Commercials That Completely Ruined Brands' Reputations

There are many well-known disasters in the marketing world. The whole New Coke debacle is pop culture canon. Gerber's failed attempts to market baby food to Africa (via Gulf Business) have been staples of Marketing 101 — and no, it does NOT contain actual babies. The Chevy Nova story of an English-to-Spanish gaffe is a thing of legend, although not quite as true as many of us have been led to believe (via NPR).  

In more modern times, there have been plenty of advertising debacles as well, especially in our digital world that includes social media. It's quite common for a brand to share an ill-thought tweet or to try and jump on a new trend, only to fall flat. Not every advertising campaign is going to go viral and some are set to fail. But failure would be a step up for some of these brands, as the following examples are absolute disasters. 

The freckle fiasco

Online dating has risen to meet our digital needs to try and find a partner despite our busy work and travel schedules. One of the most well-known companies to provide online dating services is The name alone dates this brand into a time period where we still used www's and .com's to describe web addresses, but even more off-target for the modern era would be their famous British campaign which seemingly put down red hair and freckles

Displayed in 2016 near London bus tunnels, the campaign featured an extreme close-up of a red-haired woman with freckles and read, "If you don't like your imperfections, someone else will" (via Money). Queue every gorgeous redhead who's ever loved their look, and this ad felt like a personal attack. The Advertising Standards Authority received complaints for likening freckles to a flaw, and ultimately took the ad down on its own. In response, the company said, "We believe freckles are beautiful. The intention of our 'Love Your Imperfections' campaign is to focus on the quirks and idiosyncrasies that people wrongly perceive to be imperfections."

We'll just say red hair and freckles are gorgeous and leave it at that.

The Kendall Jenner and Pepsi fail

While we've poked fun at Coke, this time the soda brand that couldn't read the room is Pepsi. While many widely believed that a mention or feature of one of the famous Kardashian clan could sell anything, Pepsi managed to prove this untrue. In 2017, protests for racial and social justice were a big deal, although not quite as widespread and raw as those since George Floyd's killing in 2020. At the time, Pepsi created a video ad that seemed to make light of these highly emotional and significant protests (via The New York Times).

Now, to be fair, the ad didn't specifically play up Kendall Jenner's reality TV background. Jenner is a successful Hollywood presence in her own right (via IMDb), but she is also inseparably part of the Kardashian clan. Viewers felt that the reality TV association cheapened the message of social rights protests, made only more inappropriate by the idea that police brutality could be solved by sharing a bubbly drink. Said Elle Hearns, the executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute and formerly an organizer for Black Lives Matter, "No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest. That's just not the reality of our lives. That's not what it looks like to take bold action."

Pepsi pulled the ad noting, "We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout."

Bud Light's date night gaffe

What is it about beverage makers being two steps behind? This time it's Bud Light's 2015 #UpforWhatever campaign. Like a bad recipe to create a #MeToo moment, this ad quickly took a highly inappropriate turn. There's no nice way to say it — the campaign came across as a pass for rape culture (via Entrepreneur). Many of the cans of this intoxicating beverage read "The perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night."

Where other brand's mistakes may make us laugh, this flub could be a true, potential danger as it also pairs with intoxication. As one reader described in a now-deleted tweet, "What story do you tell with your brand? For Bud Light, it's 'Screw consent. Date rape is awesome!' #UpForWhatever" (via Entrepreneur). Bud Light released a widely shared statement which falls rather flat looking back from today. "It's clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior," said Alexander Lambrecht, Bud Light's vice president.

Reminder — drink responsibly and always understand consent: No means no.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).