When we are young, we are often told that there is no harm in making a mistake. To quote Magic School Bus, it’s a necessary part of our learning experiences to “take chances, get messy, and make mistakes.” But while making mistakes is an important part of learning, the result of making that mistake isn’t always limited to what we learn from it. Sometimes mistakes have really dire consequences. In fact, when it comes to an advertising campaign, a mistake can be fatal to the campaign, the product or service being advertised, and sometimes even to the company in question. That’s why copy testing is so important to the campaign—and the company.
Let’s take a look at some popular examples:
The most recent (and viral) example of a company making a giant advertising mistake is the latest Pepsi ad, which features Kendall Jenner diffusing a protest march by “breaking barriers” to offer a police officer a Pepsi, turning the protest into a giant unified celebration of the power of Pepsi to deliver a message of peace. The “global message of unity, peace, and understanding” that Pepsi was going for, however, missed its mark—by a lot. Pepsi later apologized for the ad’s apparent minimization and dismissal of the importance of social movements like Women’s Marches and Black Lives Matter protests. So far, Pepsi—and Jenner—seem to have come out of the controversy relatively unscathed, but while many companies attempt to target controversy in order to gain the potential of “going viral,” this particular attempt was most definitely a mistake for the company.
The lesson? Choose your controversial statement wisely to ensure you aren’t alienating, undermining, or re-victimising your target demographic.
And Pepsi isn’t the only corporation to fall victim to airing a commercial that never should have seen the light of day.
Motrin also made a commercial blunder with their wear your baby ad. Intended to offer Motrin as a solution for those who suffer back and neck pain from “wearing their babies” in strap-on backpack-style carriers and the like, the ad decided to take a more creative approach by sarcastically commenting on the “trend” of wearing a baby as a fashion statement. The ad also suggested this fashion trend could be detrimental to the health and safety of the infant, and concluded by telling parents that they need to take Motrin so they won’t look “tired and crazy.” The commercial was pulled and an apology was issued after a “digital tsunami of protest” was followed by a boycott of the product.
If the plan was to appeal to parents to sell more Motrin, then the company’s mistake ended up driving away the exact demographic they were attempting to attract.
These are just two of the dozens of examples out there of advertising blunders that have had severe impacts on the companies involved. The wrong statement in the wrong tone at the wrong time or in the wrong context can create a lot of backlash that can do more than end the company’s campaign—it can destroy the company’s image. If Pepsi was trying to look hip and youthful, it managed only to convey the message that it really isn’t connecting with its millennial audience, and that creates the potential to alienate that entire audience—and it only takes one mistake in one advertising campaign to do it. Motrin was clearly trying to appeal to parents, and it ended up creating a boycott that would cost the company significant sales.
And issuing a mere apology isn’t going to resolve the situation. Those previous customers who were offended by the add felt betrayed by a campaign that is supposed to communicate directly to them to sell a product that clearly must be for them. It will take work for both of these companies to regain the trust of the potential consumers they’ve alienated.
And it all could have been prevented
Instead of focusing their efforts on damage control and reparation, both Pepsi and Motrin could be working on attracting new clients, and all it would have taken is copy testing (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copy_testing). Copy testing those ads before they went out could have prevented the controversial backlash that cost both companies their customers, but the key is that the product needs to be copy tested to the right people. You can’t show the Pepsi commercial to a group of white supremacists and expect the same results from the Black Lives Matter activists. Using the right copy testing techniques and appealing to the right company to help you achieve those techniques is the best thing you can do for your advertising campaign.