The Worst Brand Advertising of 2017

worst brand advertising 2017

Nobody is immune from making mistakes. It’s an inherent part of life.The problem is that not all mistakes are equal. In the case of personal mistakes, we get mad at ourselves, then we accept what happened, and check off another lesson learned. The algorithm is more interesting, however, when mistakes are made by a brand.

Especially big names like Pepsi or Adidas. In an attempt to outsmart competitors, sometimes even the most successful and respected companies end up apologizing for what they did, withdrawing it, and calling a timeout to reflect on (financial) losses incurred.
As 2017 winds down, we’re revealing the list of biggest advertising failures of the year. These ad campaigns commit some cardinal sins of honest and good advertising.
So here it goes, the list of really bad advertising examples we had to deal with in 2017.

Brand Using Inappropriate Emotional Manipulation: McDonald’s Case Study

“Spice your ads up with a pinch of emotions and they’ll buy it,” might sound like a good marketing advice, but a recent ad of McDonald’s proves the opposite when their emotionally manipulative advertising went too far.

The controversial ad that is commonly referred to as the “dead dad ad” features a boy looking for things he might have in common with his dad who passed away. He assumes it might be the eye color or music tastes or shyness around girls, but none of this turns out to be true.

Eventually, the boy and his mom arrive at the “Golden Arches” restaurant, where he orders a Filet-O-Fish, which (surprisingly) turns out to be the favorite meal of his dad. End of the show.

Where did it go wrong?

Appealing to emotions is one of the fundamental principles of advertising. It is hard to argue that emotions sell. No commercial goal, however, can justify what the famous fast food giant did. Using grief, especially the one of a child, to sell more burgers s not what quality advertising should be about.

Lack of Creativity: Volkswagen Case Study

They say going to extremes is never a good idea, and this clearly holds true for advertising. While some brands take it way too far at being creative, others seem to ignore the importance of creativity altogether. The latter seems to be the case with Volkswagen, a well-respected brand that usually has no problems in terms of marketing and advertising. This year, however, things didn’t go as planned for the German car brand.

Officially entitled “Luv Bug”, this year’s commercial is out-and-out trivial. The plot is anything but interesting. A couple becomes a family and starts making kids and gets back to a Volkswagen car dealership each time they need a bigger car. Do we really have to explain what particular role a car plays in this “another kid has just arrived” story? If we do, we’d rather keep silent and let you watch the commercial by yourself.

Where did it go wrong?

Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in marketing, and brands widely use it to get noticed. Some brands, however, seem to forget that choosing the right story is key. Some stories are already so cliché that watching them once again leaves a bad taste in a viewers’ mouths.

Word Choice Gone Wrong: Adidas Case Study

In 2017, even the biggest ambassadors for Adidas had to admit their adored brand had slipped up. Back in April, the sportswear giant sent a newsletter which soon became a case study on poor word choice in marketing.

The newsletter congratulated runners on completing their Boston marathon. The email title said “Congratulations! You survived the Boston Marathon” and if you’re aware of the tragic events of 2013, you don’t need us to explain how awful the word choice is. As simple as that, the Adidas case reminded us how carefully marketing copy should be crafted.

brand advertising failure

Where did it go wrong?

Paraphrasing Bill Gates, context is king. No matter how well-written and polished copy is, it is the context that gives words their true meaning. The case of Adidas and the Boston Marathon is a telling example of how terribly wrong things can go when context is ignored.

Brand Treating Users Like Fools: T-Mobile Case Study

Have you ever heard about the Rule of 7? Chances are that you haven’t. No worries, we’ll explain it to you. According to this marketing rule, one needs to hear or see an ad message at least 7 times in order to take action. What does this rule have to do with T-Mobile? Do yourself a favor and watch this 30-second commercial:

It lasts only half a minute, but apparently, this does not stop T-Mobile from using the Rule of 7. If you are anything like the majority of people, you will most certainly get annoyed by hearing the same message over and over again. Does T-Mobile think we are not smart enough to get it right the first time—or the sixth?

Where did it go wrong?

Knowing a certain principle is only half the battle. Being able to use it right is what makes the second half. The Rule of 7 means that one should stumble upon the same ad at least seven times to truly remember a message. ‘Let’s outsmart the rule. Let’s just say the same thing 7 times in a row and be done,’ was the T-Mobile approach and put their commercial on this list.

Failing at New Technology: Burger King Case Study

If you had a chance to read our recent post on coming ad tech trends of 2018, you know that the Internet of Things will play a huge role in advertising in the years to come. The recent case of Burger King trying to mess with Google home assistant is a living proof of that fact.

Unless you have an activated home assistant somewhere near you, a 15-second commercial of Burger King will seem odd but nothing special in particular. A young man dressed in a uniform of Burger King is leaning into the camera and asking a strangely-formed question: OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?

As you probably know, the phrase “Ok, Google” is used to activate voice search on Google devices. So when the guy from the screen starts his question with this phrase, Google home assistant gets activated and you can hear a voice speaker defining Whopper burger (read: listing the ingredients of a Whopper out loud).

Here’s the worst part: to force Google to define “Whopper burger” instead of just “whopper,” Burger King had to edit the Wikipedia page of “whopper” first. It is not a crime given that everyone is allowed to edit Wikipedia, but it is not something to be proud of given the reason the edits were made.

Where did it go wrong?

Ok, hijacking Google Assistant is a bad idea whatever way you slice it. Especially, if you are a big name like Burger King, and your trick can hardly go unnoticed. What makes this situation a big deal is that it showcases how far advertisers go to drive sales and what role technologies play to help companies do so.

Going to Far with Insta Stories: Kaiwei Ni Case Study

In nearly all the cases, we get nervous when someone is trying to make a fool of us. This is the main reason why the approach of Kaiwei Ni—a Chinese sneaker manufacturer—resulted in such failure. What the brand did is genius and stupid at the same time. They designed what looked like a standard Insta stories ad, but with one exception. The ad looked as if there was a stray of hair in the middle of a phone screen it appeared on.

unethical brand advertising trick

Of course, there was no real hair on a screen. This trick was meant to make people touch a screen in an attempt to get rid of that hair. By touching the screen in a way that was supposed to flip a stray hair, people were actually swiping up the ad and traveling to the website of Kaiwei Ni. Genius? Not sure. Annoying? Absolutely. The bottom line is that it’s a case of unethical advertising at its finest.

Where did it go wrong?

It is never a good idea to make a fool of prospective customers. Never. The forced click doesn’t jive well either. People feel taken advantage of and annoyed.

Political Soapboxing: McDonalds Case Study

The reason we included this case on the list is simple: it showcases the importance of online security better than a thousand words (and even better than our articles on online security ;-).

Back in March, a truly shocking tweet came out from the official McDonald’s account. Basically, its goal was to trash President Trump. Here’s what the tweet said: “You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President, and we would love to have Barack Obama back, also you have tiny hands.”

Here’s how a now-deleted tweet looked:
macdonalds brand
A few hours after the tweet came out, the company apologized for the situation and blamed “external sources” (read: hackers) for all that happened.

Where did it go wrong?

McDonald’s might not be the one to blame for expressing its radical political views, but it surely is the one to blame for not securing their corporate accounts well enough. Security first, all the rest second.


As you see, relying on advertising cliché is not the worst thing that may potentially happen to a brand, neither is using aggressive and salesy words or choosing colors that are known to trigger certain behaviors.

The worst thing that can happen is when a respected brand with a big advertising budget makes a fool of itself or its customers.

So we have an important lesson learned: money does not make brands immune from advertising fails. Hopefully, the brands mentioned in this article learned that lesson too.

Do you know any other brands deserving an “honorable” mention in this article? If so, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.