Top Ten Marketing #fails of 2014

3 December 2014

It’s December, which means you are likely to see a number of 2014 top tens bouncing about on the interwebs. This one, however, is from the lovely folks at Marketing magazine and list the top 10 marketing fails of 2014.

Some we remember fondly, and others passed us sneakily by. Enjoy.

10. While skilfully drafted, Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorious ad was not judged to be a winner by many, drawing a record 5525 complaints to the ASA. The ad, which offered a ‘money back if he walks’ guarantee for bets placed on the verdict of Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, was a play on words, but the betting firm seriously misjudged how funny the nation would find murder of a young South African woman. Or was it culpable homicide? Even taking the piss out of someone with no legs kind of paled next to that.

youre on coke

9. Coca Cola has had a number of massive marketing blunders over the years (Dasani anyone?) and this isn’t even it’s only appearance in the top ten. This campaign, which appeared fleetingly in North America probably sounded like a good idea on paper. “You’re on”, like everyone who drinks Coke is a film star or something else glamorous and vital. Unfortunately, when displayed on billboards, it looked like they were encouraging people to go out and take Class A drugs instead. Which was presumably not the original plan.

8. were probably patting themselves on the back around the time of the Scottish referendum- they’d already planned an ad campaign to go live once the yes vote came in. Unfortunately for, the result didn’t go as planned, but that’s no reason to waste a good advert, and they sent it out anyway. The ad generated buzz for all the wrong reasons, causing to issue a Union flag themed apology, saying they had "accidentally hit send on an email we prepared in case of a ‘yes’ vote for Scottish independence". They later tried to backtrack and claim it was all a deliberately provoking viral marketing ploy. Yeah right.

7. 2014 has been a bad year for Tesco. The once-unassailable supermarket giant has seen its fortunes turn dramatically, with the icing on the cake being the announcement that they had fiddled the figures, to the tune of over £250m.

Tesco blamed the humungous error to problems in the way in which it recognised income from suppliers. Eight senior manag­ers, including UK managing director Chris Bush, were asked to BOGOF. Not even cheesy Shakespearean sonnets can save things now.

6. Tech companies and women. When will women learn their place? Microsoft Chief Exec Satya Nadella told women earlier this year that they have no need to ask for pay rises and should instead put their trust in the system. His brilliant career advice, given  at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing claimed that not asking for a rise was "good karma" that would help a boss realise the employee could be trusted and should have more responsibility. Like maybe carrying his briefcase or something.

But Microsoft isn’t the only tech company rubbing women up the wrong way. Both Apple and Facebook proudly added egg-freezing to their employee benefits. After all, women can’t have a comparable career without freezing eggs can they? Far better to wait until you’ve actually dried up to have children…

american apparel

5. Seedy clothing retailer American Apparel had its ads banned by the ASA, after their latest campaign was centred on up-skirt photos of schoolgirls. The campaign included pictures of a model bent over touching the ground, revealing her crotch and underwear, and another showing a woman bending over. The ASA concluded that "the ads had the effect of inappropriately sexualising school-age girls and were therefore offensive and irresponsible", and that the ads "had not been prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers or to society".

American Apparel were entirely unrepentant, claiming that they were famed for their provocative ads, and people should have expected it from them. Oh, that’s OK then. To be fair, their ads have been banned before, and another 2014 campaign featured mannequins with merkins. Let’s all look forward to 2015 with trepidation.

4. Let’s face it, the 2014 World Cup was a fairly rubbish affair, and the insult of the national team’s performance was only matched by the money-grabbing antics of Nike, who were charging £90 for the replica kit, that lasted all of 3 games, and was the fourth kit produced in 12 months.

The Telegraph ‘Sport’ summed it up most succintly: "England may have a history of underachievement on the field, but the new shirt, made by Nike, shows they are world leaders in what they charge supporters."

3. Coca Cola got in trouble again this year when they rejigged their ‘Reasons to believe’ advert, which was intended to show there is "more good than bad in the world". The Irish version cut a gay-marriage scene, replacing it with a St Patrick’s Day shot instead.

Coca Cola claimed they cut the scene as gay marriage is still illegal in Ireland, but critics felt Coca Cola were compromising their principles by cutting the scene in this one specific market. Especially after this “you can’t write ‘gay’ on coke bottles” story.

2. Everyone loves Facebook. Except when they start messing with your head and trying to make you sad. Research undertaken in partnership with Cornell University and the University of California in 2012 saw users’ news feeds altered to control the proportion of negative or positive posts that appeared. The study concluded that Facebook could influence whether users felt more positive or negative by doing this.

When the details were announced in 2014, it was fairly clear that almost everyone felt angry and aggrieved at being fiddled with by Facebook.


1. You have to feel a bit sorry for Apple. Not for long and only a tiny bit, but they must have been most surprised to discover that not everyone wants something for free. Free is no good if you don’t actually want it.

This is, of course, the ‘coup’ Apple pulled off by having U2’s new album given free to every iTunes user. Except rather than jumping up and down with glee at a free album, many consumers were at best disgruntled and at worst rabidly annoyed that Apple felt it had the right (and the access) to poke around in people’s music libraries. U2 didn’t come out of it well either, and the whole shebang led to users frantically searching how to delete an unwanted U2 album from iTunes, before Apple itself was forced to create a tool to do the job for you. Fortunately, there was already a tool in U2...

1 comment

  • Les D.
    Oh no! Don't offend the wimminz! How dare anybody say anything to the wimminz? Gender pay gaps! Mu soggy knees!!! RAPE CULTURE!!!! If Microsoft said the same to thing to men nobody would give a shit.

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