Marketing is an essential part of your business and a key builder of your brand and audience. However, sometimes it goes wrong. Your message might be misconstrued, you might not generate the brand awareness or sales you intended or target the wrong channel.

If this is the case, you are not alone. Many well-known brands have had their challenges, despite extensive resources and some of the best advertising agencies on the planet. However, every mistake is an opportunity to learn.

Here are some of the best-known gaffes and the learnings we can take from them!


  • 2015 QR Code Error
  • Heinz ran a competition featuring a QR code link for a website for people to submit their designs for the Heinz Tomato Ketchup Hot logo
  • Unfortunately, the URL had expired, Heinz forgot to renew it and it was bought by a porn site
  • A bit saucy for a family brand

Lesson learned: Don’t forget the detail! Small things matter and can make or break your campaign. A broken link, an incorrect email address or in this case a lost URL can at best lose you sales, at worse offend your audience.

British Gas

  • 2013 British Gas were looking to court public opinion following a universally unpopular 9.2% price hike
  • They ran a #askBG Twitter event where their Customer Service Director was taking part in a Q&A
  • The torrent of online vitriol was extreme
  • Experts called it ‘one of the worst PR disasters ever’

Lesson learned: Understand your audience and what is going on in your business. Put in place a feedback loop so you can keep your finger on the pulse. A system such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) provides a quick and dirty understanding of your clients by asking them to score your business out of ten for 1) how happy they are with the current product/service and 2) how likely they are to recommend your business to a friend or colleague. This will allow you to identify any challenges and address them quickly – it’s also a great source of unprompted testimonials.

Susan Boyle Album Launch

  • 2012 Susan Boyle’s team promoted her new album
  • Wanted to reach a new audience through social media and specifically Twitter hashtags
  • Someone should have checked the #susanalbumparty
  • However, generated massive publicity

Lesson learned: Check your hashtags don’t spell anything they shouldn’t unless you are looking to be controversial. Also, consider font styles on your marketing material, as certain letter types can be confusing. There is a well-known example of a birthday card addressed to ‘Dear Aunt’ that because of the exaggerated style of the ‘A’ looked like a ‘C’ instead – not the message they were hoping to give!

Walkers Crisps

  • 2018 competition to win UEFA Champions League Final Tickets
  • The audience was asked to tweet a selfie using the #walkerswave – this was then turned into a video featuring Gary Lineker holding the submitted picture
  • No-one monitored the selfies that came in and pictures of mass murderers, sex offenders, dictators etc were published on their Facebook

Lesson learned: Your campaign isn’t complete when it’s launched. You need to evaluate, review and monitor your campaign through each stage – particularly if you require audience participation. The general public will behave badly at every opportunity – remember Boaty McBoatface?

Hopefully, you will not make the mistakes identified above!

Just remember, marketing is not rocket science, it is, however, the lifeblood of your business and a skill you need to develop to scale your business.