Frighteningly Bad Marketing Tactics

<Count Chocula Voice> Velcome my friends, to this verrrrry spoooooky Halloween-themed booooo-log post! The vorld of marketing can be a scarrrrrrry place, filled vith ghosts of poor, lost souls, condemned to be foreeeeever haunted by misguided, failed campaigns.

Follow me, if you vish to survive. Enter … if you dare! Mwuahahahahahaha! <End Count Chocula Voice>

Happy Halloween!

From the foolish, to the ghoulish, and even the straight-up tool-ish, there are frighteningly bad marketing tactics all around us. Ham-handed, tone-deaf, half-hearted marketing can be scary-bad enough to make chills shoot up your spine, and cause people to run for the hills. Or at least never want to do business with a company ever again.

In the hopes that we may avoid this sad fate of losing prospects due to poor messaging, let us open the crypt of poor marketing judgment and see what frights await.


Excessive Horn Tooting

The other day I was driving home and saw a Publix billboard that said, “Announcing a $5 Million Donation to Feeding America.”

Now, I love Publix. I go there for lunch pretty much every day, and will gladly confirm that shopping there is indeed a pleasure. I also love Feeding America; it’s a wonderful charity worthy of your full support.

But come on guys. A billboard celebrating your own generosity?

For one, any strategically located Publix store probably sells $5 million worth of chicken nuggets and Bud Light before 11 a.m. every football Saturday down South. Second, there has to be a subtler way to market this charitable initiative. Perhaps something on their website, or in-store, with a challenge for shoppers to donate as well to make it more of a community thing? Self-praise tends to rub people the wrong way.

Humble-bragging about generosity is far from the only instance of excessive corporate horn tooting, however. How many companies shout incessantly about how ‘innovative,’ ‘award-winning,’ ‘life-changing’ or ‘cutting-edge’ they are?

You have to find ways of conveying how great you are without actually saying as much. Show, don’t tell. Give specific examples of how you are better than your competitors instead of just spewing superlatives.

There is a thin line between piquing interest and persuasion, and turning people off.

Pushing the Limits of Good Taste

Desperation is a stinky cologne, as they say. And nothing reeks of desperation like resorting to tasteless or offensive marketing ploys. While very few companies are able to successfully navigate the provocative messaging highwire, most who go this route suffer accordingly.

Some court controversy to the point of becoming a willful villain of sorts. I wish you good luck if that’s your strategy moving forward.    

Is the short-term buzz worth the long-term effects of being associated with poor taste? There are plenty of folks who to this day refuse to eat at Hardee’s or register their domains at GoDaddy solely based on their tacky ads.  

If you feel as though you need shock to boost your brand, you’re treading on dangerous ground.

Being too Serious or Schmaltzy

Smugness is not hot right now. If you take yourself too seriously, you run the risk of being skewered. Public mockery and parody are becoming our national pastime.

Overly serious marketing sets you up for the SNL – Matthew McConaughey/Lincoln commercial treatment.

Schmaltz can also backfire if you’re not careful. Before you go trying to tug everyone’s heartstrings, make sure you’re not overdoing it. Easy on the cheese.

And perhaps more importantly, avoid the noxious mix of schmaltz and your desire to sell stuff with serious topics. That’s great you want to honor veterans, or time a campaign around a holiday, just be respectful. Don’t trivialize people, events, or important issues.  


This may be the most ghoulish of the bunch here. Is there anything worse than misleading marketing?

In terms of recruiting, everyone feels obliged to mention the holy trinity of trucking benefits in their ad space: money, miles, and home time. The question is, are you really able to deliver on what you’re promising? Or do you have fine print disclaimers that contradict your selling points?

Exaggerate or over-promise at your own risk. If you’re sacrificing long-term goodwill and compromising your integrity for the sake of short-term sales or recruiting, it WILL come back to bite you. Nasty reviews online are like vampires: They live forever, and they can suck the life out of you.  

Whether you’re marketing construction equipment, truck parts, or open positions, make sure your word is good.

Overstating what you can truly offer is just not worth it.

Unless, of course, your goal is to be frighteningly bad at marketing your company. 

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