Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 | 4 min read
Many brands use holidays to engage with customers in fun and unexpected ways. For Halloween, the promotions are often full of tricks and treats. Sometimes, however, marketing campaigns that have nothing to do with Halloween still end up scaring the pants off the public – not to mention the brass at large companies.
Among soft drink brands, there are two particular campaigns that got attention for all the wrong reasons. While the initial ideas were innocent enough, their execution led to some spooky outcomes.
Expanding into international markets is both exciting and stressful. Sometimes, it’s downright scary.
When Pepsi initially ventured into the Chinese marketplace, it launched with the slogan, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life.” The phrase was meant to conjure feelings of refreshment for consumers. Unfortunately, translated phrases don’t always carry the same meaning in different languages. In this case, Chinese consumers were seeing ads that suggested that “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”
Understandably, this caused some confusion. Sure, a cold can of Pepsi awakens the senses – but is it really strong enough to bring people back from the dead? We certainly hope not!
This wasn’t Pepsi’s only foray into the afterlife. In the 1950s, the company rebranded its vending machines from their traditional dark blue, to a lighter shade. In southeast Asia, light blue is a symbol of death and mourning. Evidently, people don’t want drinks that remind them of death – even if those drinks promise to bring them “back to life.”
The lesson here? Do your research before expanding into new markets. And when you hire a translator, have someone double (or triple) check your slogan to make sure there’s no mistaking the meaning. Unless, of course, you want to be seen as the brand responsible for starting the zombie apocalypse.
If you knew there was a coin worth up to $1 million hidden someplace nearby, how far would you go to find it?
Like so many ghost stories, this one begins with a hunt for buried treasure. Dr. Pepper released a series of clues, one of which involved a valuable coin hidden somewhere in the Granary Burying Ground – a nearly 400 year-old cemetery – where the likes of John Hancock, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams had been laid to rest centuries ago.
Upon learning of the site of the clue, the city of Boston acted quickly to prevent any damage. The burial ground had been closed off before any visitors arrived to prevent anyone from disturbing the grave sites. Cadbury Schweppes, the company that owns Dr. Pepper, understood the city’s decision and had some apologizing to do. To make up for the blunder, it held a $10,000 random drawing for local residents who had entered the contest as consolation for their troubles.
There are many lessons to be learned from these alarming marketing missteps. The most frequently given yet rarely followed advice is to do your research before expanding into new markets. This would save countless companies from the embarrassment of confusing (and potentially offending) their prospective customers.
In addition, if you’re hosting an in-person event, make sure the venue not only makes sense, but is cleared by the proper authorities. Just as you would get permission to rent a private event space, it’s a good idea to check with local governance when dealing with a public space. This is especially true for locations where some of our most treasured national figures are laid to rest.
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