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11 Most Common Execution Mistakes

Written by Matteo Rinaldi

Most of us grow up with parents telling us that we will learn from our mistakes. As this sentence sometimes stays with us for our entire life, it’s no secret that most of our learning comes from our failures. Marketing is the same. Even the most powerful and engaging brand strategy is useless if not executed properly. Working with several creative agencies around the world, I created a list of some of the most common mistakes, many of which caused the brand embarrassment.


I hope these 11 common mistakes will inspire you to create a more effective communication strategy. Or at least, help you not to make a major blunder:


Error 1: Not being meaningful for the target


Every time you want to communicate something to your target, be sure that the advertisement is in line with who they are and what their values are. It is important that the communication is relevant to them.

Last Christmas, Pandora, the Danish Jewelry company, was strongly criticized by their consumers for their billboard inside a Metro station in Milan:


An iron, a pair of pajamas, an apron, a Pandora bracelet. What do you think will make her happy?


As a message for Pandora’s target (young, smart, independent women, who are extremely social and have a great sense of style), it was perceived as not really relevant and, to a certain extent, offensive. Indeed, the message was quite masculine and downsized the role of women in Italian society.


Error 2: Not delivering on Brand promises


Never state product attributes unless you are absolutely sure they can be delivered (always) by the product/service you are trying to sell.

The creative agency behind an unsinkable phone accessory called "iFloat" decided to put the phone in a tub of water in a store to demonstrate that it wouldn’t sink if immersed in water. The phone ended up at the bottom of the tub, damaging both the reputation of the product and of the company.


In 2007, LifeLock CEO Todd Davis posted his social security number on a billboard and dared the world to steal his identity. A lot of people accepted his challenge and many of them managed to steal his personal data. A big problem for Todd, but an even bigger one for the company, which lost credibility.


If you write that you are always open, you cannot close, unless you want to seriously anger your customers.


Error 3: Not being defendable from the competition


Every communication should be defendable versus the competition, especially if you are making a frontal attack.

The war between Audi and BMW started long ago. When Audi launched the campaign “Congratulations to BMW for winning the World Car of the Year 2016” noting that Audi had won six consecutive Le Mans 24-hour Races 2000-2006, BMW replied with a sarcastic campaign. The campaing congratulated Audi for winning South African Car of the Year 2006, noting that BMW had won the World Car of the Year 2006.

Pepsi realized a seemingly ingenious marketing campaign by directly attacking its main competitor: Coca-Cola. The creative agency created an image in which a can of Pepsi was wrapped in a Coca-Cola branded cloak, wishing a scary Halloween to customers. Pepsi was trying to associate Coca-Cola with the creepy vampires that populate cities on Halloween night. Unfortunately, the Marketing team at Coca-Cola responded by reposting the same photo making fun of the campaign promoted by Pepsi. They modified the text with: "Everybody wants to be a hero!" and radically changed the meaning of the cloak, from a terrifying vampire dress to the cape of superheroes.


Error 4: Forgetting how the communication interacts with its surroundings


Perception is everything. Even the best communication can be easily turned into the worst, if we do not consider the placement.

An advertisement from a company selling women’s underwear was posted on a billboard on the side of a bus. While the position guaranteed visibility for the advertising, the company did not consider the effects of road dirt splashing up onto the poster.


Starbucks decided to brand their vans with their own name and logo. However, they did not consider the context. When the operator opened the door of the vehicle, it covered some of the letters, leaving only the logo and five letters visible next to the logo: sucks.


Turkish Airlines placed a banner on the escalator inside a mall showing one of their airplanes floating in the sky. Their creative agency did not consider the slope of the escalator leaving customers with a view of a plane dangerously losing altitude just before a crash.


Error 5: Taking it too far


Sometimes creatives take it too far, and funny ads become cheesy or disrespectful.

Burger King used an exaggerated campaign to promote the Super Seven Incher with an image full of double-meanings. The campaign was perceived as offensive and sexist.


Jack Daniels pushed its advertising campaign too far, when it alluded to possible unpleasant events linked to the loss of inhibitions due to alcohol consumption. This campaign was seen as nasty and obscene, generating a negative halo around the brand.


Amazon advertised its TV series "The Man in the High Castle" by wrapping the seats, walls, and ceilings of one train in the New York subway with images that clearly referred to Nazism. New Yorkers harshly criticized the e-commerce giant. The Mayor of New York immediately intervened by asking Amazon to remove the advertisements which he defined as “Irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers.”


Error 6: Not giving a clear message


The message should always be clear and straightforward leaving no room for misunderstandings.

Brands commit unfortunate mistakes. McDonald’s looked quite foolish with its cheerful “YASS” campaign.


The Dove real beauty campaign focusing on the experience of “self-confidence” was one of the best marketing campaigns of all time. Yet one particular execution was highly criticized: a billboard showing a black woman who became white once she removed her t-shirt. The idea was to represent “the diversity of real beauty”, but the audience perceived Dove as highly racist, because it seemed that the black woman wanted to turn into a white woman. This caused huge discontent among Dove’s customers, who expressed contempt on social media.


Clinica Dental in San Marcelino undoubtedly chose the wrong logo, which led consumers to wonder whether the service offered was something more than dental care.


Error 7: Misspelling words


Details are everything. Small grammar or spelling mistakes can really make a difference.

A successful brand can actually damage its credibility with a grammar or spelling mistake. For a new brand in the market, the risk is even higher. Even a small mistake can create embarrassment in the reader.


Error 8: Treating your customers as fools


What can seem an enticing technique can result in an offensive way of dealing with your customers.

Can you really offer lemonade forever for a limited time? This incoherent message undoubtedly affected the credibility of the brand. Moreover, writing in capital letters “Forever” and then “For a Limited Time” in small letters affected the brand image, since it could be perceived as dishonest by the consumers.


When visiting a store, is the consumer more willing to buy a product that usually costs $10 if there is a $0.12 promotion? They might feel that the brand is trying to deceive them. The brand’s image could be irreparably damaged and their relationship with the consumer deteriorated.


Error 9: Not being well-informed


Be sure you do all the necessary research before execution.


McDonald’s with its “Double Cheeseburger? I’d hit it” campaign showed how they were not current with urban slang. The brand tried to connect with its younger audience by using slang it didn’t fully understand, leading to a creepy campaign in which a man is actually saying that he would like to have sex with a double cheeseburger.

Ford did not take cultural differences into consideration when launching the “Pinto” model in Brazil. In Brazilian slang, “Pinto” means penis. Again, lack of research led to the spectacular flop of the new model in a specific market. Ford should have known better after their misnamed “Nova” launch in South America earlier (‘no go’).


Error 10: Being unconventionally funny for the sake of it


Even if it makes you laugh, this doesn’t mean that you will sell more.

Buondì Motta, a famous confectionary company in Italy, created a campaign in which the daughter asks for a delicious, light breakfast. Her father replies that there is no breakfast with those requirements – if it existed, strange objects would fall from the sky. Since the brand claimed to provide a delicious and light breakfast, an object did fall from the sky. It was a fun advertisement but it wasn’t really related to the product itself and didn’t increase sales.

Opel’s creative agency placed a disruptive image to attract the attention of their audience, forgetting that being disruptive does not guarantee success. In this case, the message, which should be at the core of the banner, is not clear. Instead it is in the bottom right corner and consequently, can be easily ignored. At first glance, it’s extremely hard to sense which product/brand is advertised, the company logo is very small, and it doesn’t show any vehicles.

Error 11: Not knowing the difference between your consumer and your buyer

Make sure you know whom you need to convince ;) 

The Christmas sales season is huge for men’s aftershave and cologne. But what the Pfizer brand team failed to recognize is that over 70% of fragrances bought during this period of the year are actually purchased by women as gifts for their men. Pfizer did a very expensive BTL (below the line) campaign saying that the Hai Karate deodorant was so good men would have to fight off women. Not a hit with the ladies, it killed the brand.

#HumanCentricMarketing #MarketingMistakes

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