Clickbait Catastrophe! Top 5 Murderous Marketing Failures

Clickbait Catastrophe! Top 5 Marketing Fails That Led to Murder

– Written by Adam Eli Bernhardt

See this article’s title?

It likely click-baited you into reading it.

You’ve come here to salivate as you read the sensational stories promised by this headline. You might be thinking to yourself, “How bad can people be at marketing that it results in the loss of life?”

There are, therefore, two pertinent facts we need to clear up right away.

  1. Even if marketing fails that bad did exist, they’re not ours.
  2. They probably don’t exist (we try to keep murder rates down in our industry).

Clickbait – A Deadly Explanation

Clickbait marketing refers to the practice of writing sensationalized or misleading headlines to attract more clicks on a piece of content.

Who is miserable enough to go to such lengths for attention, you may ask?

Sadly, an astoundingly large number of people and businesses are. We’re now included in the mix, too. 

You’ve surely seen these kinds of craven headlines splattered throughout your various newsfeeds—ones like:

  • Howling at the Moon – The Truth Behind Justin Bieber’s Monthly Disappearances Alludes to the Biebs being a werewolf but is likely an article about him going off to one of his private islands once a month to look at clear, starry skies.
  • 90-year-old Alpinist Shares Secret to Staying in Shape
    The profound secret they reveal? Eating a healthy, balanced diet. Shocker, we know.
  • New Food Science Revealed – You May Never Eat Again
    The article, very anticlimactically, will likely list the various food items’ calorie counts.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the digital era, sums up clickbait marketing: it works to grab attention, but more often than not, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. It’s also why we’ve written this article; to help you craft winning marketing campaigns and avoid this sneaky strategy.

Better still, we’ll be taking a look at several viral industry fails that are as hilarious as they are cringe-worthy, helping you understand these attention-begging marketing blunders while having a good laugh.

Sorry, no murders, though.

5 Viral Marketing Fails that Killed (Us Inside)

1. Peloton’s Gender-Biased Holiday Ad (2020)

Peloton’s Gender-Biased Holiday Ad Clickbait Catastrophe

Featuring a woman receiving a stationary bike as a Christmas gift from her husband, Peloton’s ad certainly didn’t make it the season to be jolly. It resulted in an outpouring of criticism on social media – rightfully so – lambasting the ad’s portrayal of unrealistic expectations and gender stereotypes.

Lesson: Consider the message you’re sending and how it will be digested by different audiences.

2. Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Fiasco (2017)

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Ad Fiasco

The worst marketing campaigns completely fail to deliver their message, often resulting in spectacular backfires. Pepsi thought it would be a swell idea to promote unity by depicting Kendall Jenner stopping a protest with—shudders—a can of soda. Beyond being unbelievably contrived, the ad was slammed for trivializing social justice movements.

Lesson: a) Authenticity matters and b) This is why Pepsi will never be better than Coca-Cola.

3. H&M’s “Monkey” Sweatshirt Sorrows (2018)

H&M’s “Monkey” Sweatshirt Catastrophic Ad Campaign

An H&M advert depicted a child modeling a sweatshirt that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” – the only problem? The child was black. The ad was widely condemned for racial insensitivity.

Lesson: Cultural awareness is crucial to avoid marketing fails. If you’re feeling unsure about how offensive your content is, it’s likely offensive.

4. Dove’s Body Wash Marketing Blunders (2017)

Dove’s Body Wash Marketing Blunders

A Dove ad featured a black woman turning into a white woman after using their body wash. Dealing a damning blow to the brand, the ad was globally admonished for promoting colorism and negative body image.

Lesson: Diversity and inclusion are important. Include and market to all members of your target audience. Also, racism is terrible.

5. McDonald’s “Ask Me Anything” Twitter Chat Fail (2014)

McDonald's "Ask Me Anything" Twitter Chat Fail

McDonald’s quickly found out their customers were not nearly as happy as their meals after launching a casual Q&A Twitter session accompanied by the hashtag #McDStories. They unwittingly opened the floodgates, incurring the wrath of unenthused patrons venting about their food quality and labor practices. 

Lesson: Social media is a powerful tool and marketers need to be mindful about all the risks involved when using it. 

A Bloody Analysis of Funny Marketing Fails

A Bloody Analysis of Funny Marketing Fails

All five of these marketing fails went viral for several reasons.

Some were insensitive, others were inauthentic, and most relied on misleading clickbait strategies. The commonality between them all is that a lack of audience research and understanding persists, coupled with a failure to realize how their messages would be perceived.

Blood, Bones, and Body Bits: Takeaways for Marketers

If you would like to avoid marketing blunders like these, here are some key pointers on how to do so:

  • Clarity first: Ensure clear messaging to avoid misinterpretations.
  • Know your audience: Ensure tailored messages resonate with their values.
  • Test and refine: Gather feedback, iterating campaigns for maximum impact.
  • Embrace diversity: Represent your target audience equally and authentically.
  • Be real: Steer clear of gimmicks and employ genuine brand storytelling instead.
  • Think before posting: Consider all the potential consequences of your campaign

Too Many Marketing Fails and Your Fingers Will Fall Off

Hopefully, just by this article’s headings, you’ve come to understand more about what clickbait tactics are and are now better equipped to avoid them.

Marketing is absolutely about capturing attention, but this should be a higher priority than retaining trust and authenticity. Learn from the clickbait catastrophes and craft marketing campaigns that are as catchy as they are effective.

Remember, the best marketing moves your audience and leaves a lasting, positive impression. Be purposeful and thoughtful, then watch your brand flourish!


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