Salt & Pepper December 2016: Biggest Brand/Marketing Fails of the Year

NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intended to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


Every year, brands make mistakes that make us laugh, cringe, and, most of all, wonder who in the world is approving things! As is their tradition, Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie take a look at the worst brand fails of 2016.

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

Under the issue of Brand Fails in 2016, let’s consider the wisdom of the “send” button.  I often say that today everyone is a media company.  But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean everyone SHOULD be a media company.  Here are a few fails that could have been avoided but taking a moment, taking a breath, and NOT hitting send!

Oprah or Whoopi:  During the Oscars, the magazine Total Beauty made the mistake of complimenting Oprah Winfrey on her tattoos.  They were impressed.  Unfortunately, it was not an image of Oprah that they were sharing…it was of Whoopi Goldberg.  

Try a Fact Checker:  When a political agency sends out a muckraking tweet about an opponent, you might not even pay attention especially this year).  But when the GOP sent out a tweet that said Tammy Duckworth doesn’t “stand up” for vets, it took it too far.  You see Duckworth lost her legs…while serving our country in Iraq.  

Presidential Twitter:  And speaking of politics, most of us were excited to see this political season come to an end.  Regardless of your political leanings, you were probably glad to see some of the ads stop.  But what has not stopped is our President-Elect’s Twitter account.  In most cases, I would say that World Politics is probably more nuanced than 140 characters would allow.  I am all for social media (love it in fact) but the President of the United States tweeting about everything from Taiwan to Saturday Night Live is a big brand fail for me.


Pepper – Bill Petrie

America is Country, Not a Beer – When the “King of Beers” announced that they were changing the name of their mostly tasteless brew to “America,” I laughed. When I saw that their sales have declined almost 20% since 2010, I laughed harder. When I noticed that not one of my friends really drinks “America,” I simply raised my Shiner Bock in recognition of a last-gasp effort of a once mighty brand to remain relevant. I think it’s time to give the crown to an adult beverage far more deserving, AB InBev.

Color Blind AND Tone Deaf – Do people in public relations know what they are doing? Seoul Secret, a beauty company thought an advertising campaign with the slogan “white makes you win” promoting skin-lightening cosmetics was a good idea. To further compound the issue, the company sent out a tweet containing a video of actress Chris Horwang discussing her career and how her white skin helped her be so successful. It’s stupefying how something like this got past the ideation stage, let alone approved for publication.

You Can’t Cash In on 9/11 – I believe we are all used to a mattress sale on President’s Day and other holidays. However, the anniversary of the deadliest attack on U.S. soil should be off limits. That didn’t stop Miracle Mattress out of San Antonio, Texas from trying to capitalize on that horrific day. In fact, they posted a video to Facebook advertising a “Twin Towers” sale where the store manager encourages customers to “remember 9/11” and “get any size mattress for a twin price.” As if it couldn’t get any worse, store employees then proceed to scream and fall backwards on two stacks of mattresses, meant to symbolize the fallen North and South towers of the World Trade Center. But wait, there’s still one final insult when the store manager looks into the camera and states, “We’ll never forget.” I’m pretty sure consumers won’t forget this tasteless ad for a long time.