Marketing gone Wrong: 2 Steps to avoid Irresponsible Marketing

Dr Vaibhav Bharadwaj
The Incredible Writer
4 min readMay 14, 2021
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Earlier this morning, while casually scrolling the Better Marketing feed, an article caught my attention.

It was an article by Alice Vuong titled “Fiat Sent 50,000 Disturbing (and Sexist) Love Letters to Women in Spain”.

This was Alice’s article that inspired me to write this one.

The idea hooked on to me, and I decided to pen it down.

Fiat Ad that evoked fear

Alice, in her article, talks about an Ad Campaign that Fiat launched in Spain back in 1994. This was a classic example of marketing that strikes the wrong chords.

Fiat 500 was a car designed for “the independent, modern working woman”. In an out of the box launch marketing attempt, they sent out 50,000 personalised but anonymous love letters, each written on pink paper.

They planned to send another letter six days later where they’d reveal the secret admirer — The New Fiat 500, and coax the recipient to check the car out.

In 1994, the idea that there’s someone who secretly admires you, knows your whereabouts and, worst, knows where you live was enough to creep the hell out of these women.

Originally intended to arouse feelings of love (and possibly some thrill), those letters ended up doing just the opposite. They evoked fear and insecurity.

The recipients felt scared and restricted themselves indoors. Some tried investigating personally, while some were questioned by their partners.

Fiat did send another letter after six days, but it was a letter of apology, along with the details of their new car.

The campaign backfired because it touched the wrong emotion. Most likely, the advertisers didn’t think from the recipient’s perspective.

Handbooks that promoted Sexism and Gender-bias

In 2016, Alice mentioned, Fiat Argentina distributed handbooks with their cars that contained sexist remarks, apparently a joint effort of over-enthusiastic copywriting and a laid back review team.

I am quoting some more examples of irresponsible marketing here to add to the context.

Ad that objectified Women

Ford Ad that objectified women

In an out of the box attempt to promote their new hatchback as the male thing, Ford in 2013 rolled out a print ad that they regretted later.

Ford’s “Leave your women behind” ad showed three women bound, gagged and packed into the car’s trunk.

It faced significant heat, forcing the company to apologise for its mistake.

Ad that promoted Racism

Dove ad that promoted Racism

Dove published an ad on their Facebook Page showing a black woman turning into white, thanks to the Dove Body lotion.

They had to apologise publicly after their campaign received significant backlash, negative publicity and disrupted collaborations.

The point is

Every time such a thing happens, it’s because of one of us.

As Writers/Marketers, we have the superpowers to shape the way people think and behave through our work.

We better be serious about it, unless, of course, we like committing expensive mistakes.

How to avoid Irresponsible Marketing?

Here are two steps, how to:

Review everything, One More Time!

The world is littered with ads all over and the race to outsmart the competition ASAP is real. Still, Why not think one more time before hitting publish?

Why not review one more time from all angles? Especially a neutrality check from all angles. Higher the stakes, more comprehensive the review.

One practical piece of advice that Alice mentioned in her article was to step into your target market’s shoes.

Anything that isolates genders, communities, races, religions or income groups are best suited for the trash bin.

Use Humour Responsibly

Humour is a great marketing tool. However, insensitivity disguised as humour will always take you a downward spiral.

Choose Brand image over virality of the content, consistently.

Thanks for reading.

Do consider sharing if you found value!



Dr Vaibhav Bharadwaj
The Incredible Writer

A Technophile under a Dentist’s Skin. Enthusiastic about anything wellness, positivity, better habits, marketing and writing!