4 Biggest Branding Fails in 2024, So Far (And the Lessons We Can Learn From Them)

Brand reputation can make or break a company’s success, and 2024 has already seen its fair share of branding blunders. Ethical missteps and disconnects between messaging and consumer expectations serve as cautionary tales for brands navigating the complex world of consumer loyalty — all in an effort to avoid the dreaded label of being ‘canceled’.

Let’s dive into the four biggest branding fails of 2024 and learn from their mistakes so your brand can thrive. 

Kyte Baby: Practice What You Preach

What Happened

In January of 2024, Kyte Baby, a brand that specializes in bamboo baby clothing, faced a massive internet boycott. An employee named Melissa requested to work remotely while her newborn, whom she adopted, was in the NICU. The request was denied by Kyte Baby’s founder, Ying Liu, and Melissa was forced to resign from her position. 

Melissa’s sister created a viral TikTok video explaining the situation, which prompted a boycott of the brand, and even had some customers throwing their Kyte Baby products in the trash. Founder Ying Liu released two apology statements in the form of TikTok videos: the first one was scripted, and was promptly criticized by viewers as inauthentic and rehearsed. Her second video was made later that day in her home: “So, I just posted an official apology on TikTok. And the comments were right — it was scripted. I memorized it. I basically just read it, it wasn’t sincere and I’ve decided to go off-script.” Liu went on to apologize to Melissa and say that the company would pay all of her benefits and grant her the remote position if she chose to return to Kyte Baby.

Between the two apology videos, Liu amassed 9.4 million views with most comments stating something along the lines of “too little, too late.

Why It Matters

The Kyte Baby debacle underscores the critical importance of brands aligning their actions with their stated values, even behind closed doors. In an era where consumers demand authenticity and transparency, any deviation from a brand’s professed principles can lead to significant damage in their reputation. As we have seen time and time again with other brands, consumers are increasingly vigilant, ready to hold brands accountable for any perceived missteps. 

Despite being known for its family-oriented image, Kyte Baby’s decision not to support an employee during a family crisis has led to widespread consumer outrage. This has shattered the trust they once had with their customers, who saw Kyte Baby as a brand created for parents, by parents.

Key Takeaway for Brands

The Kyte Baby controversy serves as a poignant reminder for brands that while things like brand colors and logos may be important, above all else, companies must prioritize integrity and consistency in their operations. Upholding core values isn’t just a matter of moral obligation but also a strategic imperative in safeguarding brand loyalty and trust. In an interconnected digital landscape where information travels swiftly, brands must remain steadfast in their commitment to ethical conduct, knowing that any deviation could have far-reaching consequences on their reputation and overall brand.

A bowl of square-shaped cereal with milk, atop a wooden surface. A spoon holds some cereal pieces, and the bowl rim is green.

Kellogg's: Don’t Be Tone-Deaf in Your Marketing

What Happened

On February 21, 2024, Kellogg’s faced a significant marketing issue when CEO Gary Pilnick suggested on CNBC’s Squak that families consider “cereal for dinner” as a solution to rising food costs. However, Kellogg’s has been promoting their idea of eating their products at dinnertime as early as December of 2022, when they released a commercial of their star mascot Tony the Tiger chanting “when I say cereal, you say dinner!” 

Pilnick’s statement intended to position cereal as an affordable option in response to food prices increasing throughout the United States. Instead however, the statement sparked backlash among consumers who perceived it as a ploy to boost sales while ignoring the underlying inflationary pressures driving up food prices. It was deemed as tone-deaf in the wake of what consumers were dealing with on a day to day basis. The statement caused the start of a Kellogg’s boycott against all of the company’s brands, beginning April 1, 2024.

Why it Matters

This incident underscores the importance of knowing your audience deeply, including their struggles in order to avoid tone-deaf marketing. Kellogg’s attempt to present cereal as a budget-friendly dinner alternative backfired, revealing a disconnect between the brand’s messaging and consumer perceptions. Consumers today are increasingly skeptical and vocal about corporate motives, any misalignment between brand values and actions can lead to swift and widespread backlash. 

By Kellogg’s encouraging consumers to increase their purchase on their items while simultaneously raising their prices by 17.1% in the last two years, the brand has exposed a discrepancy behind their messaging and consumer expectations, causing distrust among customers.

Key Takeaway for Brands

The Kellogg’s situation serves as a cautionary tale for brands navigating the complex landscape of consumer trust. If Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick had shifted his statement to show a desire to fix the consumer’s problem (such as offering a temporary discount on goods or partnering with food brands outside the breakfast market) he could have actually increased his profits rather than facing scrutiny, distrust, and boycotting from customers. 

The truth is, brands need to prioritize genuine engagement with their audience and understanding of their current situation, ensuring that marketing messages align with consumer expectations. By fostering transparent communication, brands can build stronger connections with consumers and mitigate the risk of damaging their reputation in the face of public scrutiny.

A blue and white swirled lollipop stands centered on a wooden stick against a two-tone light teal background, creating a minimalist and playful visual.

The Willy Wonka Experience: Deliver on Your Promises

What Happened

You may be familiar with the viral situation in Glasgow, Scotland that occurred this past February, but in case you aren’t: Willy’s Chocolate Experience was marketed as an immersive and interactive adventure inspired by the world of Willy Wonka. All of their marketing was created by AI-generated imagery of elaborate candy, giant mushrooms, chocolate fountains, and lollipop illustrations. Attendees were promised “a journey filled with delicious treats, enchanting adventures, and moments worth capturing.” Tickets were sold for up to £35, or about $45 USD.

However, upon arrival at the event attendees were met with extreme disappointment as the event fell drastically short of expectations. Promised magical experiences were replaced with a sparse warehouse, minimal decorations, and few attractions including a single bouncy house. Attendees received only a meager offering of jelly beans and half a cup of lemonade, leading to widespread dissatisfaction. The situation escalated so much that the police were called, shutting down before it was even halfway through the day. The organizers were forced to issue refunds to every attendee.

Two images: left, a vibrant illustration of a fantasy candy landscape with colorful swirls and sweets; right, a person in a whimsical indoor setting with oversized candy props.

Why It Matters

The marketing failure Willy Chocolate Experience underscores the importance of managing customer expectations and delivering on promises made through marketing campaigns. Discrepancies erode trust in brands and can result in significant reputational damage, let alone financial damage. In an era where social media amplifies both positive and negative experiences, brands must ensure that their marketing accurately reflects the actual customer experience to maintain credibility and loyalty.

Key Takeaway for Brands

Willy’s Chocolate Experience is a great example for marketers about the pitfalls of exaggerated marketing claims and not using AI effectively. It highlights the necessity of aligning marketing messaging with the actual product or service experience to avoid disappointing customers. If your brand prioritizes authenticity, transparency, and realistic portrayal in marketing efforts, you will foster long-term relationships with consumers who will keep coming back. When in doubt, underpromise and overdeliver. 

A person is holding a smartphone with the TikTok app open, sitting cross-legged, with a wooden table and woven basket in the background.

Representative Jeff Jackson: Stay Loyal to Your Audience

What Happened

North Carolina Representative Jeff Jackson faced significant backlash and lost over 200,000 TikTok followers after voting in favor of a bill that could potentially lead to the banning of the TikTok app in the US. 

Jackson was first voted into congress in 2022, after leveraging Gen-Z and the TikTok platform. He had built his substantial following on TikTok by sharing insights into his work as a congressman and discussing political events in a digestible manner, but his vote in favor of the bill provoked accusations of hypocrisy from his followers.


Regardless of political affiliation, the situation with Rep. Jeff Jackson underscores the importance of staying loyal to your audience through consistency and transparency. Jackson’s popularity on TikTok was largely built on his image as a relatable political figure who engaged with his audience in an authentic manner. However, his decision to vote for a bill that could impact the very platform where he cultivated his following led to a significant loss of trust among his audience. This highlights the potential consequences of actions that are perceived as contradictory to the brand image a public figure or organization has cultivated, and the importance of staying loyal to your first audience.

Key Takeaway for Brands

Brands and public figures should prioritize maintaining consistency and alignment between their actions and the image they project to their audience. Any deviation from this consistency, especially if perceived as hypocritical or self-serving, can lead to a loss of trust and credibility among consumers or followers. In an age where authenticity and transparency are highly valued by consumers, staying true to one’s brand story and principles is essential for maintaining a strong and loyal following.

Bringing It All Together

Two people are engaged in a conversation at a table with snacks, with one person gesturing while speaking. The room has natural lighting and a cozy interior.

Although these brands made some major mistakes in 2024, you don’t have to. Maintaining integrity and consistency is paramount in the eyes of consumers. When you are refining your brand, it is important to align your actions with your values, foster genuine engagement with your audience, or deliver on your promises. By doing these things, you will create a successful brand that consumers can trust. 

At Embark, we specialize in helping brands navigate the complexities of reputation management and consumer trust. If you’re looking to strengthen your brand’s connection with your audience and avoid common pitfalls, reach out to us today for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

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