Ouch! The most memorable marketing slips of 2017

Ouch! The most memorable marketing slips of 2017

By Alberto Barchetti & Theresa Dada

Ouch! 2017 most memorable marketing slips

Another year, another set of unforgettable marketing moments. From KFC’s audacious extraterrestrial Zinger to Audi’s empowering Super Bowl’s “Daughter”, this year has proven how game changing marketing campaigns can still be. Although, a few missteps along the way were expected and did occur, leaving us and viewers across the world shaking heads (and stare blankly at the screen for few seconds). We present here 2017’s most dubious marketing moments, along with some brighter ones that can help companies aim for better inspirations for this new year to come.

Dove’s Body Wash ad

It was early October when Facebook saw the light of this highly controversial ad. Although the ad appeared as a simple gif that the company posted on its Facebook wall, its ambivalent message was met with so much criticism that the firm is still facing the backlash even months after. The ad, which shows women of different races taking off their shirts to reveal a different woman underneath them, met a social media uproar because of its potential racist meaning. The ad, promoting Dove’s body wash, starts with a black woman who transitions into a white one, thus leaving space for dangerous insinuations. Does using the product wash away darker tones of one’s skin and make them “purer”? Thousands of social media users complained about the lack of empathy the company showed with this ad.

If Dove has let many customers upset with its ambivalent Facebook gif, Cover Girl has managed to recently lift our spirits with its newest commercial featuring America’s new it-girl Issa Rae. The video promotes the company’s new makeup line and it presents a flirtatious Rae expressing compliments while laying on a bar at a club. It is only at the end of the ad that we realize the Insecure actress is talking to herself in the mirror, leaving viewers with a smile on their faces and a newly-found sense of confidence. While Dove may have left an ambivalent message despite its effort to include all types of beauty in its campaign, Cover Girl conquered us with its simple yet clear one: self-love has never felt so comforting.


Another marketing incident that went viral this year was related to an article posted by Cosmopolitan - a women's lifestyle magazine. The article is about a personal story of Harbinson, an Instagram fitness blogger who lost 44 pounds because she experienced several severe setbacks in her life, including cancer and found a way to be happy with her body again. However, Cosmopolitan labeled her story as a kind of diet insider tip in order to gain the reader’s attention (“How this woman lost 44 pounds without *ANY* exercise”). This unethical way to promote severe health issues as a romantic diet caused  many comments of indignation and bewilderment. Moreover, this marketing fail reflects the toxic practice to address shallow stereotypes in order to communicate something that entails much more value.

This topic was also addressed by Always - a brand for feminine hygiene products, but as a best practice! They used the stereotype “to run like a girl” to show the viewers in their commercial that such stereotypes are frequently undermining personal self

McDonald’s and Child Bereavement

Back in May, the biggest fast food chain in the world advertised its Filet-O-Fish through a tv ad that has since been pulled from British televisions. The ad showed a young boy asking his mother questions about his deceased father. The boy does not seem to be happy to show different personality traits from his father, however his mood improves once he visits a McDonald’s restaurant. “That was your dad’s favorite” the mother tells as the boy takes a bite from the burger, now with a smile on his face.

Despite the company’s attempt to make hearts warm and play on consumers’ empathy, viewers on Twitter and social media were not to thrilled to associate McDonald’s with such a strong theme. Many found it unethical for McDonald’s to use the child’s loss as a way to promote one of its products, and the ad has since been called disrespectful and offensive. 

Children can be and have been protagonists in successful commercials in the last couple of years, yet companies need to be extra careful whenever dealing with infantile issues. A more light-hearted ad portraying the brave gestures of a young girl has recently been launched by H&M for its Christmas campaign.

In this Christmas fairytale, the girl, whose parents are no one else but Nicki Minaj and Jesse Williams, finds herself travelling into another dimension to stop Santa’s evil brother from ruining Christmas. Needless to say, the video has lifted the spirits of thousands of viewers already and has been welcomed with favorable criticism. The company has also stated at the end of the video that this year’s holiday donation from the H&M foundation will be devolved to UNICEF to give children the best start in life.

2017 showed us that no matter how well-intended a marketing campaign can be, messages can still be misunderstood in the age of viral content and social media comments. However, it also showed us that well-thought marketing still has the ability to bring people together. Here’s to a new year full of new marketing moments!