The Top 3 Marketing Mistakes of All Time

The 3 biggest marketing mistakes from well known brands, featuring: Coca-Cola, Burger King and Braniff Airlines. Some real foot-in-mouth moments

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London, UK: These days’ companies will do anything to get a customers attention. But is attention always a good thing?

Every year hundreds of billions of pounds are spent on advertising (see McVities £12 million new campaign) – but every year ads are made that get it oh so wrong – especially when a company fails to consider the global implications of an ad. Companies must target their campaigns to local consumers and sometimes reposition their brands for different markets. In other words: think global, act local.

Here are a few examples of marketing mistakes made by some of the biggest and most loved brands.


In China, Coca-Cola initially kept the same name. The problem is that ‘Ke-kou-ke- la’, either means ‘bite the wax tadpole’ or ‘female horse stuffed with wax’ in Chinese. Neither of these, Coke eventually decided, was terribly suitable and they eventually changed the brand name to mean ‘happiness in the mouth’.

But this isn’t the first time Coca-Cola have had a bit of a blunder with a marketing campaign. Back in 1985, Coca Cola spent $4 million and more than two years testing a reformulation of Coke. This was because in blind taste tests, people preferred Pepsi to Coke and they therefore decided to change their formula to make it sweeter like Pepsi. This didn’t go down well with Coke lovers and after a heap of well publicised backlash, just 79 days later, management agreed to bring back the original formula renaming it Coca-Cola Classic. The lesson here is pretty clear: Don’t tinker with success. Or at least think very, very carefully before you do.

Here, in memory of the short-lived New Coke, is Bill Cosby. Enjoy!

Burger King

Nothing quite like a good marketing mistake to spice up U.S. and Mexican relations. Burger King’s European campaign for the Texican Whopper contained the tag line “the taste of Texas with a little spicy Mexican” and featured an American cowboy and a short, round Mexican draped in a cape resembling Mexico’s flag. The uproar was immediate. Jorge Zemeno, the Mexican ambassador to Spain, called it offensive to Mexicans and damaging to the country’s image and many Mexican-Americans voiced their disapproval. Bit of a ‘whopper’ from Burger King.

Braniff Airlines

“Fly Braniff Airlines, Fly… err, Naked?” That, at least, could be easily confused with the message that Braniff Airlines was trying to communicate when it launched its “Fly in Leather” to the Hispanic and Latin America market, to promote the airline’s new first-class seats. Braniff translated “Fly in Leather” to “Vuela en Cuero”, which literally means “Fly in leather”, but which sounds nearly identical to “Vuela en Cueros”, the Spanish for “Fly Naked”.  The promotion may have appealed to some flyers, but it was far from the message the airline was intending to send.

So whether it’s angry Mexicans or nudist flyers, international marketing campaigns can embarrass companies and cost them millions of dollars. But then again if Coca-Cola, Burger King and Braniff Airlines have all managed to get the world talking then it might be less of a balls up and more of a bucks up!

Printsome is a T-shirt printing company based in the UK, offering solutions to marketing companies, advertising execs and more from Newcastle to Dundee. For a quote on custom hoodies, some advice or a cup of tea, you can get in touch with an adviser!

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