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WebiMax Blog

Digital marketing tips and advice.

Manager Monday: 6 Content Marketing Fails by Big Brands

Dan Heinkel, January 21, 2013

People say you should learn from your mistakes.  Not me.  I prefer to learn from other people's mistakes.  It can save you a lot of headaches and sometimes a little embarrassment.

As Content Development Manager, I oversee a team of (awesome) SEO copywriters who help build and optimize content marketing strategies for our clients.   But rather than tell you how incredible we are (seriously, we're great), I'd like to use this Manager Monday to take a look at a few #epicfails by some of the biggest brands in the world--it's much funnier and, honestly, more interesting.

Without further ado, here's my big brand blooper reel for content marketing fails.

New York Times

Most of us have done it before.  We've sent an email or maybe a text message that we probably shouldn't have sent.  However, it's usually not to the New York Times' 8 million current subscribers.

In December 2011, a simple email campaign turned into a marketing nightmare for one of the nation's most popular newspapers.  The paper meant to send an email to people who recently cancelled their subscription asking them if they'd be interested in signing back up at a discount.  When the current subscribers received the email instead of the intended 300 ex-subscribers, most responded with concern that this was spam and some with anger that they didn't get the discount.

New York Times Office

Advice: Always make sure you check your recipients before clicking "Send" on any message.


Spoiler Alert: If you haven't read Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins's final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, I sincerely hope you avoided downtown D.C. last spring.

Amazon came under fire last April when a Kindle billboard in Washington displayed the first page of the final book which revealed key plot points of the previous two books.

Kindle Billboard

Advice: Don't be a blabber mouth!


I'm a big fan of user-generated content.  It makes my life as a writer so much easier.  I mean people are literally doing the work for me and it's good for SEO--#winning (is that still going on?).

But what happens when your users don't have anything engaging to say?  Well, you'd be in a situation similar to Pepsi whose home page consists of nearly all tweets that get little social engagement.  They have nearly 9.5 million "likes" on Facebook yet the posts on their home page typically garner less than 10 (a lot of them have none).

Pepsi Home Page

Advice: If you don't have anything interesting to say, don't say anything…no, no wait--say something, but you might have to rely on more than your users to do so.  Produce some of your own content and be more selective with the user-generated content you publish on your site.


I've seen this done on a few fashion websites before and really liked the idea.  They use "in-image advertising" to market multiple products. So if you don't like the jeans you see on the model in the picture but you absolutely love the necklace they're wearing, there will be a link that directs you to that product's page.

Unfortunately, this backfired big time for Express.  They decided to help users find products on their site that were similar to clothing items in photos pulled from Yahoo News.  This resulted in Express unintentionally offering users the chance to buy a scarf resembling one worn by an Afghan militant (the picture was taken from a story discussing a bloody attack in Afghanistan).

Express In-Image Ad

Advice: Stick to celebrity news, and just filter out stories that involve Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Chris Brown… okay, maybe just stick to your own photos.

GE Ecomagination

 GE recently launched a site called ecomagination.  In theory, it’s awesome.  It aims to be a thought-leadership blog for green technology and green living. They currently have almost 96,000 likes on Facebook, but the majority of their content struggles to get more than handful of likes. Why you ask?

Well, that's because the majority of their content is self-promotional.  It looks more like a news section of a site than a thought-leadership blog.  This distances them from their audience and hurts their brand.  People want to hear about the issues, not that your company is greener than an Irish bar on St. Patrick's Day.

 GE Home Page

Advice: Be confident about your brand, not cocky.  Either that or re-name your site egomagination.


Social media is a powerful device.  In fact, it's so powerful that users can take the reins on your social media marketing campaign and turn it into a (in my opinion rather hilarious) prank.

Back in July of 2012, a group of pranksters hijacked a Facebook promotion designed to send Pitbull to the most-liked Walmart.  They used the hashtag #ExilePitbull for a campaign that eventually sent the Miami-based rapper to Kodiak, Alaska.  At least he was a good sport about it saying, "What you gotta understand is that I will go anywhere in the world for my fans."

Walmart Facebook Ad

Advice:  I'm sorry, but this is just funny.

We all make mistakes, even some of the biggest, most well-liked brands out there.  Sure most are unintentional, but in a world where your mistakes can be scrutinized under the microscope of the Internet (kind of what I'm doing for example), it's important, now more than ever, to know your audience and think each strategy through to the end.

Oh, and by the way, as much as I talked up my team earlier in the post, we've learned from our mistakes as well.  In fact, if you see any in the post, give me a shout.  Happy  marketing!

Need an Expert Contributor?

Ken Wisnefski is a seasoned web entrepreneur and a frequent contributor to news outlets and business publications. Ken’s vast knowledge of how to make online businesses succeed has made him a sought after consultant from businesses wishing to improve their online initiatives. Contact pr@webimax.com to collaborate!


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