Face it. Marketing is a lot like the Hindenburg. It can quickly and gracefully launch a brand skyward. Or it can simply blow up right in your face. So consider this a cautionary tale of the dos and don’ts of marketing your brand. Here are our top 10 marketing disasters and how to avoid them.
10. The Titanic
For our #10 advertising disaster we focus on one of the last century’s greatest human disasters––the sinking of the Titanic. Like much of the unregulated advertising of the early twentieth century, the PR campaign for the RMS Titanic was full of hyperbole and hubris. It was marketed as a fool-proof “unsinkable ship.” At a press event, one of the company officials was reported to say, “God himself could not sink this ship.” The Titanic ad campaign broke rule #1 of marketing: never piss off the Almighty.
9. The Edsel
It has become a textbook example of how not to advertise a new car, service or product. Named after Henry Ford’s son, the Edsel launched on “E-day”, September 4th,1957 with far too much hype and ballyhoo. Ford Motors had spent all of their marketing money promising Americans a totally remarkable automobile. My father summed up the public’s collective disappointment: “We were promised an unparalleled new car and what we got was a Ford with an ugly looking grille.” Marketing principle #2: never overpromise. It makes under-delivering practically inevitable. The Edsel was discontinued two years later.
8. New Coke
Many of us are old enough to remember this marketing train wreck. The year was 1985. Coca-Cola, the real thing, the thing that adds life, that thing that things go better with, the drink that you want to buy for the world––I could go on––the country’s leading cola decided to change their formula. First of all, Coke had been tweaking with their original formula for more than a hundred years. A little less cocaine. A little more fizz. Less sucrose. More fructose. Stuff they never told us about. But now they decided they wanted Coca-Cola to taste less like Coke and more like Pepsi. Even though they had vetted and tested this new formulation with innumerable focus groups and taste tests, the new product was an abject flop. Abandoning old Coke for new Cold set off the proverbial firestorm. After weeks of scrambling they announced the launch of something called “Coca-Cola Classic.” Old Coke with a new label. Marketing rule #3: never let research make your decision. Research is there to inform decisions not to make them. God gave you a gut. Use it.
Sure, Super Bowl ads are supposed to be daring, outrageous and falling-down funny. I’m sure that’s what Groupon thought they had on their hands. It was a $3-million campaign that showed actor Timothy Hutton poignantly decrying the blight and hunger of the people of Tibet…then ironically segwaying to a cramped Tibetan café where 200 people used Groupon to eat for half price. Get it? Yeah, me neither. Nobody thought this tasteless ad campaign that went on to make fun of Brazilian rainforest devastation and humanitarian efforts to save the whales was funny, witty or even slightly justifiable. So what marketing rule did they break? Marketing rule #4: rude rarely equates with clever.
Not too long ago Quiznos Sub shops introduced a spokes-creature that looked like a cross between a radioactive sewer rat and week-old road kill. That is honestly all I can remember about the campaign. I have not eaten at a Quiznos once since seeing that commercial. Marketing rule #5: food advertising should not make people lose their appetite. Pretty basic.
This is an urban legend that even Snopes.com couldn’t debunk. When Pepsi introduced their fizzy brown beverage to China thirty years ago it was attached to an ad campaign that said “Come Alive With Pepsi!” The tag line was popularly understood to mean “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” I’m pretty sure that’s the plot of the next Stephen King book. Marketing rule #6: do your friggin’ homework, people!
Apparently, Microsoft’s legendary blue screen of death made an unscheduled appearance at COMDEX in April of 1998. As Microsoft Founder Bill Gates was unveiling the Windows 98 beta to the press, Windows did what Windows always did: crashed. Gates reportedly smiled and said, “That must be why we’re not shipping Windows 98 yet.” Which brings us to marketing rule #7: shit happens. You need to be ready to clean the fan blades and mop the floors when what hits, hits.
3. Nokia Lumina
In a commercial that depicts two picture-perfect models riding bicycles, Nokia demoed the amazing optical image stabilization (OIS) feature of their new Lumina 920. The video shows a side-by-side comparison of the smart phone with OIS versus one without. It’s a pretty compelling demo. Only one problem: the footage wasn’t filmed by the hunky guy on the wobbly bike next to her. It’s being captured by a film crew with a high def camera on a professional stabilization rig (all of which can be seen reflected in the window in the trailer behind the girl on the bicycle. Marketing rule #8: if you cheat you WILL get caught. It’s Karma, baby.
In 2005, fast food giant McDonald’s kicked off a digital ad campaign featuring a curly headed guy looking longingly at a Double Cheeseburger. The copy read “Double Cheeseburger. I’d hit it.” Okay, that’s really not a picture I want in my head. After complaints, McDonald’s marketing folks pulled down the banner ad. Marketing rule #9: use sex to sell jeans, condoms and sports cars. But leave my Quarter Pounder out of it.
During last fall’s Presidential Debates, a member of the KitchenAid social media team inadvertently tweeted a tasteless joke about the President’s late grandmother thinking it was their personal Twitter account. The company quickly issued an apology. The moral of the story? Marketing rule #10: the Internet is a dangerous place. Proceed with caution.