How can negligent handling of sensitive issues lead to marketing fails?

Anyone addressing difficult topics within marketing campaigns should do so with the utmost sensitivity. Negligent handling of sensitive topics can lead to the following marketing fails.

by Smart Media Agency BE | April 27, 2023

Marketing campaigns are designed to attract the attention of interested consumers towards particular products and services, while simultaneously positively influencing a brand’s global perception. However, depending on whether these campaigns are actually in with the times, they can also prove catastrophic to a brand’s overall reputation. Especially serious topics such as poverty, war or environmental pollution do not leave any room for faux pas. The following examples show what happens when sensitive topics are addressed without enough due diligence.

Fail 1: The Bundeswehr Gamescom campaign

‘Multiplayer at its best’, ‘Open World at its best!’ – The Bundeswehr drew attention to itself with these slogans at the Gamescom video game fair in 2018. These slogans were displayed on posters whose design was reminiscent of well-known video games. With regards to terminology, the Bundeswehr was seeking to address players by promising ‘team play instead of single player’.

However, visitors at Gamescom were less than impressed by this. Many people argued that the campaign was equating war with video games, thereby presenting it as something harmless, while also putting forward a glorified image of the harsh realities of life as a soldier. The Bundeswehr was therefore deliberately giving young people a false impression in order to convince them to enlist.

Despite the controversy, the Bundeswehr stood by its campaign, stressing that its intention was, above anything else, to get young people thinking.


Fail 2: Victoria’s Secret’s perfect body

In 2014, Victoria’s Secret caused quite a stir with their ‘Perfect Body’ campaign, featuring ten models, all with similar body types: tall and thin. The words ‘The Perfect Body’ were written above the photo.

According to critics, the campaign was implying that this is what a perfect body should look like, and that other body shapes consequently did not fit in to this ideal of beauty. By consequence, they declared that the campaign’s message was outdated and dangerous.

Three women eventually started a petition asking Victoria’s Secret to alter its campaign and apologise. Following more than 26,000 signatures, they achieved their goal. The company changed its slogan to ‘A Body for Every Body’.


Fail 3: BMW takes our breath away

Many consider BWMs to be dream cars. However, in terms of marketing, the car manufacturer has sometimes left a little to be desired. In 2018, the company took out an ad in a German newspaper for its BMW 8 Series Coupe G15, with the slogan ‘built to take your breath away’.

What might, at a first glance, have seemed a rather innocuous, poetic phrase, came across quite differently given the context. At the time, newspapers were heavily preoccupied with the VW diesel scandal, as well as debates about urban air quality and pollution. Marketing a car as ‘taking your breath away’ does not quite sit well in this context. Critics were quick to take to Twitter. Among their tweets came the following: ‘Finally! The first car manufacturer to publicly admit why they do what they do.’

Fail 4: Aldi is not a big player

According to calculations made by a British researcher, 24 January is the poorest day of the year. This hypothesis is predicated on the great many people falling on hard times as a result of their annual Christmas spending.

Inspired by these calculation, Aldi launched its so-called ‘Poorest Day Challenge’ campaign, which would see them challenge a British influencer to feed her family of four on £25 (about 31.90 Swiss francs) for one week. As part of the campaign, she had to do all her shopping at Aldi, sharing her daily meals via social media in the process.

People accused Aldi of trivialising the hardship that many people in England were facing, without making the slightest bit of effort to actually help those going through it.


Written by Fatima Di Pane


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