Bad Marketing Examples: Learn From These Mistakes

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What are some examples of bad marketing? How can you learn from these mistakes and improve your marketing strategy?

There is a lot that can go wrong when creating marketing strategies. From improper wording to emotional insensitivity and confusion, it’s important to avoid these bad marketing mistakes in your own campaigns.

Here are some examples of bad marketing you can learn from.

Examples of Bad Marketing

The following examples of bad marketing will help you to understand what can go wrong in a marketing campaign.

Ron Bensimhon’s Publicity Stunt

For your story to be effective, people need to pass on the “right” part of it: the part that contains information about your product or idea. Unfortunately, it’s not always guaranteed that they will. Understanding this is crucial if you want to avoid bad marketing.

Research has shown that when people retell a story, they only pass on information that they consider to be absolutely integral to the story. This means that once a story has been passed along five or six times, around 70% of the information that was originally included in it is lost. If the information about your product or idea is part of that 70%, you’ll fail to generate word of mouth. People may keep telling the story, but they won’t talk about your product or idea when they do.

A famous example of bad marketing is Ron Bensimhon’s publicity stunt at the Athens 2004 Olympics. Bensimhon, a notorious streaker, jumped off the Olympic diving board and belly-flopped into the pool, wearing nothing but a tutu and a pair of tights. He also had the name of an online casino,, written on his chest.

You might think that this stunt would generate lots of word of mouth for that lots of people would talk about the stunt and would mention the involvement of the website in the process. (Note: for the record, claimed they had nothing to do with the incident and didn’t ask Bensimhon to mention them in the stunt.) But, this didn’t happen. The fact that Bensimhon had the website written on his chest was a detail that, compared to the rest of this bizarre tale, was pretty uninteresting and could be left out. People talked about Bensimhon’s tutu and tights, the fact he was arrested, and the fact that security was apparently lax enough at the Olympics for him to break in. However, they didn’t mention the website. 

To avoid this issue, ensure that your product or idea is so crucial to the narrative’s progression that people can’t leave it out when they retell the tale. If they were to do so, the story would become completely nonsensical. Follow the example of the Egyptian dairy firm Panda, which masterfully put this principle into action in a series of TV spots.

One of Panda’s commercials tells the story of a father and his young son doing their grocery shopping. When the pair comes across some Panda cheese, the son asks the father if they can buy some, but the father says no. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man dressed in a giant panda costume appears. He wreaks havoc, flipping over the family’s shopping cart and kicking the food that’s spilled onto the floor. He does so as revenge for the family not buying Panda products.

This story is effective because you can’t tell it without mentioning the presence of the man in the panda costume. Likewise, you can’t explain why the man in the panda costume is there without adding the context that the brand name is Panda. If you fail to do this, the ad makes no sense. People will question why a panda-costume-adorned man would turn up in a supermarket. In short, you can’t recount the story of this commercial without spreading word of mouth about the company that created it. 

Just Say No Campaign

A famous example of bad marketing is the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. This ad campaign showed children and teenagers being offered drugs by their peers but choosing to say no: to reject drug-taking. It was hoped that the campaign would make the act of rejecting drugs more visible. Its organizers hoped that children and young people would imitate this behavior and also talk amongst themselves about how good it is to say no to drugs. 

However, the campaign actually had the opposite effect. It led to an increase in young people using drugs. This increase occurred because the campaign had inadvertently raised the visibility of drug-taking. It showed young people that other people their age were taking drugs. The viewers thought, “If those people are taking drugs, why shouldn’t I do it, too?” In the end, drug-taking was the behavior that they decided to imitate. 

You can avoid this issue by changing the focus of your campaign’s message. Don’t remind people that their peers are doing bad things. Instead, focus the campaign on the good thing that will happen to the people if they abandon the problematic behavior. For instance, replace the anti-drugs message “Lots of your peers are doing drugs. If they offer you drugs, say no” with “If you refrain from doing drugs, you’ll protect your physical and mental health.”

The above examples of bad marketing will help you avoid these mistakes in your own marketing campaign.

Bad Marketing Examples: Learn From These Mistakes

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  • Why some new products and ideas gain widespread popularity while others fail
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  • The importance of word of mouth in marketing

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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