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Brand Failures: The Truth about the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time - Matt Haig We love failures. Not ours, of course not! But we love it when a brand of some criminally rich corporation fails. Didn’t we use to make fun of Microsoft’s Windows NT? Remember Windows NT? The one we "lovingly" called “Neanderthal Technology”?


In the same spirit, Matt Haig has written Brand Failures – to entertain us at the expense of criminally rich corporations! Well, mostly.

The book was written in 2003 so it is almost a decade old, so you wouldn't get to read anything about recent corporate failures, but it’s still fun to read most of the times.

Haig states in his book that it might be useful for case study if you are in advertising or marketing. He has presented 100 such cases and at the end of each case, has provided a summary about “lessons learnt” from a particular brand failure. But as it happens, he contradicts himself many times doing so. Well, that tells you that there isn't an ideal way to advertise your brand but that doesn’t mean that the following couldn't have been avoided:

R. J. Reynolds’ Smokeless Cigarette

R. J. R. produces brands like Camel, Winston, Salem and Doral. By that we can safely assume that they are experts in causing cancer. So, it should boggle our minds that they launched a cigarette that was “smokeless”. Sure, there are still smokeless cigarettes available in the market and I am sure their main objective is to reduce passive smoking, but R. J. R.’s smokeless cigarettes (named Premier) didn’t just stop there.

First, there was the taste issue. One person who ‘smoked’ Premier complained that it ‘tasted like shit’. And he was RJ Reynolds’ chief executive.

And well, there was a certain problem using the product.

‘Inhaling the Premier required vacuum-powered lungs, lighting it virtually required a blowtorch, and, if successfully lit with a match, the sulphur reaction produced a smell and a flavour that left users retching.’

‘It took them a while to figure out that smokers actually like the smoke part of smoking,’ one commentator said at the time.

And in addition, absence of smoke might wrongly suggest to others in your vicinity that you are smoking pot.

A certain William Shakespeare once said “What’s in a name?”

I would say, “Everything.”

We can imagine how the critics would respond today if they found a grocery list written by William Shakespeare himself.

“The writing is sublime. Especially the “dozen limes”. A lesser writer would have written “12 limes”. But Shakespeare makes us realize that even limes are not just eatables expressed in numbers. There is much more to them than that. I like how in a detached and brutal way this whole list was written. You just want to stay home and read it again and again until your kids starve.”

But unfortunately (for them), these companies took Mr. Shakespeare too seriously.

The Ford Edsel – Every Day Something Else Leaks

Ford was quiet serious about giving the right name to their new car. So much so that they even announced a contest for public to name their car. And even contacted the popular poet Marianne Moore to find a name which would signify a ‘visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design.’

Umm.. okay.

Her rather eccentric suggestions included Mongoose Civique, Resilient Bullet, Utopian Turtletop (?!) and the Varsity Stroke.


So, the then Ford chairman said ‘darn it’ and decided to name their new car “Edsel”. It was the name of his father, and the Ford founder’s only son.

But to their surprise, people didn’t warm up to the name Edsel. They thought it sounded more like,


Now, if you conversationally said to someone that “I drive an Edsel.”, this picture would pop up in their mind.


Recent example of bad brand naming would be the movie John Carter.

Today’s young generation hardly knows Edgar Rice Burroughs, so it wouldn’t have made a tiny bit of difference to them if Disney had named their movie “John Papadopoulos” instead of “John Carter”.

So it sounded more like a B-grade movie to today’s kids rather than a movie based on a classic novel.


Pepsi AM

Because its name dictated when the product should be consumed, the market size was restricted to specific-occasion usage.


But do you know what I enjoy most? Translation troubles.

Shall we?

Pepsi in Taiwan

In Taiwan, Pepsi’s advertising slogan ‘Come alive with the Pepsi generation’ was translated as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.’


Schweppes Tonic Water in Italy

In Italy, the product name (Schweppes Tonic Water) was translated as ‘Schweppes Toilet Water’.


Chevy Nova in Latin America

General Motors’ Chevy Nova didn’t do well in Latin America. Because ‘Nova’ means ‘It doesn’t go’ in Spanish.

Mitsubishi Pajero in Spain

In Spanish, ‘pajero’ is slang for ‘masturbator’.

Toyota Fiera in Puerto Rico

Where ‘fiera’ translates to ‘ugly old woman’.

Of course!

Rolls Royce ‘Silver Mist’ in Germany


Well… at least it’s silver.

Gerber in Africa

This is Gerber’s logo.


Now read along.

When baby food manufacturer Gerber started to sell its products in Africa it used the same packaging as for Western markets. This packaging included a picture of a baby boy on the label. Surprised at low sales, Gerber discovered that in Africa, as most customers can’t read English, Western companies generally put pictures on the label of what’s inside.

Coors in Spain

Coors beer had equally bad luck in Spain with its ‘Turn it loose’ slogan. It translated as ‘You will suffer from diarrhea’.

Umm…. next.

Frank Perdue’s chicken in Spain

US food brand Frank Perdue’s chicken campaign created confusion with the strap line ‘It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.’


In Spain this became ‘It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.’

Clairol’s Mist Stick in Germany

When Clairol launched its ‘Mist Stick’ curling iron in Germany, the company apparently had no idea that ‘Mist’ was a slang term for manure.


Parker Pens in Mexico

Parker Pens launched their pens in Mexican market with ads intended to read ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ but, the ad stated ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you.’

They had confused ‘embarrass’ with the Spanish verb ‘embrazar’ or ‘to impregnate’.

This book showcases many such failures alongwith others which are more technical rather than funny. So, read it if you are in no mood to read anything serious.

Let me leave you with one particular product which was a major failure in India. You might know that Cricket as a sport is very popular in India. And the official colour of Indian cricket team is blue.

So, Pepsi decided to launch ‘Pepsi Blue’ in India at the time of Cricket World Cup to cash in on the event. But to their surprise, the product failed.


Well… because of this.