6 Holiday Marketing Fails
Over the years, companies have learned to capitalize on the holidays to spread cheer, joy and (most importantly) generate revenue. We take a look at some holiday marketing fails that have missed the mark, led to confusion, or were downright offensive.
1. Poundland: Naughty Elf – 2017
Poundland, a variety store in the UK, released a social media campaign in 2017 featuring a little elf in a series of rather risqué poses, and up to no good. Throughout the Christmas period, Poundland posted more images of this Elf behaving badly, ranging from innuendo to overtly sexual imagery. This particular post features the line, ‘Joker, joker, I really want to poker.
Unfortunately for Poundland, the Naughty Elf campaign proved divisive, with the British Advertising Standards Authority and the tabloids deeming the campaign ‘outrageous’ and ‘irresponsible’. But the following year, the Naughty Elf returned—perhaps Poundland would prefer to be controversial than forgettable.
2. Bloomingdales: Keep an Eye on Your Eggnog – 2015
Bloomingdales released this holiday ad as part of a Christmas catalog back in 2015. The unfortunate ad features a male looking over at a laughing female, with the copy: ‘Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.’
Members of the public were understandably outraged—instead of coming across as playful, the ad felt complicit in date rape. In response to public outcry, Bloomingdales released a public apology: ‘In reflection of your feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste.’
Overall, this ad completely misses the mark. Obviously the copy is in poor taste, but it also fails to convey any sense of the luxury synonymous with the brand.
3. Greggs: Sausage Roll Nativity – 2017
British bakery Greggs released this ill-conceived ad as part of their ‘Merry Greggsmas’ Christmas calendar. This particular piece of creative replaces Jesus in the nativity scene with a Greggs sausage roll—it got them a lot of attention, but it was more than a little insensitive. The release of the advent calendar sparked a significant backlash, with Greggs responding with a public apology.
Using sensitive topics in marketing is always risky, but can be used effectively to deliver a powerful or meaningful message. In this case, it was a bad call—the concept treated a sensitive subject too flippantly, which was bound to offend people (and justifiably so). Even if it did connect with the target audience on social—presumably millennials and Gen Z—the wider damage to the brand wasn’t worth it.
4. Marks & Spencer: Christmas Fairytale – 2013
Marks & Spencer released this holiday ad to support their Christmas Campaign, ‘Believe in Magic and Sparkle.’ At a whopping two minutes long, the story offers a blend of classic fairytales—from Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz—resulting in a rather peculiar cocktail.
The ad itself is gorgeous. However, the size of the budget and overwhelming narrative tend to hinder, rather than help, the overall message. The fantastical narrative clashes with the awkward moments of product placement, while the celebrity cameos feel equally forced. We suspect this ad would have been improved by a sharper focus—in both the narrative and product offering.
5. KFC, The Taste That Unites – 2013
KFC’s holiday ad starts strong with a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of shared holiday frustrations, singers are united by their rage (and KFC).
But as soon as the ad switches to the hard sell, it starts to run out of steam. It’s hard not to lose interest when the initial novelty has worn off, and carol singers are sitting down for a chicken feast praising ‘11 herbs and spices.’ The ad starts with an interesting premise—sticking to it would have made for a much stronger ad.
6. Peloton: The Gift That Gives Back – 2019
What Christmas list would be complete without the infamous Peloton ad? Peloton released this ad to promote their live-workout streaming exercise bike. The ad starts off with a man gifting the Peloton bike to his partner on Christmas morning, much to her delight. The viewer then progresses through a year of his partner using the bike in the form of a condensed vlog-type video. The camera then pans out, revealing the couple watching the same footage, which has been turned into a thank-you video.
It’s clear what they were going for here, and also clear how widely they missed the mark. The journey is meant to be a personal one, but as the audience we’re viewing it from the husband’s perspective. This gives the ad an odd feel, making it voyeuristic and sexist rather than uplifting and empowering. Her work is for us (the viewer/husband figure) instead of herself. Had the ad focused on the protagonist and her Peloton, the ad would have avoided a lot of the criticism.
It’s difficult to know what went wrong, but it seems likely that one product insight—people receive Pelotons as gifts—skewed the whole script and left it in this state. In the aftermath, the Peloton stock price dropped more than 10.5%. Ouch.
Honourable Mention: Aviation Gin, The Gift That Doesn’t Give Back – 2019
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the savvy marketers behind Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin capitalized on the Peloton backlash.
They produced a sequel to the Peloton ad, starring the same actress, confronting life in the post-Peloton world. The ad features ‘Peloton Wife’ knocking back martinis with her friends to escape her new-found infamy. It’s a light-hearted, brilliantly satirical spot that’s justifiably getting a lot of positive attention.
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) December 7, 2019