Did You Hear What Happened?

Looking Back: 3 Stories of How Brands Failed Horribly During Phase 1 of COVID-19

Most marketers are idiots.

They make stuff up and hope it sticks. Sometimes their advertising works. Most of the time, it’s a bust. And they made some egregious mistakes during the first 2020 COVID-19 season.

As we enter into a new phase of COVID-19 with masks back on faces (and the angst of whether lockdowns will enter back into society), the marketing world is altering rapidly. Add rising inflation, supply chain issues, and a job market that has changed drastically, and you can understand why entrepreneurs are throwing their hands up in the air wondering how to market their business now.

Well, today I am going to point out three of the most bullshit, inauthentic marketing mistakes introduced during the first season of COVID -19 that you should know about — and never try!


The winner of this award goes to Giant Food — the supermarket chain that unleashed a royally stupid magazine ad campaign featuring food sitting on a table — an apparent reference to eating together.

The tagline?

“Hosting? Plan a super spread,”

Facepalm. The reference to super spreader events was not Giant’s most brilliant move, even if we understand the double entendre.

There was backlash and plenty of it. Unfortunately, Giant also had to disingenuously apologize for their marketing blunder…

“While, in hindsight, the choice of words was a poor one, Giant had no intentions of insensitivity.”


Do we really need your company to make new branding logos promoting social distancing?

No…no we don’t.

Yet companies like Audi and Volkswagen (which are co-owned) separated their related logos to pander to their customers about social distancing. Did they ever retract this cringe-worthy campaign? No, they were utterly obtuse.

My advice to you? Don’t be tone-deaf when it comes to COVID-19 and your brand; we (the customer market) can see that dressed-up pig from a thousand miles away….and we’re all rolling our eyes….


The corporate world really believes that all consumers need to hear about where they stand on racial justice. What if you knew that most customers don’t want your brand to jump into the political fray?

Or better yet, what if your “fake” attempt to brand your business around racial justice backfired internally because you don’t practice what you try to push on your customers?

Welcome the clothing brand Reformation, which made an extensive public showing about donating to various social justice groups last year. It’s the kind of “pat yourself on the back” good feels that corporate America loves to give themselves (and manipulate you into thinking that they “care”).

Days later, a former African-American employee spoke out about how Reformation was racist in their internal employee promotional practices. The CEO of Reformation had to apologize…and then “resigned”…

What if we (your customers) see your social justice attempt as a manipulation to get you to buy more products? Let me tell corporate America a little secret…we can see it. So please stop it.

A year ago, I wrote two articles on this topic that went viral and . And just a few weeks ago, we saw in our data that around 70% of consumers don’t want a brand discussing or advocating for social justice messages.

It’s not that consumers don’t believe in those messages or are racist. Quite the contrary…consumers don’t want to be manipulated by a clothing company — and they are smart enough to know they can get their social justice updates on media news outlets. So let’s avoid pandering…

After 17 months of analyzing billions of pieces of consumer data, it’s easy for most marketers or business owners to think they need to jump on a hot trend or be different to stand out from the crowd. Instead of marketing on a “spit-balled” idea, why not focus on what your customers think about your product or service and then implement a message that delivers to them.

As we head into another season of COVID-19 fear in the marketplace, let’s hope the lessons learned from the first go-around make for more authentic marketing choices in the future.

PS — To read my new book, The Undefeated Marketing System — How to Grow Your Business and Build Your Audience Using the Secret Formula that Elects Presidents, click

PPS — Become a to my exclusive bi-weekly marketing and data insights articles, and you will always get first (AND FREE) access before anyone else (i.e. your competition). If you know someone who will benefit from these key insights, forward this to them to use in this critical moment.



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Phillip Stutts

Founder/CEO: Win Big Media | Founder: Go Big Media | Repped by Vayner Speakers & Keppler Speakers | Author: “Fire Them Now: The 7 Lies Digital Marketers Sell…”