Volkswagen are in a bit of bother at the moment. While they will probably bounce back from the financial, corporate and ethical consequences of the current emissions scandal enveloping the company, their once-revered brand may take longer to mend. Industry competitors, motoring connoisseurs and social commentators have had a field day giving their opinion on what has taken place and what they think will happen next. Now, I am certainly none of these things, so I’m going to stay well away from what I don’t understand. But what I am is a retail marketing agency expert and what I do understand is what will happen to the brand on the ground. But I’m not going to share that either. Why not? Because we all make mistakes and GuihenJones are not a retail marketing agency that takes pleasure in the misfortune of others, no matter what they stand accused of. That’s not to say we can’t have a little bit of fun as we learn from those mistakes! These examples aren’t meant to ridicule what are hugely successful brands. What we do want to do is highlight that if the biggest brands with the largest budgets and widest numbers of decision makers can still make such outlandish mistakes from time to time, then surely the rest of us mere mortals can too. And because we don’t have their resources to come out of it quite so well, we need to be far more careful that we don’t follow their brand failures.


Failure: Hoover Free Flights Giveaway
Let’s start with one of the world’s most famous brand failures. The British arm of vacuum cleaner company Hoover offered free airline flights with any purchase over £100. Instantly catching on to the fact that the flights were worth considerably more than the vacuum cleaners, people began to buy them in bulk. When the company cancelled the competition (not before extending it to flights to the U.S), an angry couple formed a pressure group and became shareholders. Eventually, the board fired all its top marketing people, spent £50million fixing their mess, failed and sold the company!
Lesson Learned: Don’t let your mouth write a cheque you can’t cash
Be very careful that you can meet the potential demand of what you’re proposing. Amazingly no limit or parameters seemed to have been put on this promotion. Define the number and control the numbers.

Failure: Oprah Free Car Giveaway
Oprah Winfrey famously gave a free car to ‘everybody’ in her audience, all 276 of them. The stunt garnered huge publicity but really only for Oprah – many people couldn’t remember that they were Pontiacs she had given away, which kind of defeated the purposes of a brand giveaway. But it was the $6,000 tax the winners had to pay that caused a lot of negative publicity and many ‘winners’ simply sold the car to keep the cash.
Lesson Learned: Think about every aspect of the giveaway
Event tickets without accommodation, flights without flexibility, terms and conditions without common sense. Make sure you consider every aspect because no matter what you give someone, even for free, if it’s not as advertised it could end up coming back to bite you… and rightly so to be honest.


Failure: BIC Pens for Women
BIC Biro released a pen ‘specially’ designed for women. You’d think the product would have died there and then when the engineers were given that as a brief but unbelievably they went ahead and designed, produced and marketed it. Once released however, they went silent and the world went crazy. One hundred percent, hands over ears, silent! As reviewers destroyed it in public forums, the brands chose to ignore the criticism. It came to a head when Ellen De Generes, a daytime TV queen and a leading feminist, was asked to endorse the product. So she did.
Lesson Learned: Don’t hide from your mistakes
For starters, don’t make stupid, patronising, offensive products. If you do and it backfires, deal with it in a professional and timely manner. Never ignore your customers. If you do and it gets really bad, seriously consider hiring a public relations agency, then stay out of their way as they clean up the mess.

Failure: Nike ‘Allah’
This is one of the unluckiest, yet potentially damaging examples in this list. I’ve added it to show how even the biggest brands can make big mistakes with the smallest of things. Nike added a logo meant to look like flames on a line of their basketball shoes. When some Muslims claimed the logo resembled the word “Allah” written in Arabic script, the brand disagreed with them and went ahead with distribution. When the heat on the brand intensified (pun intended), they recalled 38,000 pairs globally, apologised and made a payment of $50,000 to an Islamic school.
Lesson Learned: Act fast
You can forgive the fact that the logo went ahead. That’s not really the issue here as it wasn’t exactly obviously offensive. But once it was found to have caused offence, the brand should have acted quicker than it did and contained the problem. This actually happened in 1997. Today’s Internet age has users just lying in wait for stories like these to come up so they can lambast a big brand. React fast if they do. As one person put it: “You cannot wait days – which are tantamount to dog years – to respond on the Internet”.


Failure: Nokia PureView TV Ad
To show off the new image-stabilisation technology on their Lumia 920, Microsoft-owned Nokia produced a beautiful ad of a young man apparently using his new Lumia to steadily record his friend while cycling his bike. Nokia even went as far to show what the footage would look like without the new stabilising technology. Only problem, the Internet were quick to jump on an unfortunate reflection of production crew (van, lighting and cameraman) spotted in the background actually recording the ad.
Lesson Learned: Act, admit, apologise.
In fairness, the brand reacted quickly (see point above), admitted their mistake (see point above that) and issued an apology. However, you should never try to con your audience with your advertising. Nowadays, you’ll never get away with it.

Failure: Microsoft Racial Photoshopping
Faking a TV ad is one thing but Microsoft came in for a LOT more criticism when their Polish office decided to fake a press ad. They took a stock image used by their American counterparts but Photoshopped the head of the black office worker sitting at the table and replaced with a white man’s. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they forgot to Photoshop out his hand, leaving their new employee with his predecessor’s hand.
Lesson Learned: Be stupid better
Look, if you feel the need to do something like this, for whatever reason you may have, at least make sure you cover your tracks. Unfortunately, the creative world is full of bad Photoshopping from retail marketing agencies. However, you’ll be pushed to ever find one as alarming, embarrassing and down-right idiotic as this.

You may have noticed that I’ve not touched on the mistakes brands are making on social media. The reason is that there are enough of them to fill 100 articles. Instead, I’m going to post one here next time that looks exclusively at some frankly incredible examples of poor judgment, bad luck and the merciless consequences of both.

In the meantime, be careful how your brand is acting, no matter how innocent a project starts out. As you’ve seen here, it can get out of hand very quickly. And as you’ll see next time, you may never get out of it alive.