7 epic fails that consumer testing can help you avoid

Consumer testing is essential to avoid easily preventable fails, but even the biggest brands can get it wrong sometimes. Here are 7 lessons for you to learn from.

If you don’t listen carefully to consumers, it’s easy to get things wrong – even major brands have experienced epic fails because they were too complacent to get feedback first.

To help you avoid making the same mistakes that could damage your brand, we’ve compiled 7 examples of product and marketing strategy gone wrong.

Before we get into the epic fails, here’s how some top brands used market research with great results. From exciting new brands like Little Moons to tech stalwarts like Oracle, here’s how to do market research right.

We also look at the ways these companies could have prevented these blunders – and subsequent bad press – through some simple consumer testing techniques.

Bad packaging 

Beauty brand Dove has focused its marketing on celebrating women of all shapes and sizes – and very successfully so. The company has been valued at £3bn, making it the 10th most valuable beauty brand in the world. With such a valuable brand that they’ve spent years cultivating, you’d expect them to invest a little more time into consumer testing before making a major packaging change, but no.

The concept, created by agency Ogilvy London, was six differently shaped bottles of shower gel, designed to “evoke the shapes, sizes, curves and edges that combine to make every woman their very own limited edition.” In practice, what this meant for consumers was having to choose from a selection of embarrassing, body-shaped bottles, sized from rangy to round.

Social media quickly decided that this was not a pleasant prospect. Reactions to Dove’s “Real Beauty Bottles” ranged from outraged to bemused. As one columnist, writing in Marketing Week, put it, “Finding my fat bum on the shelf doesn’t really motivate me that much to purchase. It puts me off. It feels embarrassing. Will the checkout person say: ‘Oh, you went for that one? I would have seen you as that rounder one.’”  

Thankfully, the packaging was only planned as a limited-edition run and, following the backlash, none actually made it to the shelves. But, as is evident from the expensive promotional video, it didn’t stop a sizeable chunk of cash (and time) being washed down the drain, or the negative backlash that has taken some of the shine of a once untouchable brand.

If only Dove had taken the time to ask consumers about their opinions of the new packaging concept, via a simple survey to their target market, they could have limited their costs to the graphic designer’s fee.

Tone-deaf advertising

A powerful message can make a commercial stand out, but exercising sensitivity when tackling emotive issues to sell products is vital. Two mega brands – Pepsi and McDonald’s – discovered this to their detriment recently. 

Pepsi came under fire for suggesting fizzy pop could stop rioting and police brutality. The advertisement showed reality TV star Kendall Jenner joining a peace protest and helping to defuse a standoff between protesters and police by approaching one officer with a can of cola.

Angry consumers claimed the scene referenced the iconic photograph of Leshia Evans, a young black woman who stood tall in the face of heavily armored riot police during a Black Lives Matter protest.

To make matters worse, the video was released on 4 April, the 49th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Bernice King, the daughter of civil rights leader, posted a photo of her father on Twitter with the comment, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”

Meanwhile, McDonald’s was blasted for exploiting child bereavement following an advertisement featuring a young boy discovering his dead dad’s favourite fast food was a Fillet-O-Fish. The Advertising Standards Agency received more than 100 complaints in one week and the ad was pulled.

Testing advertising concepts with consumers allows brands to test how viewers will react to them before they get off the storyboard and into production.

No demand for the product or service

You’re already a household brand and you’ve got a great idea for a new product. People are going to love it, right? Not necessarily. Just because you have loyal customers for one product doesn’t automatically mean they’ll embrace another.

Take Facebook for example – it’s the biggest website on the planet used by billions of people daily, however its attempts to drive adoption of a Facebook phone have been so far unsuccessful.

In 2013, Facebook partnered with HTC to produce First, a smartphone that came with a Facebook home screen. The normal app icons were replaced by an automatically updating stream of photos and status updates. Users could like or comment without opening up the regular Facebook app, but it did mean that all the rest of the phone’s functions were hidden beneath.

Only a month after launch, the contract price of the HTC First was reduced from $99 to 0.99 cents. However, sales continued to be weak and the device was discontinued.

Critics said the Facebook phone was only suitable for people “obsessed” with the social media platform.

And of course Facebook is just one example, with Google having failed to launch a viable social network, Apple’s infamous Newton, Microsoft’s Zune, and HP’s TouchPad forcing them to write off $885 million in assets.

Had Facebook surveyed consumers about the ways they use their smartphones, they would have understood that accessing Facebook is not the primary purpose for most people.

It hasn’t deterred them from having another stab at the market though – let’s hope they’ve conducted some consumer testing this time!

Terrible logo

The logo design for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games cost £400,000, but as the saying goes, money can’t buy taste.

People hated the jagged emblem for a wide range of reasons; some thought it resembled a swastika, others believed it looked like Lisa Simpson carrying out an obscene act, while Iran claimed it spelt out “Zion” and threatened to boycott the games.

An online petition demanding the logo be replaced gathered 35,000 signatures, while the Mayor of London at the time, Ken Livingstone, openly criticised the failure of design agency Wolff Olins to conduct consumer testing before the logo was launched.

“If you employ someone to design a car and it kills you, you’re pretty unhappy about that,” he said. “If you employ someone to design a logo for you and they haven’t done a basic health check, you have to ask what they do for their money.”

These days, with Attest’s consumer insight platform around, it doesn’t cost much in either money or time to run your logo design by a nationally representative sample of consumers, meaning you can avoid a gold-medal-winning branding fail.

Wrong channel selection

We all know that selling ice to Eskimos is pretty hard to do, so you probably wouldn’t set up shop in the North Pole if that’s what you were retailing. When it comes to sales channels, it’s important to go where your customers are, and find outlets that are a good fit for your product.

An example of what can happen if you choose the wrong route to market is Pets.com; part of the 90s dot com bubble. The pet product retailer tried selling bulky pet supplies like dog food and cat litter online, but failed to offer consumers a better alternative to what they already had.

These products could more easily be obtained at local shops without the need to pay for postage or wait for delivery and so the business was eventually closed – but not before huge amounts of money had been thrown at it.

Other online businesses that suffered the same fate include Furniture.com and Jewelry.com. Times have changed now and all sorts of products are successfully sold online, but it goes to underline the importance of understanding the marketplace you’re entering.

Consumer surveys can help brands to establish their positioning and work out exactly where to target potential customers.

Misjudged pricing

Another smartphone to crash and burn was the 2014 Amazon Fire Phone. Like the HTC First, it was also discounted to 0.99 cents just one month after debuting, however the cause of this phone’s failure was its overinflated $199 initial contract price.

Introduced seven years after the original iPhone and six years after the first Android device, the Fire phone needed to impress in order to convince users to switch operating systems, but it essentially offered nothing new. Despite this, Amazon decided on a premium price strategy, aligning it alongside phones such as the iPhone 5s.

According to Fortune, “Selling the Fire for $200, the industry-standard, ran contrary to Amazon’s long-held, company-wide strategy of undercutting the competition.” As a result of this misjudged pricing, Amazon found itself stuck with $83 million worth of unsold Fire phones.

Amazon could have helped mitigated this by undertaking price sensitivity testing. One way of doing this is by utilising the van Westendorp Pricing Model in which survey participants are asked four questions:

  1. At what price do you think the product/service is priced so low that it makes you question its quality?
  2. At what price do you think the product/service is a bargain?
  3. At what price do you think the product/service begins to seem expensive?
  4. At what price do you think the product/service is too expensive?

The responses to each question are plotted on a graph called a Price Map. The intersection of certain data points indicate the Optimum Price Point (OPP) and the Indifference Price Point (IDP) to give you a better idea of where to pitch your product, based on accurate consumer profiles.

Bad offers

Special offers can make your customers feel valued and help drive extra sales, but it’s important to understand the kind of promotion that will appeal to them. Morrisons supermarket demonstrated embarrassing ignorance about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when it put wine on offer at £9, under a “Stock up for Ramadan” sign.

Muslims don’t drink alcohol… they also don’t eat pork, but that didn’t stop Tesco from displaying smokey bacon flavour Pringles in a special Ramadan themed point of sale. If they wanted to connect with their Muslim customers, these major supermarkets went a funny way about it.

When planning special offers and promotions for your customers – especially for specific demographics – spend time getting to know them through customer surveys.

Don’t forget to consumer test your concepts before launch so you’re confident the reaction to them will be a good one. Remember, consumer don’t bit. Bad decisions do.


These mistakes took their toll on the big brands behind them, but could have so easily been avoided. Failing to consult their audience and proceeding with concepts, just because they thought they were good, is a complacency that cost them dearly.

To succeed, brands should stay in regular touch with consumers through market research. This can help them to stay relevant in a continually changing marketplace.

Meanwhile, consumer testing any ideas before you take them to market means your decisions will be more well-guided and strategic (and you’ll be much less likely to appear in a round-up of failures like this one!) You can learn a lot from reading consumer profiling case studies and examples.

About to make a decision for your brand? Don’t do it without consumer testing it first! Find the right consumer insights platform today.

Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 125 million global consumers. She also likes cake.

See all articles by Bel