min read

Epic marketing failures – make your campaign unforgettable, for all the right reasons

by Arno Hummerston , 17.11.2014

Every brand wants their marketing to be memorable. But no one wants to have it remembered for the wrong reasons. However, learning from mistakes is important. We took the chance to highlight a few unfortunate marketing “happenings” at the Unleashing Data Summit in Amsterdam so attendees could see how research might have helped avoid them.

Social media has changed the rules of marketing. Get it right and your message can be amplified virally around the globe in a matter of minutes to millions of consumers. Get it wrong, and the same thing happens but this time it’s negative, and you’ve lost control of the situation.

At the Amsterdam Unleashing Data Summit we presented plenty of classic examples of social media slip ups, poor pre-rolls and woeful websites that all could have been avoided if research had been deployed. We didn’t talk about pre-testing too much – although maybe we should have. In the digital space pre-testing has fallen victim to cost, as in-market deployment of competing creative that can be kept or culled off the back of in-flight performance. Although this might seem a prudent and efficient way of optimizing marketing mix, it doesn’t address some of the main reasons digital creative can very publicly fail – misunderstanding the audience, poor assumptions and bad luck. Are in-flight awareness scores and purchase intent KPIs going to uncover these? Additionally, is the potential positive and negative of a creative that has gone viral going to be captured? Probably not. Pre-testing could do that though.

It also works with websites, although I couldn’t resist showing the infamous www.lingscars.com site. No amount of pre-testing or user experience evaluation would have arrived at this wonderful creation. Loved and hated in equal measures by the marketing press this site is a true inspiration for those that want to “just let it be”. Industry awards and many millions of pounds worth of revenue later this site has clearly been a success. We will probably never know if this is because of, or in spite of, it’s hugely bizarre design. Market research in this unique instance would be a privilege to undertake.

There are a variety of tools available that enable brands to track their reputation online and to measure the impact of media campaigns. But measuring what’s happening online isn’t enough. Brands need applied expertise and intelligence on how their brand is perceived online and to understand the digital media landscape. This extends to what kind of data is available to use, is ethical to gather and acceptable to use. It isn’t even just about legality or ethics, as these are standards the MR industry is renowned for, but about public perception - a changeable and sometimes wholly unpredictable standard we must all meet.

At the Summit in Amsterdam we got serious about this topic because fails here are not just damaging to a brand’s perception – they can send the brand and agency to the front page of the local newspaper (or its homepage). We presented a checklist of must-dos that every brand should benchmark their research suppliers by to ensure they don’t get it wrong.

  • Be fully transparent with users about exactly what you will be doing. Tracking data extends beyond cookies, so respondents need to be super clear what is collected and why.
  • Always treat participants fairly. Make sure if a person requests you stop collecting data that you actually have the facility to stop data collection immediately.
  • To preserve the integrity of your data, make sure you employ user authentication as far as possible, to make sure you only collect data from the people that have agreed you can have it.


Making mistakes is unfortunate. Learning from mistakes is smart. There are loads of people that have made them so there are plenty to learn from. As an agency we are in the right position to learn from others and do our best to help our clients avoid mistakes. Not the most positive message (maybe we’ll write about identifying exciting new opportunities for business growth next time) but for sure one that could have a huge return for most businesses.

For more information, please contact Arno Hummerston, Head of Global Client Services for GfK's Digital Market Intelligence (DMI), at arno.hummerston@gfk.com.