Blogging Out Loud

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Big Marketing Mistakes and Lessons Learned


Best case scenarios are great: The pre-awareness integrated marketing campaign for Anchorman 2 that will likely change movie marketing for time to come; the Southern Comfort “Whatever’s Comfortable” campaign that is bringing new everyday life into the brand; Oreo’s “Daily Twist” campaign with 100 days of unique and playful content celebrating the 100 year birthday of the brand. These are all marketing programs Blogging Out Loud heralds as monumental campaigns in 2013.

But as we are quick to celebrate big marketing wins, what about learning from the biggest marketing miscues from the recent past? There are poor smallish mistakes out there like the confusing premise for the Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul Pet Food brand that bombed, or even the line of Paula Deen Kids Furniture (need I say more?). But a good cautionary tale of something big that went wrong can prove to be more effective as a lesson than plain old marketing advice.

Even huge corporations with endless budgets make bad moves. Although we don’t necessarily know how these concepts get past the drawing board, we know what not to do as a result. We found three recent examples that warrant contemplation.

Advertising test not ready for prime time

A fully produced broadcast ad called “Pipe Job” was uploaded to Hyundai UK’s corporate YouTube account depicting a man attempting to commit suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning by leaving Hyundai iX35 car running in the garage. To demonstrate how the cars do not produce harmful emissions, the man’s suicide fails and the spot ends with him solemnly opening the garage. Angry tweets and tearful articles were written calling the ad an offensive effort to make light of a suicide attempt.suicidead

This marketing faux pas came out of Europe, but Hyundai’s USA executives had to also offer public apologies when questioned about the controversial spot. Hyundai said that their agency acted without their request or approval and INNOCEAN publicly admitted that the entire thing was a “focus group” of some kind. “This viral film was created and posted on YouTube for one day by INNOCEAN Worldwide Europe to get consumers’ feedback on creative idea employing hyperbole to dramatize a product advantage without any other commercial purpose.”

Lesson: If your controversial ad involves an attempted suicide, don’t use Youtube as your focus group.

Social tribute to tragedy dials a wrong number

I’m sure someone at AT&T’s social marketing agency was very proud of their creative idea to commemorate the American tragedy of 9/11 with a “photo-of-a-photo” of the one of their phones snapping a shot of the dual memorial lights at Ground Zero in New York. Unfortunately the families of the victims didn’t see it that way and an onslaught of accusations via Twitter and Facebook immediately erupted citing allegations of crass profiteering on the part of AT&T.

att-9-11To make matters worse, AT&T’s apology that went out immediately in response to the criticism had an air of “we’re sorry you feel that way” about it. This brings up the question of whether corporations should associate themselves with major catastrophes at all without risking the possibility of becoming one themselves.

Lesson: When corporate social media meets a national tragedy, it’s  best to keep your products out of the conversation.

Taglines that make you go, “huh?”

The purpose of a tagline is to effectively position a brand. It should clearly set the mood and differentiate or encapsulate the product or company’s essence. But what do you do when a tag line leaves you confused, underwhelmed or actually angry and insulted? You call it a bad tagline.

Of course, a “Hall of Shame” of the worst taglines exists, but most of them have since been dropped. Some of the more entertaining are, “Jimmy Dean… Eat Jimmy Dean.” “Mobile… We want you to live.” “Playtex… Is that a Playtex under there?”

But as for taglines currently in use, our best of the worst is (drumroll):

The future of awesome.

Of course it meets all the criteria above for a bad tag, but it goes a step further and provides an additional shadow of doubt on the Comcast brand. You might think, for instance, “Well, the future may be awesome, but does that mean today is not so good?” This is risky communication for any cable company, much less one with a history of customer service issues.

That’s not to say taglines should never be used. Many times the tagline clarifies the brand in a way that longer copy could never do as efficiently or cleverly. There are actually more examples out there of good taglines than bad.

Lesson: If you use a tagline, make it help and not hinder your brand.

Companies are full of people making decisions and in the creative field of dreams, we can’t hit home runs all the time. But there’s also something to be said for knowing what constitutes an error.


Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.

Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.

9 comments on “Big Marketing Mistakes and Lessons Learned

  1. nofrey
    December 6, 2013

    My favorite recent marketing mistakes result from the misuse of automated social media tools. Domino’s responded to a positive post on their Facebook page with an apology and customer service info. Bank of America responded to angry tweets from Occupy protesters with offers to discuss and review their accounts. The protesters were obviously not looking for customer service.

    Successful brands recognize social media as a living channel that should be managed by a live community moderator. Lesson learned: Marketers should treat their brands’ Facebook pages with the same vanity and care that they apply to their personal pages.


  2. joannemhilton
    December 5, 2013

    I have to say that Jeff pretty much elaborated on the Thanksgiving retail strategies and my feelings! Those retailers dropped a notch in my book. Marketing blunders brought to mind the Coke promotion a number of years ago when they wanted to change the “taste” along with the look of the cans … confusing the consumer. Tom hit on that one. When a product is number one and it works, why do marketers always feel they have to “improve/change”? Why not promote the fact that it’s good and great? As the old adage goes “never underestimate the power of loyal customers”. I absolutely love AT&T’s “It’s not complicated” commercials, but I get lost in the cuteness and lose the fact that it’s about AT&T. The message is not getting through.


  3. janet
    December 5, 2013

    Sometimes the very best intentions–from a company’s standpoint–can be instantly sabotaged by the lack of cross-cultural marketing research or even a simple logo design. Here are links to two stories I have seen recently that are worth checking out:


  4. Marty (@Martyk1026)
    December 5, 2013

    The Ron Burgundy campaign is creative in its approach to hype the upcoming movie, although if I see one more news promo of Will Ferrell making a guest appearance on a newscast or attending an event in character, I will just change the station. Therein, lies the problem with this approach. Will the viewing public be over-saturated with the Ron Burgundy character by the time the movie hits. Perhaps I am not the right person to analyze this because I think Will Ferrell stopped being funny in the early ’90’s.

    More to the point, I am really disappointed in a lot of creative work I see on TV. Too often, in an attempt to gain our attention, the creative approach seems to serve itself rather than convey a marketing message or sell the product. A great case in point is that commercial with James Earl Jones and Malcom McDowell, two brilliant actors, whose banter carried no message at all for the advertiser, which I now know is Verizon. Another lost message is the commercial with actor, Edward Norton, for one of the mobile phones (I can’t remember which). After discussing it with my family, I THINK it is supposed to say that he can have all these amazing adventures in 48 hours and not have to recharge his cell phone. Great production value, but if I have to ask what that was all about, then the message got lost in the creativity. Stan Freberg made better commercials 50 years ago than some on TV now and must cringe watching this stuff.


  5. Jeff Courtney
    December 4, 2013

    Big Marketing Mistake- Turning a Beloved Holiday Into “Ugly Thursday”

    I love marketing! I have been a professional marketer for over 30 years and have been proud to teach the art of marketing to college students for the past 6 years. I consider the marketing of quality products and services within a well-regulated capitalist system to be an honorable and worthwhile profession. But this “Black Friday” shopping frenzy is not anything that I would recognize as marketing, let alone a positive marketing strategy. I find it even more incomprehensible that several major retailers are now embracing opening their doors on Thanksgiving day as a viable marketing tactic.

    This invitation and incitement to descend into a mass hysteria of consumption is nothing short of the exploitation of the dark side of American consumerism at it’s most ugly. Last week we witnessed yet more “shopping” riots on the news. I understand times are hard and money is tight, but from what I could see, the merchandise these sad people were standing in line for 3 days and then wrestling and pulling each others hair out for had nothing to do with filling an actual need and everything to do with mindless competitive greed.

    These negative images leave lasting brand impressions on the American public on many levels. What sort of business would actively incite this kind of ugly consumer behavior? How little regard they must have for their customers by inciting this behavior, and how they regard their employees by compelling them to deal with this ugliness on the great American holiday. A day when both ends of the transaction should instead be giving thanks and enjoying the company of friends and family.

    It’s time for everyone involved to step back, take a few deep breaths and consider what is important to us both individually and as a society. The evaluation of need and the true measure of quality and lasting value should rarely if ever be based solely on price.

    Above all, we should never be convinced, either as marketers or consumers, to place a price on respect for others and our own self-respect.


    • Joni Gray
      December 4, 2013

      You’ve really got a great perspective here, Jeff. I couldn’t agree with you more.


  6. Tom
    December 4, 2013

    Interesting post. It seems to me that social media and mobile platforms have fragmented public attention, and as a result marketing across all industries has become flashier and more “bleeding edge” in an attempt to capture more than a millisecond of the viewers attention. It works great sometimes – you might hate the BBDO Skittles ads, but you sure as heck watch them- but there have been some spectacular failures. My favorite was when Cartoon Network placed LED signs in Boston with no branding as part of a nationwide guerrilla campaign- and shut the entire city down because people thought they were bombs. Boston fined them 2 million for the emergency response, and it cost the CEO his job. Good times.

    Clueless marketing blunders aren’t new – New Coke, anyone? “The Edsel Look is Here to Stay”, right? They seem to be happening more often and with more disastrous effect in the post-internet environment, however.


  7. Nicco Mouleart
    December 4, 2013

    Great blog post this week. I totally agree that the Anchorman 2 integrated marketing campaigns have been stellar. I learned this morning that Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is going to be making an appearance in character for the last two hours on the Dan Patrick Show tomorrow, a sports talk show on DirecTV and radio nationwide that caters perfectly to the target audience of the movie. Dodge Ram is also a sponsor of the show who has been integrating the Ron Burgundy character into their commercials to promote the product benefits in a very humorous way (e.g horsepower, an actual horse and Ron).

    With that said, I have also seen some ads and ask myself, “What were they thinking when they approved that campaign?” These ads or campaigns were very creative and entertaining, although I didn’t know what the brand, product or service was that was being advertised or promoted. For example, there is an ad currently airing with famous actors (James Earl Jones and Malcom McDowell) in tuxedos dramatically reciting text messages to each other and it is hilarious. I have seen this ad many times and still don’t have any recall of what brand or service it is advertising. I’m assuming it is a wireless service but what is the benefit they are trying to convey? Lesson Learned: Use the entertainment of the ad to focus more on the brand and your USP so consumers recall what your selling.


    • tommmcatt
      December 4, 2013

      HA! They are Verizon Ads but you are right, I had to google it to jog my memory.


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This entry was posted on December 2, 2013 by in Uncategorized.

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