Learning from people’s failures, Avoid these mistakes while creating ads


Advertising is difficult.

Sticking out in a sea of sameness is exhausting.

And sometimes, your desperate fight for brand recognition and to grab the valuable attention of the customers, could result in advertisements turning to senseless marketing techniques.

“The best marketers know what NOT TO DO.”

Companies put resources into promoting their brands on social media and sometimes it leads to periodic breaches of good taste, as advertising creatives come under pressure to produce ‘edgy’ content that will appeal to the audience. 

It’s not always about spending millions on your Ad campaigns but it’s actually about the story your user/customer receives and connects with.

In this article we have tried to discuss a few ads that we think could not execute the right  message across. 


In a facebook commercial for Dove body wash, a black woman was seen removing her t-shirt and ta-da! She was magically transformed into white woman. The commercial showcased three women of colour in a three-second GIF, each removing their t-shirts to reveal the next one. 

Why did they miss the mark?

The transition led to a long-running racist trope – a ‘dirty’ black person cleansed herself into whiteness. The commercial outraged the audience. How could have they passed the idea even after multiple layers of review?

Dove later apologized for missing the mark in thoughtfully in representing the women of color and characterizing the beauty in diversity. 

The Lessons:

Re-evaluate. Review. Repeat. Launch.

“What will be the consequences of what we say if the message isn’t perceived as thought? Are those implications offensive? Does the message hurt anybody’s sentiments?” 

Ask yourself with every piece of ad copy you approve or write.



In 2013, Hyundai’s marketing team garnered a lot of negative attention from the critics. It showed a man trying to commit suicide. 

The copy said: “Our cars are so safe you can’t even commit suicide in them.” 

This turned out to be an insensitive play on Hyundai’s eco-friendly push that created a stir online.The ad was immediately pulled down as it was offensive to a majority of the audience.
Although, Hyundai apologized to those who were personally impacted by the tragedy but the damage had already been done.

Why did they miss the mark?

Hyundai unintentionally trivialized emotional imbalance and the devastation caused by suicide. 

The Lessons:

  • Don’t try to push your content with social issues if they don’t fit. 
  • Don’t let your wrong execution ideas come in the way of your intentions. 

Watch here:



Pepsi launched an ad depicting Kendall Jenner in the middle of a photo shoot when she spotted a protest happening in the middle of the street. Beckoned by a nod from a passing protester, she whips off her wig to join in. 

She walks up to a police officer in front of the protest crowd and hands him a Pepsi, thus stopping protests — and socio-economic conflict, racial tension, gender inequality — forever. 

Why did they miss the mark?

Pepsi misused the opportunity to sell soda and turned out to be pretty disrespectful to the people who actually suffered and sacrificed their lives to bring change.

The Lessons:

It’s one thing to help and bring a difference and other thing to use social issues to sell a product. They will backfire and result in something insensitive and insulting.

Watch here:



Audi equated women to ‘used cars’. The mother-in-law scrutinizes her son’s bride in a commercial for Audi, China. She ‘inspects’ the bride’s nose and ears, pinches her lower lip and looks at her teeth and tongue before giving her approval. 

The commercial ended with a tagline –

“An important decision must be made carefully.”

Why did they miss the mark?

The commercial raised a lot of concerns on how the Chinese market objectifies women, was discriminatory, and drew criticism on social media. 

The Lesson:

Targeting community values should never be the goal in marketing.

Watch here:



“White is purity”.

Nivea used this tagline to promote their new product. The ad featured a woman wearing a white top while looking at the window. 

Why did they miss the mark?

The ad targeted people from the middle east which made it sound against the native communities. Eventually, Nivea took down the ad and apologized.

The Lesson:

Make sure you keep in mind the cultural essence of the place you’ll launch your ad. 


Its ‘We Believe’ ad aimed to tackle the then trending topic of toxic masculinity and encourage men to be the best they can be. The ad targeted “boys will be boys” mindset.  

Why did they miss the mark?

Instead of promoting the all-American, white male model archetype, this ad offered up a more diverse, multi-dimensional image of the modern man. While this change in direction has been applauded by many, it has also prompted a backlash from a wide range of people, including some of its target audience who feel disgruntled with the less-than-flattering portrait of the 21st man.

What else?

Similarly, it has come under fire from feminist groups who question the razor brand’s commitment to the #MeToo cause, since its female grooming products cost more than the male equivalent. 

The Lesson:

Do not try to sell products by situating them in dubious female narratives. The temptation for brands to sound ‘woke’ merges consumer behaviour with social goals. 

Watch here:


McDonald's: Filet-O-Fish (2017)

The fast-food retailer experienced massive public backlash after it released an ad for its Filet-o-Fish burger which its UK audience deemed as using child bereavement to sell burgers.

Why did they miss the mark?

The users called the advert "shameless" and "icky". The burger chain apologized publicly for their misjudgment of the ad's insensitive nature.

The brand also came under fire from a number of UK bereavement charities including Grief Encounter, who reported having received "countless calls" from grieving children and partners over the advert. 

The Lesson:

Don't draft ads that deliver entertainment without delivering a clear message.

Watch here:


Make Safe Happen (Super Bowl)

Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to prevent childhood accidents delivered a shocker that got a huge reaction online and on social media.

It's debatable whether that message resonated the way the company hoped, but it sure did strike a chord. The company's Facebook page received more than 3,000 comments, and they were overwhelmingly negative. 

The Lesson:

Do not mix traumatic human experiences with your products. They bring forth sensitive issues that people might have experienced in their lives. Chances are that they’ll backlash. 

Watch here:


Why do most ads fail and how to avoid it?

Marketing is a core way to reach your audience. It promotes a focused effort that guides consumers towards the desired action. It gives your brand identity, personality, and emotion. We hope these failed marketing campaigns will teach you something about what to avoid.

Some Tips To Guide You 

  • Predictable advertisements don't confuse the brain and hence they don’t open the door to consciousness. They fail to secure the attention of your prospective client or user.
  • Stop creating ads that present information without
  • Claiming without backing up:

Example: "Lowest prices guaranteed!" “Hurry buy now!”

Or what, you'll apologize?

Not convincing enough, right?

  • Explaining benefits:

Example: "We use the active charcoal technology!" 

Which means what?


  • The best ads let customers experience themselves taking action.   
  • Involve your users — Watch an iPod dance silhouette ad and the mirror neurons in your brain will make you dance part of it, too. Well, that's good advertising.
  • Be Clear—-The white earphone cords leading into the dance silhouette ears make it clear that the white iPod is a personal music machine.

Ad commercials require your attention from the moment you start – until your audience understands the story. A marketing ad is a lot more than merely placing your adverts for your business on social media channels and websites.

Key Takeaways

What do all these commercials have in common? 

  • Lack of judgement.
  • Lack of Thoughtfulness. 

Be clear about what you push online. 

If you’re unsure about whether or not your ad is offensive, Ask. 

Will my ad offend someone? What kind of mental associations will this conjure for my brand?

If the answer is doubtful, scrap it.

So you see, it’s not that difficult. Clarity is what you should aim for.