such humans! No amount of talent and experience can immune someone from making mistakes. Year-end is an excellent time to reflect on past mistakes and learn from them.

While advertisers and brands with agencies invest in research before creating and publishing any campaign, things aren't interpreted as intended or the lack of information and sufficient data comes to light only after a failed campaign.

On social media, though it is easy to delete a post and share an apology, the same cannot be done for nationwide campaigns running on television, newspapers and billboards. Retrieving such campaigns can be a task. In addition, since these mediums have a lasting impact on consumer minds it isn't easy to wash off the effects.

Let’s understand how and why advertisement campaigns fail with three simple examples,


Questionable Objective

Balenciaga's recent campaign featuring children is one of the most controversial campaigns of 2022. The campaign featured children with the brand's plush bear bags. While the concept seems simple, the images were condemned for sexualising children with background and props involved in the shoot. While the brand retrieved the campaign and clarified, having no intentions of justifying child abuse, it has sued the production company.

Though someone needs to be accountable, and often concepts come from production houses and advertising agencies, nothing is ever posted under any brand's name without a brand representative's approval. Hence, to the majority, this seems like a deliberately created controversy to get everyone talking about Balenciaga.

(Source: India Today)


Lost in Translation

A household name in India, a harmless dish soap, excellent market share and one controversial campaign featuring Milind Soman! Recently Vim appeared on our television screens with Vim Black- Dishwashing Liquid for men!

The commercial showcased a young man bragging about helping his mother in the kitchen by doing the dishes when Milind Soman appears handing the young lad a bottle of Vim Black. Soon, the brand clarified it was a joke, and no such product was introduced. They also mentioned how they do not believe in gender-assigned household chores. However, audiences were confused with the messaging.

This joke, though clever, lost its messaging in execution and presentation.

(Source: Outlook India)


Offensive Messaging

Today, Zomato is known and appreciated for its quirky messaging and remarkable SMS marketing. However, back in 2017, it faced hot waters when billboards were placed all around cities claiming that Zomato has got everything, i.e. how every dish one could crave for can be ordered from Zomato. Unfortunately, the copies focused on the abbreviations MC and BC, which even though the brand interpreted as ‘Mac n Cheese’ and ‘Butter Chicken’ respectively, resulted in them facing backlash for seeming misogynistic and inappropriate.

(Source: SheThePeople)

While Balenciaga wanted to showcase their bags, Vim had an excellent intention, and Zomato wanted to connect with the audience, all three campaigns failed due to an inadequate understanding of the audience’s mindset, improper execution and controversial ideas.

So What Can We Learn From Them?

Mistakes are bound to happen, but we can avoid them with five steps,

  • Understand your target audience

  • Choose the language and tone suitable for your audience

  • Test your campaign before making it public

  • Instead of going for sensationalised content, select a narrative that supports your brand

  • Research well before finalising anything.

Lastly, despite everything, if mistakes happen or the audience is displeased with your campaign, take accountability. Understand the problem and address the issue.

One way of handling negative feedback is by focusing on problem solving. Clarify your intentions, and come up with a new message that is better suited for your audience.

But, hey! Such mistakes can still be avoided. Do you want to create winning campaigns? Here’s your cheat sheet!


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