Top 5 things that brands can learn from Zara’s (and other famous brands’) mishap

In the ever changing world of digital marketing, brands often find themselves on a precarious path, where a single mishap can lead to significant repercussions. The recent incident involving Zara’s campaign withdrawal serves as an good reminder of the importance of learning from such crises and understanding how they were put right eventually. 

Our CEO and Founder, Tamara Littleton was recently interviewed by BBC Radio 5 Live about this topic – and here are our 5 top things we took away:

1. Diverse Perspectives Matter

Zara’s story emphasises the critical need for diverse voices in the decision-making process. However, it’s not the first brand to face scrutiny over cultural insensitivity. Remember the Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner attempting to bridge social justice protests? The ad was widely criticised for trivialising important movements. Diverse teams could have provided valuable insights to prevent such oversights, reinforcing the significance of inclusive decision-making.

Speaking to the BBC, Tamara said “We saw with Zara that their campaign came out on Sunday, some complaints built and then they removed it Tuesday with an apology – a fast turn around. The main question though is could it have been stopped altogether – it highlights that we need to have more diverse views in the industry. Zara clearly had no ill intent but the argument is that it should have been stopped before going out on social in the first place.”


2. Read the Room

As the world evolves, brands must adapt to the shifting landscape. The infamous case of McDonald’s ill-fated #McDStories campaign serves as a cautionary tale. What started as an attempt to share positive customer experiences quickly turned into a platform for users to share horror stories, highlighting the importance of constant environmental awareness. Social listening tools could have identified the emerging trend, allowing the brand to adjust its approach in real-time.

“Since Zara started the project, the context changed, the world had changed and they needed to have read the room. There are tools that can do it, social listening tools can identify what the trends are. These tools can be used positively too on social, allowing brands to jump on the back of cultural change or a meme.” – Tamara Littleton


3. Adaptability is Key

Nokia’s journey from mobile phone dominance to near-obscurity exemplifies the importance of adaptability. Failure to pivot and embrace the smartphone era led to a significant decline. Similarly, brands must be agile in recognising changing circumstances. If campaigns no longer align with the current climate, it’s essential to have the bravery to pivot or modify concepts swiftly.

“So if brands are able to identify and read the room, stopping the campaigns (and losing money) is an option – or even pivoting and changing the concept/content and dropping the original idea. It requires some bravery but if you don’t it can be a massive reputational headache.” – Tamara Littleton


4. Empower Your Team

In a crisis, having team members who feel comfortable speaking up is vital. Pre-launch checks from all diverse perspectives should be a standard practice to prevent the development of campaigns that may have unintended negative impacts, especially when it will reach a global audience via the power of social. 

“We talk a lot about having diverse teams, different ages, backgrounds, cultures. Social media is global and campaigns will be picked up in other countries/markets. It is important that people within a business/working on a campaign are empowered to say ‘this isn’t right’.”

You need to have teams pre-launch asking ‘is this still appropriate to go out’ and in a crisis able to speak up. For Zara, they handled it quickly, which is critical.” – Tamara Littleton


5. Swift Crisis Management

Tylenol’s response to the 1982 poisoning crisis remains a gold standard in crisis management. The brand acted swiftly, recalling products, cooperating with authorities, and implementing tamper-proof packaging. In the digital age, brands must emulate this responsiveness, as demonstrated by Zara, by acknowledging issues promptly, issuing apologies, and preparing for crises through scenario planning.



By embracing diverse perspectives, staying attuned to the global context, remaining adaptable, empowering teams, and implementing swift crisis management, brands can transform setbacks into opportunities for growth. 

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