If stories about ghosts and witches are spooky, then these tales of marketing horrors are downright gut-wrenching. In the spirit of Halloween, I present you with five of the biggest marketing mishaps in recent years, and the lessons they’ve taught marketers.
Kenneth Cole’s Infamous Tweet
In 2011, retail brand Kenneth Cole was busy promoting its new spring collection when the company’s chairman, Kenneth Cole himself, decided to monopolize on social unrest in Cairo, Egypt to sell some clothes.
Cole tweeted from the brand’s corporate account and the online community fired back with negative feedback immediately. The company later removed the offensive tweet and apologized.
The Marketing Lesson: Social media is a great tool for connecting with customers in real time and delivering timely content. The caveat? Timeliness doesn’t always translate into appropriateness. Social media content shouldn’t be taken lightly, and marketers should be wary of appearing insensitive.
Nokia’s Camera Fiasco
In 2012, Nokia released a video advertising its new Lumia 920′s optical image stabilization (OIS) tool in its PureView phone camera. The video went viral and was a complete success–until a viewer pointed out that the video was a lie. As it turns out, instead of using the technology they were selling, Nokia had a professional crew film the video. The viewer noticed the camera crew in the reflection of a parked van, and the Internet exploded with outrage.
The Marketing Lesson: Practice what you preach, and don’t lie in your advertisements. If you have a solid product, it will speak for itself. Ironically, experts were extremely pleased with the camera, and it got excellent reviews. The camera was actually capable of delivering results similar to those produced by the camera crew, some reviewers said, so Nokia could have skipped the charade.
JC Penney’s Hitler Horror
Earlier this year, JC Penney unveiled a new product–a harmless teapot. Harmless, except for the fact that apparently it bore a striking resemblance to Adolf Hilter (I don’t see it, but you be the judge). The product was featured in a billboard right over a major Interstate highway in Culver City, California, and the backlash ranged from amusement to serious outrage.
The Marketing Lesson: Two words–product pretesting. “If the product team’s paradigm on market research is circa 1990, then I can understand why it wasn’t used to pretest the product design: takes too long and costs too much. Good thing it’s 2013, because designers and marketers today can affordably field an on-line pretest and within 48 hours receive feedback on the design’s appeal and gain insights on why naysayers find it unappealing,” Martin Payne, chief operating officer at GutCheck, a market research solution provider, wrote in a blog post.
In JC Penney’s defense though, sales went through the roof. They sold 1,600 units in the first week. With sales like that, “bring on the controversy,” the teapot’s designed Michael Graves told CNBC.
In 2011, Netflix decided to offer its customers streaming services in addition to its DVD rental model, and partnered with Qwikster, which would be responsible for facilitating the streaming. The partnership was complicated, and resulted in a 60% price increase for customers that wanted both services.
And, to add to the disaster, existing customers weren’t grandfathered into the new model at the old rate. Needless to say, they were angry.
The Marketing Lesson: Netflix’s determination to stay relevant and give customers options is admirable. The only problem was they didn’t bother to ask customers first. “Businesses need to remain agile and fast-moving to stay relevant — just make sure you communicate those changes to your audience clearly before making them. Oh, and don’t forget to show gratitude to your current customers instead of giving them the short end of the stick,” Amanda Sibley, manager of the co-marketing team at Hubspot wrote in a company post.
The New York Times‘ Email Blunder
In December 2011, the New York Times emailed customers that had recently cancelled their subscription asking them to come back and promising a hefty discount. Unfortunately, someone on the marketing team accidentally sent it to 8 million current subscribers instead of the 300 customers that recently cancelled.
The Marketing Lesson: Proofread emails, and triple check the “send to” list before hitting send.