By putting together this collection of bad marketing campaigns and marketing fails – I hope that marketers will be able to learn from the mistakes and avoid repeating them themselves.
If ever there was a bad marketing example to prove the point this might be needed – it’s this story here.
Because this campaign seems to have been repeated all too often. I could write this article five times and just change the name of the company!
In 2009, a German poster campaign promoting Tchibo coffee at Esso service stations around the country had to be abandoned after complaints about the slogan that was used.
‘Jedem den Seinem’ was supposed to mean ‘To each his own’ – but the phrase is almost identical to one that was used in a sign at the entrance of a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.
In this context, the words at Buchenwald implied that the prisoners were getting what they deserved.
The Central Council for Jews in Germany were furious when they saw the campaign, and told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that the poster was either in “unsurpassable tastelessness” or an example of “total ignorance of history”.
Damning words – and words that got the bad adverts pulled almost immediately, with Tchibo spokeswoman Angelika Scholz apologising and saying that the company had “never intended to hurt feelings”. She did admit, however, that the slogan was unfortunate.
You could perhaps forgive them for making the error – not everyone’s into history and everyone makes mistakes.
But it becomes a little harder to forgive when marketers of International brands had already been censured for using the controversial phrase in Germany.
In 1998, mobile telephone company Nokia had to paper over 3,000 billboard adverts in Germany after their use of the words had caused outrage.
Fast food chain Burger King also caused controversy in 1999, and were forced to stop distributing leaflets in the city of Erfurt that featured the phrase.
German supermarket chain REWE had to make a public apology after they failed to stop a brochure that read “Barbecuing: To Each His Own.”
And finally in 2001, customers of Munich-based Merkur-Bank complained about the words being used in an advertising campaign for bank accounts.
What does good look like?
Keeping abreast of news within the marketing industry is a simple way to help avoid situations like these. It’s important to be well read and keep up to date, whether that’s having a few favourite news websites or magazines, or through events and other CPD activities.
When the work piles up these tend to fall to the bottom of the priority list – we’ve all been there – but this highlights how important it is to stay informed.
A simple online search for the phrase would have likely brought the previous campaigns to your attention too, and would have been enough to prevent them running with it.
The Nokia example above also highlights a slightly different concern. Their local agency still should have known that the phrase was in poor taste – but the billboards in this case were part of their International ‘Freedom of Expression’ campaign, to promote their new phone that was available in different colors.
Because that didn’t easily translate into German, Nokia Germany replaced it with a translation of the Latin expression “Suum cuique,” meaning “To each his own” and ended up with the unfortunate expression. Nokia are not the first to accidentally offend when translating taglines, and you can read more in my Lost in translation article.