Big Brand Marketing Mistakes (And What We Can Learn From Them)

By Banc Digital

3 min read

Successful marketing plans and strategies are often built upon an element of risk, with brands taking a gamble to attract new custom and boost profitability. Market research and the utilisation of skilled, experience professionals can help shift the odds in your favour, but sometimes it can go horribly wrong – for small and big brands alike. Here we gleefully visit some of the greatest big brand marketing mistakes, and try to glean a lesson or two from their errors.

Pepsi’s Necromancy Claims

When Pepsi decided to take their cola drink to the Chinese market, bosses thought they needed a brand new slogan – something bold and striking. Deciding upon ‘Pepsi brings you back to life’, the drinks brand started their marketing assault on the largest population on Earth. Unfortunately, their marketing team didn’t sufficiently check how this phrase translated into the native tongue and ended up promising the Chinese that ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’.

A promise which is confusing, misleading and downright terrifying – false advertising in the extreme.


Lesson: Check, double-check and triple-check any translations with native speakers. All released marketing material must be subjected to significant sub-editing before release.

Panasonic’s Double Entendre Nightmare

Selecting a popular cartoon character is a tried and tested marketing technique for family-focussed brands. This method can help give the brand identity and personality – making it easier for consumers to identify with the brand. When the electronics giant took the plunge to enter the already-competitive consumer PC market, executives decided to call upon the help of popular cartoon character Woody Woodpecker to set their product apart from the competition.

Unfortunately, the promotion seemed to be devised by a 15 year old boy – with Panasonic calling their first PC ‘The Woody’, the touchscreen feature ‘Touch Woody’, and web browser ‘The Internet Pecker’. Although the timeless marketing mantra decrees that ‘sex sells’; penis-themed family PCs were always doomed to fail.


Would you trust this bird?

Lesson: Unless you’re in the penis industry, don’t name your products after colloquial terms for penises.

Colgate’s Flirtation with Frozen Food

Not content with being one of the major players in the dental hygiene industry, someone at Colgate decided the brand could successfully enter the frozen food market – apparently assuming they were in the “anything to do with the mouth and teeth” industry. Unsurprisingly consumers were not convinced and did not want to eat food made by toothpaste manufacturers. The product was pulled shortly after entering the market following dire sales.



Lesson: Brand and product are closely connected in consumer’s mind. If you want to branch out into different industries, diversify your branding.

New York Times’ Unsubscribe Fiasco

The seemingly terminal plight of printed media has affected even the largest of newspapers – not least the New York Times which is suffering ever-falling profits and subscriptions. In the wake of growing subscription cancellations, the newspaper chiefs decided to email the recently unsubscribed, offering them a discounted rate to sign up again. Unfortunately, instead of emailing the 300 or so intended recipients – the marketing team emailed all 8 million subscribers.

This led to widespread outrage amongst subscribers who were angry that their loyalty was not being rewarded, with discounts being offered solely to those who had jumped ship – leading to more cancelled subscriptions and a lot of negative publicity.


New York Times office with built-in sales projection

Lesson: Consider the whole of your customer base, and never play favourites. Offering special deals to only a select number of customers could lead to backlash.

Gap’s New Design

Clothing brand Gap’s famous logo had been going strong for 24 years and had become synonymous with the retailer’s approach to no-fuss, no-frills clobber. Then on 6 October 2010, Gap decided to freshen up the branding with a new radically-different logo design. The backlash was immediate and devastating – with public outcry leading to the old logo being reinstated just six days later. Five months later, the executive, Marka Hansen, who oversaw the rebranding, resigned from the company.

Lesson: Understand what has made your brand successful, and don’t turn your back on that.

If you require a marketing team which implements considered, researched and well-conceived strategies, the Banc Media team may be able to help with your online presence and e-commerce conversion. Give us a ring on 0845 459 0558 for a quick chat about how we can help develop your brand online.