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Mmm, Nutella….

by Daniel Wagstaff, CEO Pocetkstop

The promises of marketing personalization have captivated the attention of marketers for years which is why today we are going to discuss 5 examples of brands getting personalization wrong, how they happened, and what companies can do to avoid such situations along with the loss of customer trust, and a decrease in sales. 

Target’s Pregnancy Prediction Score

In February 2012, Target—the eighth-largest retailer in the United States—made the headlines after a New York Times article discussed the company’s methods for using customer insights in order to expand sales. What is now known as one of the earliest examples of modern personalization marketing gone wrong, the Target pregnancy prediction score was a method based on purchasing data of predicting when a customer might be pregnant, and thus contacting her with personalized pregnancy-related products. 

The strategy got the attention of the public when an upset father contacted Target to request explanations for sending pregnancy coupons to his teenage daughter. To this day, this example is still discussed in marketing circles, and often cited as an example of marketing personalization that infringes upon the privacy rights of customers. 

The situation created by Target and their prediction strategies revealed that customers do not feel comfortable when companies and brands appear to know them to well. This also shifted the attention of brands and marketers away from sales as the primary goal, and towards customer experience and how to draft their strategies accordingly. 

Yet, in the coming years, as digital marketing and technology developments went further, other brands followed Target’s example, and made their own personalization errors. 

Nutella Message on a Jar Campaign

In 2015, the well-known hazelnut spread brand introduced a personalized campaign—initially in Europe and later worldwide—that allowed its customers to personalize their Nutella jars via a website. While the initial assessment of the marketers behind this campaign might have been conducted based on offering customers a fun and personalized way of feeling appreciated, the campaign went in a different direction when more and more people started uploading not-so-positive messages. From attacking the company and its products to offensive messages, this campaign saw it all. 

Even though Nutella officials first qualified it as a few pranks gone wrong, they ended up having to ban a variety of words and phrases from their website. Foreseeing the many ways in which a personalization campaign can go wrong is mandatory for all brands that want to engage in such a marketing strategy. 

Adidas Boston Marathon Email

Adidas, the sponsor of the Boston marathon race, sent out personalized congratulatory emails to their customers after the competition with the message “Congrats, you survived the Boston marathon!” This caused havoc among the public opinion due to its insensitive disregard of the bombing that happened six years ago. Based on the style of their emails and the engagement that Adidas has with their customers, especially those who take part in sporting events, it is obvious that the emails were personalized automated messages. Yet the mistake could have easily been avoided by using different phrasing. 

Kenneth Cole Cairo Tweet

Marketing personalization comes in many shapes and forms. In recent years, more and more companies have personalized their campaigns in order to engage with various political and social events yet most of those campaigns have turned out to be not only unsuccessful but also infuriating to the public. In 2011, designer Kenneth Cole posted a tweet in which it as suggested that the Cairo riots or caused by their spring collection, leaving everyone in awe of such a marketing decision. 

Pepsi was in a similar situation in 2017, when they personalized a video ad by appropriating a nationwide protest movement and its recent events. When drafting personalized marketing campaign, it is recommended to not engage with social and political issues in order to promote your business or products, regardless of how appealing it might seem in initial stages. 

Shutterfly Congratulatory Emails

In 2014, the California-based photo-printing company sent out a number of personalized emails to their customers in which they were congratulating them for babies they did not have. The mistake, perceived initially as a fun marketing error, ended up being seen as cruel in nature, as such a sensitive topic can reach women struggling with miscarriage, infertility, or the loss of a child. Within in a few hours the company issued out an apology, saying the emails were sent unintentionally. Whether the situation was caused by an automation error or by a faulty or incomplete customer database, its aftermath remained.  

Essential Aspects of Marketing Personalization

After showcasing 5 examples of brands getting personalization wrong and what made those strategies unsuccessful, we are going to go over the main traits of marketing personalization in order to better understand its role in the industry.

According to industry studies, marketing personalization failures cost U.S. companies $756 billion and a total of $2.5 trillion globally. Brands that knew how to make use of marketing personalization are benefiting from significant improvements in their overall growth, demonstrating that this marketing strategy is far from erroneous, when implemented properly.  

What to keep in mind about marketing personalization:

  • Customer consent is mandatory—as is avoiding aggressive, unauthorized, insensitive, or inaccurate personalization
  • Personalization should be implemented only based on comprehensively drafted customer databases; customers’ need to be aware at all time of what data has been used for the personalization strategies
  • Personalization strategies should be implemented gradually, and marketers should gather feedback from the implementation processes regardless of their outcomes
  • There is such a thing as too much personalization
  • Marketing personalization depends on data hygiene and following privacy laws and other industry regulations


Being up-to-date with trends and developments in the market industry is mandatory for all companies and marketers that want to implement successful marketing personalization methods, and events such as the upcoming ‘Marketing’s Golden Era: Personalization and the Always Connected Generation’ can significantly help. Keeping up with competitors and industry challenges, albeit difficult at times, will help your company improve its overall growth and see results from its marketing efforts. Make sure to never leave out aspects such as goals and objectives when drafting and implementing a personalization-based marketing strategy.

As the CEO of Pocketstop, Daniel Wagstaff defines the strategic direction of the business while identifying and managing key business opportunities. He founded the company to focus on solving an organization’s largest communications issues by using proven technologies in unique ways ensuring solutions are simple, efficient and delivering measurable business results. Daniel has 20 years of diverse experience working with clients to ensure their B2B and B2C communication strategy motivates and drives the desired behavior. Before Pocketstop, Daniel worked at Aerotek, the largest private recruiting firm in the world, leading business operations.