Are these the five biggest marketing mess ups franchises have ever made?

From offering to pay women to have sex with World Cup stars to naming Norway the land of chlamydia, these franchises may have made the biggest marketing goofs ever

Are these the five biggest marketing mess ups franchises have ever made?

The saying goes that any publicity is good publicity. But as some franchise’s marketing teams have learned the hard way, this isn’t always the case.”

Say what?

The devil’s in the details. For instance, a lack of attention to subtle linguistic differences made KFC seem devilish when the franchise first ventured into the Chinese market. When it translated its iconic slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good” to Chinese signs it read “Eat Your Fingers Off”. Moreover, as the first western fast-food company to launch in the country, the suggestion gave locals a scary taste of what cuisine across the Pacific was like. However, the blunder barely scratched Colonel Sanders’ enterprise, which went on to break records as the most popular western fast-food in China.

STI stunt gone bad

If getting people talking is the aim of the game, then throwing yourself into the line of fire is often a good move. Indeed, June saw 7-Eleven take heat after erecting an advert outside Oslo Central Station in Norway, promoting contraception sales at the country’s expense. Tourists stepping off the train came face to face with posters saying “Welcome to the land of the fjords. And chlamydia.” However, the airtight spin of Thea Kjendlie, press spokesperson at 7-Eleven, turned tables on critics with sympathy for Norway’s epidemic: “It was not our intention to offend anyone with this campaign but we do want to create engagement and awareness around this topic.” Marketing boo-boo or work of genius, we’ll leave it for you to decide.”


Even a well-meaning stunt can lead to controversy. For example, take McDonald’s superficial decision to flip its golden arches into a ‘W’ for Women’s Day in March. Rather than resonating with audiences, it became a stark reminder of the allegations of the franchise underpaying its staff. “This empty McFeminism has nothing to do with women’s liberation and everything to do with McDonald’s attempt to sanitise its image,” said Laura Parker, national coordinator at Momentum, the political group. With words like hollow and ham-fisted populating headlines shortly after, people weren’t lovin’ it like marketing suits planned.

What a self-goal

The Russian Burger King master franchisee made a huge marketing blunder in June by tempting women to get impregnated by World Cup players for $47,000. If the offer seemed unconvincing, they threw in a lifetime supply of Whopper burgers to spice it up. Needless to say, the franchise served up a u-turn and apology combo soon after. The incident shows how an errant franchise can damage the brand of an entire network. And considering Burger King has over 13,000 outlets, it shows just how important it is that the franchisor is on the ball of its marketing efforts.

Too white Christmas

Not enough can be said for developing awareness of your surroundings before riding the line of controversy. Indeed, always pushing the boundaries of its famous Christmas ads, Coca-Cola, which franchises the production of its fizzy drink, met backlash in 2015 for depicting Caucasian people enlightening a stereotypically depraved Mexican town with their tasty product. Instead of the intended message of unity, the soda titan had to pull the ad and issue an apology after being accused of” corporate imperialism.

Even though some of these marketing snafus may illicit a snigger or two, they should serve as lessons for how not thinking things through can risk damaging your brand.

Angus Shaw
Angus Shaw