5 lessons to learn from these epic brand fails

The fourth in a series from our brilliant intern Alicia.

I recently stumbled upon a multitude of articles that put the mistakes of some of today’s biggest companies on full display. With photographic evidence of the companies’ tragic brand blunders, it was hard not to find humor in their slipups. I wanted to share some of these unfortunate failures with you so that we can laugh, learn, and get some assurance that even the big guys royally mess up sometimes.

Here are 5 epic brand fails and what we can learn from them:


1. Colgate Kitchen Entrees

In the 1980s, the beloved toothpaste company thought it would be a good idea to start selling frozen meals with the same name. Their hope was that customers would buy a Kitchen Entree and then use Colgate toothpaste right after. However, as you can imagine, people did not want to eat food made by a company they trusted to keep their teeth clean.

Lesson Learned: Don’t confuse your customers! Don’t start selling a new product that has no relation to your current ones; instead, know your core products or services. Otherwise customers may lose trust in you and question the authenticity of your brand.


2. Sun Chips’ 100% compostable bag

In 2010, Sun Chips upgraded their bag to the “world’s first 100% compostable chip package.” Sounds great, right? Only one problem: Handling the bag made extremely loud crinkling noises that people compared to jet engines and lawnmowers. A Facebook group formed that was called “SORRY BUT I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG” and had over 30,000 members. People were so upset over it that Sun Chips was forced to change their packaging back to the original. Because who wants to go deaf saving the environment?

Lesson Learned: Beta test your new products! If Sun Chips would’ve asked a group of people to try out the new bags before they hit the shelves, they could’ve avoided all the online backlash. If the bags were as loud as people claim, someone in their test group would’ve said something. (Or maybe they did and no one heard them.)


3. Sci Fi changes its name to SyFy

In 2009, the science-fiction TV channel Sci Fi changed its name to Syfy. Poor Sci Fi just wanted to be hip and up-to-date with the texting-based slang that was just emerging at the time. Little did they know, “syfy” is Polish slang for the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. Despite the major embarrassment, the channel decided to keep its new name, and still have it to this day.

Lesson Learned: Do your research! If you’re going to change the name of your business, make sure it doesn’t translate to something ridiculous in another language. (Our Brand Naming service may be able to help you out.) If you cut corners, you might end up in Syfy’s unfortunate situation of proudly calling yourself an STD.


4. Cinnabon pays tribute to Carrie Fisher

In 2016, we lost our beloved Princess Leia, and Cinnabon lost Twitter followers. There’s a way to pay your respects when the world loses an influential icon. This isn’t it. Many felt the image amounted to a tasteless joke, while others accused Cinnabon of trying to capitalize off Fisher’s death. Whatever Cinnabon’s intentions, the internet was furious, and Cinnabon apologized and took down the tweet.

Lesson Learned: Be mindful of what you post! You might think your tweet is hilarious, but others might find it offensive. Remember who your audience is. Make sure your posts are 100% appropriate, especially in sensitive situations. And when it is appropriate to be funny or provocative, make sure your customers get the joke.


5. Burger King employee goes rogue

In 2012, a Burger King employee posted this photo of himself on 4chan, an imageboard website, with the caption, “This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King.” Although the image was posted anonymously, a few 4chan users were able to track his location. Three people were fired in connection to the lettuce scandal.

Lesson Learned: Be careful who you trust with your brand! Every person you hire, no matter how small the position, is a reflection of your company. Anything anyone puts online is there forever. Make sure you’re building the right reputation for your company with people who share your company values. Hire people who won’t step on your lettuce.

How do you avoid an epic brand fail?

You can start by clarifying your values, key products, and target market with a Brand Profile. Every company I’ve just listed lost sight of something that matters to their customers. With some clarity and foresight (and employee screening), you can stay in tune with your audience and avoid ending up on a list of branding blunders, where everyone is free to make fun of you (and we will).

Alicia GalanComment