The Greatest Goofs, Blunders, and Missteps in Ad Campaigns

Blindfold businessman look for target in wrong direction
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Like any business, it’s people that run advertising agencies. And people, as we all know, are fallible. We all have our flaws and weaknesses, and occasionally even the best traffic systems, foolproof measures, and endless meetings cannot stop mistakes from creeping in.

Unfortunately, advertising is meant to be viewed by a lot of people. When mistakes are made, a lot of people see them. Sometimes they can actually help the campaign get more attention than it was ever supposed to get. On other occasions, it can lead to embarrassment, fines, and even the loss of jobs.

You can chalk it all up to several possible causes for the chaos:

Literal Translations Lead to Bizarre and Insulting New Ads

Almost every brand has a tagline, and some brands have multiple taglines for multiple products, including Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi, and Chrysler Jeep. You may not have given this much thought, but what happens when some of America's greatest taglines are put through the translation filter? It's not actually as cut and dry as simply hitting the translate button, due to different cultural references. For instance, in some countries, it is common practice to put a picture of the product inside the can on the label.

Imagine how they would react to baby food or dog food!

Perhaps the most famous translation error came from Pepsi, which turned “Come Alive With The Pepsi Generation” into “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Dead.”

The Agency Gets Lazy or Believes Everyone Thinks As They Do

The old adage – "Never assume, it makes an ass out of u and me" – is right at home in this world. Agencies somehow think that everyone will just instantly get the joke, or understand the thinking behind it.

So when Popchips used Ashton Kutcher in “brown face,” they assumed everyone would think the best of the campaign. How could it be racist? The real question is, how could it be any more racist? 

Agencies Get Too “Clever” for Their Own Good

While some say that one name is as good as another, when you’re trying to break through, that Remember, it’s not about being clever, it’s about being relevant and memorable. For instance, Colgate Wisp is a beautiful product name. It conjures just what you want about the product itself. It’s lightweight, it’s gentle, and when coupled with a name like Colgate, you know it’s something portable for your dental needs. That’s how to do it right.

And on the subject of being too clever, agencies can also go too far with their ideas. When that happens, you get a whole lot of consumers scratching their heads and wondering what you’re trying to say.

So, be strategic, be savvy, but never be too smart for your own good.

Spectacular Advertising Flops, and Why They Failed

There is no real right or wrong answer to a creative brief or a client request. You cannot categorically say that any creative solution to a client's problem is 100% correct, or completely wrong. It all comes down to a series of conversations between the experts in the agency, and the client, to come to a consensus on what should be done. And, many times, it also comes down to gut feelings.

Unfortunately, sometimes those feelings are way off, sending the brand into a tailspin for a while. There are many examples of advertising and PR flops that had customers reeling — some are real headscratchers.

Unintentionally Awful Website Names

When you’re looking for a website name for your company, product, or service, you want something catchy and memorable. You also want something fairly short, and ideally ending with a .com. Yes, there are many suffixes now, including .net and .biz, but people instinctively type .com.

For those reasons, website names can become somewhat convoluted or tricky, with phonetic spellings taking the place of actual spellings (fone instead of phone), or a Z replacing an S (dogz instead of dogs). What also happens is a collision of words. Website and domain names are not punctuated, so words run together. As you can imagine, that can lead to some hilariously unintentional website names.

The Goal to Be Get Noticed Backfires

When it comes to the Super Bowl, only two things seem to matter the next day — which team won, and which commercials stood out?

Sometimes, the ads can be really good. Commercials that have stood the test of time include the masterful Apple spot called 1984 (directed by Ridley Scott), and, for some reason, the Budweiser Clydesdales. On other occasions, the ads can be real stinkers (not to mention controversial), which can also make them stand out in the minds of viewers for years to come.