6 Branding Strategy Flops And Why They Failed
Branding doesn’t always come off as a hit. There are a lot of reasons why a branding strategy might miss the mark, but the real flops are the ones that actually damage a company’s brand. Sometimes, they leave parent companies trying to put out a public relations fire. As Inc. notes, the factors that contribute to epic brand strategy flops could range from bad marketing, concept, or execution. These six branding strategies underline the worst of the worst that branding has to offer.
1. Nike’s Betsy Ross Sneakers
In July 2019, the Wall Street Journal mentioned that Nike decided o pull their “Betsy Ross Themed” sneakers off the shelves following a scathing condemnation by one of their brand ambassadors the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick. The shoe was designed with the image of the American flag sewn by Betsy Ross when the colonies first declared independence.
Why it Failed: The world today is heavily racially charged, and the input from Kaepernick stated that the flag recalled a time when African Americans were enslaved. The flag, he continued, was a rallying point for supremacist groups and including it on the shoe sent the wrong message. Even though the flag isn’t held widely as a racist symbol, the company decided to err on the side of caution and pull the shoe. The retraction led to a boycott by conservatives who saw the intervention of the athlete in the company’s decision as offensive.
Lesson Learned: Nike learned to avoid historical symbology in their products, to avoid offending anyone. Other companies learned that history is beautiful to look at, but very difficult to capitalize on in advertising.
2. EA’s Illegal Weapons Giveaway
Promoting a game requires using all the resources at a company’s disposal. These tools should not include brass knuckles. Kotaku reported that Electronic Arts, to market their game The Godfather II, shipped out a series of brass knuckles to journalists. The company was chastised for using the US postal service to distribute illegal weapons.
Why it Failed: The reason this marketing ploy failed was that the company was sending out illegal weapons to people who didn’t want to get involved with them.
Lesson Learned: Electronic Arts supposedly learned why it was wrong to ship illegal weapons to journalists. However, with the way EA nonchalantly approaches marketing, whether the lesson was learned remains to be seen. Other companies learned that promotional items are not exempt from legal ramifications.
The New York City Police Department decided to do a little bit out social media outreach using the #myNYPD hashtag. The police asked users to post pictures of the police with the hashtag attached. However, with public opinion heavily against the police at this point, the results were excruciatingly bad, according to Bustle. The hashtag was hijacked from its initial attempt at humanizing the police and instead tuned into a series of police brutality shots, tanking the NYPD’s public image.
Why it Failed: While user-generated content is fantastic to boost a brand, it helps if the brand isn’t engaging in acts of violence that it then tries to play down. While it’s likely that not all the recorded images that users shared were of the NYPD, the attitude of the public was evident towards the police service in general.
Lesson Learned: The NYPD realized that they needed to improve their public image before trying a stunt like that again. Other related companies learned that public image matters a lot if depending on the public for publicity.
4. Pepsi Harrier Fighter Jet
In 1996, people used to be a lot more literal about what they see in ads. According to The Fringe, in one of Pepsico’s Super Bowl ads, the company announced a competition for trading points collected from bottlecaps in for prizes, with the kicker being seven million points for a Harrier fighter jet. But no one would go to all that effort to get seven million points, would they? Oh, yes, they would. John Leonard collected all seven million points, and when Pepsi refused to honor their advertisement, he took the company to court…and won.
Why it Failed: The most distinct reason it failed was that the company made assumptions of the consumer. Those assumptions came back to bite them when Leonard showed up to claim the prize which the company didn’t have.
Lesson Learned: It is assumed that Pepsi learned not to offer a fighter jet as a prize and that companies taking their example wouldn’t offer rewards they didn’t have access to.
5. CEO of LifeLock’s Social Security Number
As Wired notes, if you publish your social security number prominently on the front page of a security company, it’s almost an invitation for someone to steal it. While it’s a brilliant ploy to get customers interested in your security, your system has to work. Since 2005, Todd Davis, the CEO of LifeLock whose SSN is on the banner image, claims that he’s had his identity stolen no less than thirteen times.
Why it Failed: The initial push was to gain publicity for the company and to encourage users to acquire the service. However, LifeLock has to work against people trying to steal a social security number, and the number of times Davis’ identity had been stolen was less than stellar advertising for the company.
Lesson Learned: Perfect your product before challenging users to break it.
6. New Coke
The Coca-Cola Company mentions that, according to some quarters, April 23rd, 1985 will remain a day of infamy in marketing circles as the point in time when New Coke was introduced. New Coke was an attempt to change the tried-and-true formula that worked for Coke for 99 years. The consumer backlash was immediate and disastrous for the company. However, to their credit, Coca-Cola listened, and a few months later, New Coke was stuck in the annals of history as another failed attempt at marketing.
Why it Failed: Consumers love things they can trust. They dislike change. The introduction of New Coke was intended to shake up the cola market and establish Coca-Cola as an innovator. Instead, it spawned thousands of protests about bringing back the old blend. While it was a debacle, the company re-entered the public eye in a big way and managed to recover successfully.
Lesson Learned: Consumers like what they like. Changing something that works will very likely generate a public outcry.
What Makes Brand Strategies Flop?
Branding is like a house of cards – a precariously balanced structure where the slightest change could bring about disaster. The problem is most companies can’t control all the factors that may affect the success or failure of their branding. Dealing with what the company can impact goes a long way towards streamlining the success of a strategy. However, nothing can guarantee a branding strategy’s success. Sometimes, branding strategy flops happen, and they’re not the end of the world, as long as the company takes a lesson from it.