Missing your target audience – Cautionary tales from ad land

by Darren Clare

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Shoot for the moon, or just pretend that’s what you were aiming for…

When it comes to bad advertising, annoying your audience is one thing, but causing offence can be fatal. You might have the right product, but what if you have the wrong target audience? Or worse, create something that excludes and insults various audiences?  Copywriting agencies and content producers are full of ideas, but even with all the market research and customer insight in the world, there can still be moments when the target is hopelessly missed.

When Pepsi lost the plot

There are plenty of cringe-worthy ads in the ether, but what’s more interesting is when big name brands manage to miss the mark, despite their deep pockets and all that agency genius at their fingertips. Cue Kendall Jenner and her peace-making can of Pepsi …
The model escapes her oppressively boring photo shoot after meeting the eyes of a handsome, male protester. She decides to join him and other young people in a march seemingly without a cause. Mid-protest, when tensions peak, Kendall hands over a can of Pepsi to a police officer… problem solved!

Pepsi unites the world… in condemnation

The ad was universally panned for oversimplifying the act of protest, and totally dismissing the risks and complexities of social and political unrest. It also appeared particularly insensitive against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement. Audiences’ disdain caused the advert to go viral on social media and it was quickly pulled by Pepsi. They apologised, but the damage was done.
Lesson: Even the most sparkly of celebrity endorsements can’t polish a turd.

Body shaming on the daily commute

Protein World’s ‘Are you beach body ready?’ advert from 2015 caused international uproar with its sexualised image of a woman in a bikini and body shaming message. British audiences protested first and when the incredibly unsuccessful ad was taken across the pond, Americans echoed our outrage.
Lesson: Test and learn doesn’t work if you don’t learn anything from your first foray.

Cars that lack drive and direction

It’s tough when you so desperately want to be cool, but you find that you’re actually dull and boring. This is exemplified surprisingly often in the automotive industry.
The 1995-2005 Mazda Bongo Friendee was marketed to young people; the name was supposed to ignite a theme of music and fun with friends. It failed spectacularly, appealing instead as a handy low budget model for the grey pound market and families.
Another example of marketing misadventure from the 1990s is the Ford Probe – a name that was supposed to evoke technological advancements, but that cynical Brits just found laughable.
Success can occur in unexpected markets, however. For example, for years Honda tried to market models such as the HR-V (known as the ‘Joy Machine’) to younger drivers, only to find that the grey pound was once again providing the most revenue due to the car’s reliability, spaciousness and ruddy good engines.
Lesson: Customer research should always be common-sense-checked.

Start conversations, not fires

Controversy can be cool and spark interest and engagement, but not if it’s insensitive and ill considered.
All of the advertising hiccups above could have been avoided with more genuine understanding of the target audience and a bit more testing. We know this cynical world can be hard to please, but when a brand hits an advertising bullseye, the viral advert kudos is immortalised forever.
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