Dating website Match.com caused outrage across social media after its ads in London's underground suggested that red hair and freckles were "imperfections." The Twitterverse lashed back -- with some formal complaints filed with the Advertising Standards Authority.
The ads, which also featured a man with two different colored eyes, had the tagline “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will.”
As a general rule, throwing shade on physical features isn’t a smart call in marketing.
Match.com responded by issuing a public apology and taking down the offending billboards.
While edgy and provocative advertising can be a good marketing hook at times, Melanie Spring, chief inspiration officer at Sisarina, a branding firm based in D.C., says, “This [ad] isn't edgy. It's rude and makes people feel bad about themselves. Words can do some serious damage.”
Related: Gap Apologizes for 'Racist' Ad
Being aware of the political climate and integrating customer feedback is a key to brand management. Marketing isn’t meant to be developed within a silo, writes Entrepreneur contributor Firas Kittaneh, who runs ecommerce company One Mall Group. In addition to gauging feedback from other people in marketing, “Marketers, for their own purposes, should reach out to their colleagues in finance, sales, customer service, product and engineering for valuable help and guidance,” he writes.
”Branding is a feeling,” says Spring, “and if you jump on the wrong wave, use bad news to do your marketing or get into a big mess on accident, it can wreck the feelings people originally had about you.”
She points to the pushback Cheerios recently received for acknowledging the passing of Prince in a tweet, which was meant to pay tribute to the music giant, that read “Rest in peace” with a Cheerio where the dot above the “i” would be. The sign was in purple and tagged #prince.
Some fans felt the tweet was insensitive and used the musician’s death for company gain, so Cheerios quickly apologized and removed it. Mistakes will be made, and Spring suggests that sometimes just apologizing when a marketing decision blows up can be the best response.
Match.com isn’t the first (or last) company to make missteps in marketing. Here are six other companies that probably wish they could roll back the clock on some marketing that went south.