The Guinness gaffe and why fail moments can work in brands' favour

For a brand which takes pride in its Irish roots and heritage, Guinness’ gaffe on its St Patrick’s Day advertising campaign in Canada has raised a few eyebrows on social media. It appears that the Irish brewery doesn’t know its shamrocks from its four-leaf clovers.

But was this ‘fail’ deliberate? Guinness apologised immediately for the mistake, explaining that the campaign was a ‘really small scale activity’ and the controversial posters were removed on Wednesday. However, it could be argued that this blunder has raised the profile of the brand’s Canadian St Patrick’s Day activity.

For the past few years, brands which have built their reputations around trust, helpfulness and humanity have been deliberately ‘failing’ and subsequently showcasing the brilliance with which they can manage the situation. Embracing these ‘fail’ moments is becoming a novel way to cut through the noise.

Penguin Books’ #YourMum Mother’s Day 2015 Twitter campaign asked users to tweet with the hashtag #YourMum to promote its ‘buy a book for Mother’s Day’ activity. Predictably, the hashtag was hijacked by some on Twitter, with ‘Your Mama’ jokes taking centre stage. Penguin’s marketing team would have anticipated this response, but the hashtag did trend for days and arguably, the brand got people to engage with the campaign by showing some imperfection.

Although the charity has remained coy about its involvement, The National Trust’s ‘leaked’ Expect the Unexpected online advert caused a stir on social media because of its distinctively bold departure from the charity’s traditional marketing. The irreverent advert might be deemed as a ‘fail’ by the traditionalists amongst us – this is after all a charity which looks after historic houses – but the ad generated such positive feedback that many advised The National Trust to use the spoof as inspiration for its next campaign.

Weiden & Kennedy, creators of Nike’s famous ‘Just Do it’ campaign, has a wall in its foyer created from 100,000 clear pushpins pressed into white that spell out the words “Fail Harder”. This phrase is a mandate for its business and creative culture.

It would be difficult to find a brand which embodies this mantra better than Paddy Power. The brand ‘fails’ often, but does so with constancy, grace and good humour. There have been some notable genuine fails for Paddy Power, but on the whole it could be argued that the brand is one of the pioneers of the ‘fail harder’ brand of marketing and it has demonstrated a bigger sense of purpose which usually endears and set themes for long-term success.

Fail moments are gradually becoming an important part of the modern marketing climate where frequency and relevance of content is as important as the quality of content. As the shamrock blunder has illustrated, bigger brands such as Guinness are also waking up to this fact.

Tim Jones is creative director of RPM