How Intentionally “Creative” Ideas Can Ruin Your Marketing Campaign
Standing out in the daily flood of advertising is becoming more of a challenge every day. Whether you’re promoting your own or your customer’s product - it’s becoming increasingly difficult to set yourself apart from the competition. This inspires some companies to launch campaigns that make people blush with shame. For this reason, we want to show you in this article what happens when you go too far and which legal pitfalls you should definitely be aware of when creating your marketing campaign.
Creative Ideas That Backfired: Accidental Or Calculated?
The fact is even unsuccessful advertising brings attention, money and reach. Campaigns that are bad are particularly popular on social media. In the competition for the limited attention of potential buyers, many companies even accept shitstorms.
But whether it’s planned or accidental: When your content goes too far, your target group can easily switch to the competition – think about that before you sideline yourself with intentionally hip, funny or provocative advertising. Few brands have the freedom to design their campaigns without fear of the consequences. The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe are a wonderful example of such a monopoly. The marketing managers laid the foundation for a fresh, authentic image in 2015 with lots of humour, irony and the typical berlin mode of expression. Their riders might even forgive a delay or two in local public transport with such ads.
When Does Provocative Content Make Sense?
If you’re marketing a product that aims to convey established values to your target group, you shouldn’t get too creative. Most of the time, marketing is not about constantly reinventing the wheel, but about successfully implementing proven knowledge.
If, on the other hand, your advertising wants to sell something that is out of the ordinary in terms of current standards, content off the beaten paths can definitely play into your cards. Customer acceptance of more provocative content can increase due to the nature of the product or service. But the following still applies: There’s always some risk, especially if you want to leave the well-trodden paths in marketing, you need a lot of tact so your balancing act between unusual content and proven strategy succeeds.
Lessons Learned From Marketing Missteps
The marketing teams at big companies are just exploding with great ideas? That’s only partly true. And by no means not every campaign that receives the blessing of corporate management should also be unleashed on the public. Here are some recent prominent examples of this:
Fail #1: Back To Colonial Times With the New Golf
After the publication of its Instagram promotional video, VW at least couldn’t complain about a lack of engagement. In the clip, a white hand happily pushes a black man around until he is finally flicked into a shop called “Petit Colon”. This name is at least a fitting addition to the already racist content - loosely translated, it gives the shop the title “Little Colonist”. To top it all off, the grand finale is the slogan “The new Golf” - the first of the letters that appear one after the other make up the N-word.
The company was actually surprised by the general displeasure and blamed the public for “not understanding” the spot. It wasn’t until later that the company admitted its misstep and removed the video from its channel.
Fail #2: Police, Your Friend and Helper?
This shot backfired: With a deliberately provocative campaign, the Hamburg police wanted to encourage the citizens of the city to take a closer look at potentially illegal activities and call law enforcement officers if they saw something suspicious. However, slogans like “insulin or heroin?” combined with the image of a person with a syringe on a park bench met with little approval from the people of Hamburg. And the portrait of a woman with bruises on her face and arm, underlaid with the sentence “Bad luck or Peter?” didn’t exactly show tact. There are different ways to build trust. The police took down the posters after the criticism refused to die down.
Fail #3: Be Careful With User-Generated Content
When a company consults influencers, those in charge should especially pay attention to the appropriate staging. You have to communicate clear Do’s and Don’ts - because you are handing over complete control with user-generated content. Think clearly about whether you company’s image is at all suitable for this type of marketing. Campaigns like #myNYPD show what can go wrong if you ignore this point. Under this hashtag, the New York City police wanted to encourage people to post their thoughts about and experiences with law enforcement officers. Instead, the users spread pictures of brutal police violence online under #myNYPD.
Fail #4: Ambiguity and Stubbornness
Even apart from that, it doesn’t hurt to examine your content ideas for certain aspects. For example, always analyse your content for possible ambiguities. Dove was undone by this pitfall during an advertising campaign. In the clip, a dark-skinned woman pulls a brown T-shirt over her head. A white woman in a white top appears underneath. After the clip was released, Dove had to deal with harsh accusations of racism.
Airbnb’s floating world campaign is an excellent illustration of how important it is to be prepared for as many eventualities as possible and, in the worst case, to be brave enough to change your plans. Their email marketing focused on particularly beautiful accommodations on the water. Shortly before the campaign started, however, Hurricane Harvey swept across the United States and left a swath of devastation. However, Airbnb stayed true to its plans and launched the campaign - to the great horror of its newsletter subscribers.
No Room For Conspiracy Theorists: Kaufland Shows How It’s Done
Despite all the criticism, there are also positive examples of successful content marketing. Kaufland created an advertisement with the pop singer Michael Wendler. To the delight of everyone involved, the clip went viral. Unfortunately, parallel to this positive development, the singer spread conspiracy theories on the Internet. The supermarket chain reacted promptly by distancing itself from the singer’s statements via tweet. The content of the campaign was deleted on the spot.
The quick, clear response earned Kaufland’s PR team a lot of positive feedback. Taking a clear position, short decision-making paths and representing clear values prevented a marketing debacle here.
Content Is King - Under the Law
Long gone are the days when companies tried to lure their target group with flat slogans or exaggerated promises. Now it’s about adding value through your advertising activities, for example in the form of guides or blogs. From a legal point of view, however, there are some legal pitfalls with this type of advertising, which you should carefully analyse in advance.
There are a lot of different content marketing formats that inform or entertain readers now. Of course, it makes sense to provide additional information, such as the name of your company “on the side”, right? Of course, the law doesn’t make it that easy for you. Instead, you should primarily rely on the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (Directive (EU) 2005/29) for the legal assessment of your marketing activities.
Problem #1: Surreptitious Advertising
The Directive against Unfair Commercial Practices defines surreptitious advertising in Annex one under point eleven as one of thirty-one unfair commercial practices:
“Editorial content is used in the media for sales promotion purposes and the merchant has paid for this sales promotion without this being clearly evident from the content or from images and sounds that are clearly recognisable for the consumer.”
Therefore it’s a case of surreptitious advertising if you conceal the advertising intention of a marketing measure. Because your potential customers could very quickly mistake your advertising content for factual information - and can be misled with regard to your intentions (to generate sales).
In day-to-day business, the separation of advertising and editorial content is of course difficult on a case-by-case basis. Posts are constantly wrongly classified as surreptitious advertising. That’s why it’s important to analyse the risks associated with your content in advance.
Problem #2: Copyright and Personal Rights
One advantage that can’t be denied when using your own platforms is your sovereignty over the content distributed there. But copyrights and personal rights apply here too if, for example, you use pictures that you didn’t take yourself. In any case, ask yourself whose consent you need to use third-party content and also clarify the following points:
- Who created the content?
- Who is depicted in it?
- What does the use cost?
Problem #3: Liability For Third-Party Content
Social media platforms already have their own rules regarding how advertising is allowed on the platforms. All content must be compatible with community, advertising and technical guidelines. It’s worth taking a close look here before you distribute your content and that of your customers on Instagram, Facebook etc.
Good Content Is Hard Work - But Good Insurance Coverage Has Never Been EasierThe pressure to produce one creative marketing idea after the other is greater than ever today. In their eagerness to outdo the competition, many marketers not only overshoot the target in terms of content, but also inadvertently disregard legal requirements such as copyrights or advertising labelling. These violations can result in expensive warnings that can put a huge strain on the company’s budget. The Professional Indemnity for Digital Professions from exali is the perfect solution for agencies and self-employed people in the media sector: The insurer checks to what extent, for example, claims are justified and settles the requests. So you’re completely covered - and can work on your next content idea in peace.
Vivien Gebhardt is an online editor at exali. She creates content on topics that are of interest to self-employed people, freelancers and entrepreneurs. Her specialties are risks in e-commerce, legal topics and claims that have happened to exali insured freelancers.
She has been a freelance copywriter herself since 2021 and therefore knows from experience what the target group is concerned about.