While advertising and social media can be amazing tools for expanding a business or promoting a brand, it is important to know that sometimes, these efforts can fail. Miserably. Below are some of the best examples of marketing failure within the past decade:
In 2010, GAP changed its iconic logo. The new logo, a simplified and more contemporary mark, was a complete flop, and generated a lot of negative buzz with consumers. The intent of the new logo was to boost sales, and revamp the brand, but it only took the company about a week to realize what a huge mistake they had made. They pulled the new logo and briefly tried crowdsourcing to replace it, but eventually just reverted to the classic blue box logo.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Guerilla Campaign
Turner Broadcasting Systems launched a guerilla marketing campaign for their show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” in February of 2007 that placed LED signs in major cities across the United States. Unfortunately, the signs were misinterpreted to be bomb threats, inciting fear and panic in the city of Boston. Bomb squads were sent to retrieve the ads, the artists responsible were arrested, and Turner Broadcasting had to pay millions in fines.
Abercrombie & Fitch has gotten a lot of media backlash in the last few months due to some outrageous remarks from their CEO, who has declared that the clothing company will not carry plus sized clothing because the products sold there are only meant to be worn by the “cool kids” and “attractive people.” The company’s stocks have tanked, and many consumers have chosen to boycott the brand in response. (Some have even burned their Abercrombie Merchandise in protest, or donated it to the homeless.)
World Wildlife Fund
In September of 2009, a video advertisement surfaced bearing the World Wildlife Fund logo that infuriated Americans and gained worldwide attention. The advertisement featured recreated footage of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and ended with a barrage of planes heading towards the city, intending to crash into other buildings. The advertisement was a rejected concept pitched to the World Wildlife Fund by DDB Brasil. Apparently, someone submitted the failed pitch to a video competition, where it won an award, and was subsequently posted on the Internet for the whole world to see. WWF was appalled that the video had been released with their branding on it without their consent, and immediately responded, releasing a statement that “This ad is not something that anyone in our organization would ever have signed off on.”
Snapple added popsicles to their product line up in the summer of 2005. In order to promote the new addition, they decided to make “the world’s largest popsicle” and place it in New York City. The Popsicle was transported in a truck to the city, and when the truck was opened, melted popsicle flooded into the streets. Eventually, the fire department had to come and hose down the remains of the Popsicle so that it wouldn’t melt all over the city and affect traffic.
So, what can be learned from these disasters?
1. Social Media is a powerful thing. GAP probably wouldn’t have returned to their original logo if Twitter and Facebook users hadn’t responded so negatively, demanding that the new logo be tossed out. Yes, people often use social media to complain, but it is also a forum to get consumer feedback for free. Maybe if GAP had asked consumers for their input on a new brand image, they could have avoided the whole incident, and come up with a new logo people were happy with.
2. Think things through. In retrospect, ideas like the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerilla campaign can be very successful. But it is important to consider every aspect of a campaign before releasing it to the public. Really, exposed wires and little men waving their middle fingers at people placed in major cities that are already more prone to terrorist attacks without clarification is probably an unnecessary risk. And placing a giant popsicle in a city during the middle of summer is bound to end in a sticky situation.
3. Don’t be a jerk. Sometimes, people make mistakes. Like excluding “ugly” people from their clientele, or denying people clothing based on perceived social status. In this situation, the best thing a CEO can do is apologize. Or resign.
4. Respond Quickly. The WWF may not have created the tasteless 9/11 ad, but people don’t always fact check, and the negative publicity they received for the phony ad could have been detrimental had they not been quick to deny (and prove) that they had no involvement.
When embarking on a campaign trail of any kind, it’s important to keep the possible ramifications in mind. The Internet is good for a lot of things, but as with all forms of communication, nothing travels faster than negative publicity.