Content Horror Stories: 6 of the Worst Content Marketing Mistakes by Big Brands

Halloween is the time for scary costumes, horror stories and Trick or Treat-ing.


So far, we’ve carved the content marketing pumpkin and helped you build a content marketing strategy to survive a zombie apocalypse. To wrap up our Halloween series, we’ll take you through the scariest part of content marketing: the catastrophic content campaign.

We challenge you not to gasp or cringe as you read through these content horror stories of massive marketing mistakes.

1. PureGym’s 12 Years A Slave Workout

To honour Black History Month, a PureGym personal trainer created a workout routine called “12 Years a Slave”. The name is the same as the 2013 biographical film adaptation of the 1853 memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

Posted on the PureGym Luton & Dunstable Facebook page with the caption “Slavery was hard, and so is this”, the post faced a widespread backlash of hate comments and uproar for its insensitive nature. Slavery can not be compared to a workout routine.

Both PureGym and the trainer who wrote the post later issued public apologies to anyone they may have offended with the post.

Content Marketing Mistake 1: PureGym

2. Apple’s U2 Album Free Sample Campaign

Imagine coming home after a long day and finding every room in your house invaded by uninvited guests that refuse to leave.

This is how most of us felt when logging into our iTunes accounts in September 2014 to find a random U2 album in our playlists. Apparently, Apple thought it was an excellent idea to beam free music to everyone’s devices, regardless of taste or storage space. This move was perceived as invasive and left many of Apple’s users confused and annoyed.

As a result, Apple had to release a tool to remove the album from its customers’ accounts, and a webpage with step-by-step instructions

3. Kenneth Cole’s Shoe Uproar Tweet

Next on the list of content marketing mistakes is clothing brand Kenneth Cole’s Cairo tweet during the Arab Spring uproar in Cairo in 2011, where they attempted to hijack the tragic event to sell loafers. Taking advantage of current trends (known as newsjacking) can be a great way to get content off the ground, but clearly Kenneth did not understand how audience in this instance.

Kenneth Cole was forced to make a public apology for the insensitivity and “failed attempts at humour” on his part.

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4. People Per Hour’s Girl Boss Advert

In November 2019, online freelance platform People Per Hour launched an ad campaign on the London tube with the caption “You do the girl boss thing. We’ll do the SEO thing.” As you can imagine, people were not happy with the campaign.

The Advertising Standard Authority (the ASA) quickly received 19 complaints about the ad came across as sexist, implying that women can’t use technology like SEO. People Per Hour later removed the word “girl” from the ad as a result.

This is another stellar example of what happens when brands fail to understand their audience when creating content.

5. Adidas Boston Marathon Email

We all remember the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013, when two explosions killed three people and injured hundreds. Soon after the disaster, those who subscribed to the company’s email list received an email saying “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”.

Although, this was a mistake that Adidas was quick to correct. They created the emails before the attack, when “surviving the Boston Marathon” only referred to sore legs and personal victory, not trauma and tragedy. The lesson learned from this content marketing mistake is to always stay on top of your social media and email marketing to make sure it’s up-to-date.

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6. Dolce & Gabbana Gang Rape Advert

Finally, here is one of the most shocking content marketing mistakes we’ve seen. In 2007, Dolce & Gabbana made an ad campaign featuring a series of “rape” scenarios. These advertisements have come back to haunt D&G again and again despite their numerous public apologies. And so they should, because gang-rape is never sexy.

Content Marketing Mistakes: Dolce & Gabbana

And there you have it.

What we’ve learned from these dreadful content marketing mistakes is how important it is to make sure you know and understand your audience before you create content. If these brands had created these campaigns with their audience in mind, and not their own goals, and stayed on top of their email marketing, they could have avoided public humiliation.

Keep Your Content Safe from Horror with Copy House

To keep your content safe from being part of your own content horror story, Copy House always takes the time to understand you and your audience.

Starting with a Brand & Content Strategy session, we define your strengths and values and conduct thorough research into your target audience. We only begin creating content once we have a firm grasp on who you’re targeting and what makes them tick – and ticked off.

Get in touch to arrange a chat with us.

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