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11 Most Common Execution Mistakes

Matteo Rinaldi

Most of us grow up with parents telling us that we will learn from our mistakes. As this sentence stays with us forever, it’s no secret that most of our learning comes from failures. Marketing is the same. Even the most powerful and engaging brand strategy is useless if not executed properly. Working with several creative agencies around the world, I created a list of 11 of the most common mistakes, many of which caused the brand embarrassment. I hope these 11 common mistakes will inspire you to create a more effective communication strategy. Or at least, help you not to make a major blunder:

Error 1: Not being meaningful for the target.

Every time you want to communicate something to your target, be sure that the advertisement is in line with who they are and what their values are. It is important that communication is relevant to them.

11 most common execution mistakes

Pandora, the Danish Jewelry company, was strongly criticized by their consumers for their billboard inside a Metro station in Milan:

An iron, a pair of pajamas, an apron, a Pandora bracelet. What do you think will make her happy?

Pandora’s target (young, smart, independent women, who are extremely social and have a great sense of style), perceived this advertisement as not relevant and, to a certain extent, offensive. Indeed, the message was quite masculine and downsized the role of women in Italian society.

Error 2: Not delivering on Brand promises.

Never state product attributes unless you are sure they can be delivered (always) by the product/service you are trying to sell.

The creative agency behind an unsinkable phone accessory called “iFloat” decided to put the phone in a tub of water in a store to demonstrate that it wouldn’t sink if immersed in water. The phone ended up at the bottom of the tub, damaging both the reputation of the product and of the company.

In 2007, LifeLock CEO Todd Davis posted his social security number on a billboard and dared the world to steal his identity. A lot of people accepted his challenge and many of them managed to steal his personal data. A big problem for Todd, but an even bigger one for the company, which lost credibility.

If you write that you are always open, you cannot close, unless you want to seriously anger your customers.

Error 3: Not being defendable from the competition.

Every communication should be defendable against the competition, especially if you are making a frontal attack.

The war between Audi and BMW started long ago. When Audi launched the campaign “Congratulations to BMW for winning the World Car of the Year 2006” noting that Audi had won six consecutive Le Mans 24-hour Races 2000-2006, BMW replied with a sarcastic campaign. The campaign congratulated Audi for winning South African Car of the Year 2006, so noting that BMW had won the World Car of the Year 2006.

11 most common execution mistakes

Pepsi realized a seemingly ingenious marketing campaign by directly attacking its main competitor: Coca-Cola. The creative agency made an image in which a can of Pepsi was wrapped in a Coca-Cola-branded cloak, wishing for a scary Halloween to customers. Pepsi was trying to associate Coca-Cola with the creepy vampires that populated cities on Halloween night.

Unfortunately, the Marketing team at Coca-Cola responded by reposting the same photo making fun of the campaign promoted by Pepsi. They modified the text with: “Everybody wants to be a hero!” and radically changed the meaning of the cloak, from a terrifying vampire dress to the cape of superheroes.

There’s more in the article! Keep reading to find out more examples of the 11 most common execution mistakes.

Error 4: Forgetting how the communication interacts with its surroundings.

Perception is everything. Even the best communication can be easily turned into the worst if we do not consider the placement. 

An advertisement from a company selling women’s underwear was posted on a billboard on the side of a bus. While the position guaranteed visibility for the advertising, the company did not consider the effects of road dirt splashing up onto the poster.

Starbucks decided to brand their vans with their own name and logo. However, they did not consider the context. With the door of the vehicle open, some of the letters were covered, showing only the logo and a few letters: sucks.

Turkish Airlines placed a banner on the escalator inside a mall showing one of their airplanes floating in the sky. Their creative agency did not consider the slope of the escalator leaving customers with a view of a plane dangerously losing altitude just before a crash.

Error 5: Taking it too far.

Sometimes creatives take it too far, and funny ads become cheesy or disrespectful.

11 most common execution mistakes

Burger King used an exaggerated campaign to promote the Super Seven Incher with an image full of double meanings. The campaign was perceived as offensive and sexist.

Jack Daniels pushed its advertising campaign too far when it alluded to possible unpleasant events linked to the loss of inhibitions due to alcohol consumption. This campaign was seen as nasty and obscene, generating a negative halo around the brand.

Amazon advertised its TV series “The Man in the High Castle” by wrapping the seats, walls, and ceilings of one train in the New York subway with images that clearly referred to Nazism. Consequently, New Yorkers harshly criticized the e-commerce giant. The Mayor of New York immediately intervened by asking Amazon to remove the advertisements. He defined it as “Irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers.”

Halfway there! Keep reading to find out more examples of the 11 most common execution mistakes.

Error 6: Not giving a clear message.

The message should always be clear and straightforward leaving no room for misunderstandings. 

11 most common execution mistakes

Brands commit unfortunate mistakes. McDonald’s looked quite foolish with its cheerful “YASS” campaign.

The Dove Real Beauty campaign about “self-confidence” was one of the best marketing campaigns of all time. Yet one execution was highly criticized: a billboard showing a black woman who became white once she removed her t-shirt. The idea was to represent “the diversity of real beauty”, but the audience perceived Dove as highly racist because it seemed that the black woman wanted to turn into a white woman. This caused huge discontent among Dove’s customers, who expressed contempt on social media.

The Dental Clinic in San Marcelino undoubtedly chose the wrong logo, which led consumers to wonder whether the service offered was something more than dental care.

Error 7: Misspelling words

Details are everything. Small grammar or spelling mistakes can really make a difference.

11 most common execution mistakes

A successful brand can damage its credibility with a grammar or spelling mistake. For a new brand in the market, the risk is even higher. Even a small mistake can eventually create embarrassment in the reader.

Error 8: Treating your customers as fools.

What can seem an enticing technique can result in an offensive way of dealing with your customers?

11 most common execution mistakes

Can you really offer lemonade forever for a limited time? This incoherent message undoubtedly affected the credibility of the brand. Moreover, writing in capital letters “Forever” and then “For a Limited Time” in small letters affected the brand image, since consumers could perceive it as dishonest.

When visiting a store, is the consumer more willing to buy a product that usually costs $10 if there is a $0.12 promotion? They might feel that the brand is trying to deceive them. Consequently, the brand’s image could be irreparably damaged and their relationship with the consumer deteriorated.

Error 9: Not being well-informed.

Be sure you do all the necessary research before execution.

McDonald’s with its “Double Cheeseburger? I’d hit it” campaign showed how they were not current with urban slang. The brand tried to connect with its younger audience by using slang it didn’t fully understand. For this reason, it led to a creepy campaign in which a man was saying that he would like to have sex with a double cheeseburger.

Ford did not take cultural differences into consideration when launching the “Pinto” model in Brazil. In Brazilian slang, “Pinto” means penis. Obviously, a lack of research led to the spectacular flop of the new model in a specific market. Ford should have known better after their misnamed “Nova” launch in South America earlier (‘no go’).


Error 10: Being unconventionally funny for the sake of it.

Even if it makes you laugh, this doesn’t mean that you will sell more.

Buondì Motta, a famous confectionary company in Italy, created a campaign in which the daughter asks for a delicious, light breakfast. However, her father replies that there is no breakfast with those requirements. In fact, if it were to exist, strange objects would fall from the sky. Since the brand claimed to provide a delicious and light breakfast, an object did fall from the sky. It was a fun advertisement, but it wasn’t really related to the product itself and didn’t increase sales.

Opel’s creative agency placed a disruptive image to attract the attention of its audience, forgetting that being disruptive does not guarantee success. In this case, the message, which should be at the core of the banner, is not clear. Instead, it is in the bottom right corner and consequently, people can easily ignore it. At first glance, it’s extremely hard to sense which product/brand is advertised.  The company logo is very small, and it doesn’t show any vehicles.

Keep reading to find the last one of the 11 most common execution mistakes!

Error 11: Not knowing the difference between your consumer and your buyer.

Make sure you know whom you need to convince 😉 

The Christmas sales season is huge for men’s aftershave and cologne. But what the Pfizer brand team failed to recognize is that over 70% of fragrance purchases during this period of the year are gifts for men from their women. Therefore, Pfizer did a very expensive BTL (below-the-line) campaign saying that the Hai Karate deodorant was so good men would have to fight off women. Not a hit with the ladies, it killed the brand.


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