Salt & Pepper December 2017: 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.


In what has become a bit of a tradition at PromoKitchen, Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie share their thoughts on the biggest branding and marketing fails of 2017. Tell us what you think!

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

Yes!  It’s that time of year that Bill and I (and hopefully you) take a look back at the year that was in Branding (and branding mistakes).  I don’t take a lot of pleasure in pointing out the failures of others…but there is a LOT to choose from in 2017.  So here goes!

3. Dove:  I understand what they were trying to do…but it was just awkward.  Dove decided to create a different bottle of soap for the 7 different body types.  Obviously, the idea was to empower folks to be proud of their own shape.  Instead it made people even more self conscious.  “Hey!  I need to buy that bottle that is short and squat!” 

2. EA Games:  I will admit, I got help from my team on this one.  Apparently, EA creates the Star Wars Battlefront 2 game.  They sold the game as if it were a stand-alone game but then sold “upsells” in the game to unlock different portions.  This overtly greedy behavior created a bit of a revolt and EA was not only forced to apologize, but to change the pricing structure.  The lesson?  When you have rabid fans, be careful not to get too greedy.

1.  United Airlines:  Don’t get me wrong.  I travel quite a bit.  And I understand that sometimes travelers can be obtuse and rude.  But United started the year off by taking “poor customer service” to an extreme.  In a 2017 world, you simply can’t drag a customer off a plane.  The cell phones of the world will catch it. 

Pepper – Bill Petrie

This is easily my favorite “Salt & Pepper” to write every year. Why, you ask? Because I get to sit back and judge how organizations can be so obtuse when it comes to their brand – and I’m really good at judging. So, my top three brand/marketing fails for the year are:

3.  Adidas – We all recall the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. Well, apparently everyone recalled it but Adidas. As they sent an email to finishers of the 2017 event with the subject line of, “Congratulations, you survived the Boston Marathon.” Are you kidding me? Who is proofing things Herzogenaurach, Germany? Bottom line, you HAVE to be more sensitive than that and Adidas completely missed the mark.

2.  McDonald’s – Politics and food generally don’t mix. Heck, these days, politics and just about anything don’t mix. However, Mayor McCheese (I assume he runs the company’s twitter account) posted and pinned a tweet after the inauguration of Donald Trump that read, “you are actually a disgusting excuse of a president and we would love to have @barackobama back. Also, you have tiny hands.” Regardless of political leanings, a post like this will alienate at least half of your audience, so why do it? McDonald’s eventually apologized and claimed to be hacked -insert eyeroll here-.

1.  Pepsi – The definition of tone-deaf: Pepsi’s decision to tie in a Kardashian (Kendall, in this case) with their awkward attempt to join forces with the #blacklivesmatter movement. The video featured people of all shapes, sizes, and colors enjoying the sugary beverage with police with Kendall Kardashian stopping all manner of racial tension by offering a cop a Pepsi. When there is a social movement afoot – especially one where a group of people feels oppressed – it’s not a good idea to try to piggy back on it to sell your inferior cola.