Big brands have the data and the resources to keep their finger on the pulse of social, political, and cultural topics. These resources create pressure to broadcast the right messaging in their video marketing campaigns. Getting the message wrong can spell disaster on a global scale, just as getting the messaging right can open new doors to spikes in sales and popularity.

When brands get the message wrong, those errors often surround gender, racial, or cultural stereotypes. 2016 was witness to a list of failures, proving that regardless of budget, your company’s messaging can make or break a video marketing campaign and the business attached to it. So as brands start rolling out their video campaigns for 2017, let’s learn from some of the worst failures of 2016.

1. Chevy “Understands” What Millennials Want

Chevrolet’s ad for the new 2016 Cruze was aimed intentionally at the millennial generation, or at least the “idea” of that generation.

The video presents a focus group filled with real millennials, not actors. This is Chevy’s first move: telling us that these are real people and so their experience with Chevy will be too.  Unfortunately, this is about as transparent as can be. A man with a Dali-esque mustache sits next to a tattooed lumberjack, across from a woman with a bleached mohawk. These stereotypes juxtaposed next to each other in a focus group is all viewers need to see to cue an eye-roll.

Next, images of “millennial” activities are presented to the group. They view men with long beards, people with piercings, and we go down the list of participants critiquing stereotypes while they sport those same stereotypes.

Finally, the focus group leader concludes that millennials would prefer a car that appeals to them, rather than an ad. Go figure.

Ultimately, the point of the focus group is obvious after the first few seconds but proceeds to be drawn out for the next two minutes. When the car is finally revealed, we’ve forgotten it was supposed to be a car ad. Chevy’s angle comes off as patronizing rather than youthful and insightful. Nothing about this ad or this car appeals to millennials, and that was the point, right?

2. Mushroom Pizza Is “Medically Proven” To Satisfy

Creative marketing angles are one thing, but advertising pizza as if it were a medical solution doesn’t sound like an appetizing combination. Unfortunately, Mellow Mushroom’s Pizza made this misstep not once, but a handful of times in their campaign. In this campaign, the brand advertises their pizza as if it were a cure for indigestion, erectile dysfunction, and more.

It’s possible to imagine how this pitch of hunger as a disease and Mellow Mushroom’s Pizza as the cure might have sounded creative initially, but then there is connecting a medical need with food that leaves little to salivate over.

Noting the video’s style, it mimics the formula of an ad for prescription medication with trips through an artificial stomach. Yum!

For the finale, Mellow Mushroom Pizza doubles down on their concept, just in case it was lost on some viewers, with a doctor appearing suddenly to join the pizza eating-clientele at their table.

The irony of this campaign is that viewers are left neither wanting pizza nor a medical consultation.

3. Secret’s Deodorant “Aids Women” In the Workplace

Female-targeted advertising campaigns (“femvertising”) are nothing new to the hygiene and beauty market. Females have been the target of many advertising campaigns through the decades, the majority of them quite crass and demeaning.

Only in the recent decades have women called foul on campaigns sporting messages that say they need product XYZ to be desired by men. This campaign message no longer works well and has been replaced with a much better one that says, “We see your value and understand your struggle. Try our product to make your day that much easier.” At least, that is the aim of most female-targeted campaigns.

Secret’s #StressTest campaign tries for this confident message admirably but flies right past it. It comes down to a combination of poor casting and poor dialogue that turns this video ad into a failure. The actress, suited up and sporting thick-rimmed glasses, seems out of place immediately. The glasses look like a cheap way to make it clear that this is a working woman who is serious. Then the monologue she recites is as far from authentic with lines like, “We won the company.”

Secret drove right past relatable and parked in the one-dimensional lot with their portrayal of a young woman in the modern day workforce. From Secret’s depiction, this gal is ready to battle the gender wage gap, and Secret’s deodorant can help get her there. After all, it’s less likely that she’ll tackle the gender wage gap if she’s not smelling berry fresh, right?

Secret’s message ultimately becomes: Ladies, to earn respect in the workplace, speak up, and don’t forget to smell nice. Needless to say, this video falls on deaf ears for the modern woman who is more attune to transparent marketing trends that plug the desirability factor at female demographics. This working woman’s fresh scent is going to seal the deal on her raise, and Secret wants us to know it.

4. Bud Light’s Political Parody Campaign Loses The Race

This video campaign reminds marketers how important it is to know your audience. The basic rule of thumb: beer and politics don’t mix. Beer brings people together to enjoy moments. Politics can be divisive and complicated. So Bud Light’s campaign with a couple of celebrity left-wingers, Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer, parodying a presidential candidate’s campaign feels out of place and a bit manipulative.

This universally popular brand is not so subtly aligning themselves with a political party but Bud Light, being an all-American beer, should advertise to all Americans. No one wants their beer to come with a side of political righteousness, regardless of how Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer are serving it up.

Bud Light eventually felt the heat when their numbers began to drop as a result of this campaign. A representative for the company released the statement:

“Turning around a brand the size of Bud Light, which alone accounts for almost one-fifth of the total category, takes time,” the spokesperson wrote. “Despite continued positive signs in brand health evolution, driven by millennials and Hispanics, 3Q was the softest performance of Bud Light for the year from a volume and share perspective.”

On the topic of this political parody campaign, the company spokesperson stated:

“The Bud Light Party campaign helped us improve these brand attributes, but it did not translate to improved volume and share performance.”

5. Damn, I Want Some White Vans

This video is not produced by the shoe brand, Vans, and it’s not a failed attempt at video marketing. In fact, this is an excellent example of video marketing. From this Viner’s video, Vans saw a 30% spike in online sales.

This video, made by a Viner in high school, was meant for no other purpose than to share comedic content on his social media profiles and yet it excels in showcasing the White Vans shoe, expertly. The clip is relatable, presenting the average teenager – Vans key demographic – walking into school and turning heads because of his white Vans. Damn, Daniel!

The video, coincidentally, includes an age-old advertising story angle ala back-to-school marketing. “Walk into school with these new shoes, and you’ll feel like a rockstar.”

The gem of this video is that it’s genuine and relatable. However, it’s the clip’s catchphrase that seals the deal on this viral video. It’s catchy and sticks in our heads. Not to mention, it’s fun to use in everyday situations. “Damn Karen, back at it again with the red pumps,” for example.

So, this video has authenticity, a catchy phrase, and a genuine depiction of how these shoes will make you say “Damnnnnnn,” when you look in the mirror.

Upon seeing the spikes in sales, the Vans company got wise to the video and redirected their homepage to a list of White Vans. Smart move.

“Of course, how could we not mention Daniel, as in ‘Damn Daniel’, which, as you can imagine, did have a strong impact on the sales of White Vans, which saw 100% sell-through in both retail direct-to-consumer and wholesale channels.

The national media attention the brand received is a wild demonstration of how creative expression, youth culture, and loyalty can conspire to cause a phenomenon. Well done, Daniel, well done.”

– Steven Rendle, VANs COO

Vans may not have made the video, but they easily could have. Maybe it would lose a bit of authenticity if it were a proper ad, rather than a Vine video, but the elements that make it so enjoyable would still be there. The clip entertains you, it doesn’t deceive you, and it makes you want some Vans. It’s an excellent example of a missed marketing opportunity.

In 2017, if you’re a notable brand with a video marketing budget, your campaign needs to be well thought-out and intelligent. A successful video marketing campaign requires a substantial amount of collaboration to be effective. Incorporating tools like GAIN into your process to help gather feedback for videos from the many content creators and approvers on your team ensures every stakeholder has a say before content goes live.

Brands have the power to shape the social commentary with their video campaigns, and when the messaging is misguided, it’s open season for criticism and backlash. So if your brand is ready to wield your influence through video, be sure to study these past failures so you can improve your chances for video marketing success.

Want to see examples of companies that did it right in 2016? Check out this post!

Albizu Garcia