Marketers have the great responsibility (and sometimes burden) of coming up with creative, attention-grabbing campaigns, communications, advertisements, and more, and every once in a while there’s a marketing initiative that makes us ask, “What were they thinking?” We’ve compiled what we believe are some of the biggest marketing mistakes from years past and others very recent. There’s something to be learned from them all!
So who doesn’t love St. Patrick’s Day? I mean really…all the beer, all the green, all the green beer. So why not honor the Irish with a new product launched in their name on their day. Nike thought it was a great way to tie everything up into one neat bow.
They wanted to introduce a new shoe named the “Black and Tan” in honor of the drink by the same name which is usually made with the Irish staple: Guinness. What they failed to realize is that while Black & Tan might be a perfectly respectable name in Beaverton Oregon, it would never, ever be used in Ireland.
Black and Tan refers to a British paramilitary group organized to help put down the Irish rebellion of the 1920’s. The Black and Tan’s were notorious for their violent and oppressive tactics and are reviled to this day in some parts of Ireland.
So take Nike’s plan to introduce a shoe named Black and Tan on St. Patrick’s Day, an incredibly insensitive and ignorant move, and you have a perfect storm for stupid marketing tricks. The only thing Nike could do to make it worse when they got called out on this gaffe would be to say that “Black and Tan” was the unofficial name and they never intended to use it. Sometime I’d love to hear a company say, “…you know what? We really screwed up and we’re embarrassed by our actions and lack of knowledge in doing this. We’re sorry.”
When developing an advertising campaign, companies take everything into account from color to typography. Well, most companies do. Apparently PepsiCo. and Japanese based fashion company A Bathing Ape didn’t double check the latter. They collaborated to create a limited edition can, calling the promotion “Pepsi x Aape” to bring attention to Bathing Apes sub-brand Aape. The two companies decided to use Pepsi’s typeface for the promotion, which seemed reasonable. The unfortunate part of this collaborative print ad, which was featured in a Hong Kong subway, was that some mistakenly thought the ad read “PEPSI x RAPE.” The misinterpreted campaign even made its way on to various other promotional products made for the collaboration. This confusion was avoidable if they had reconsidered the typography they both approved for the ad. Attention to detail is crucial, and failing to do so can lead to some embarrassing public apologies.
I realize that I am about to write about a very polarizing subject, so please do not focus on the Obamacare part of these ads and instead look at the approach the ads take. At first glance, the ads promoting the healthcare initiative in Colorado are offensive to millennials. They continue to be offensive at a second glance as well. For those of you who have not seen the ads, you can check them out here. After seeing Wednesday night’s episode of The Daily Show where they aired a report on these ads, you can see why this was the first thing that came to mind when we decided on this subject for our Free-for-all Friday. However, when I sat down to write this, I came across this NPR article which shed a little more light on the story of these ads.
After reading that article I now have mixed feelings about these ads. On one hand, given what they had to work with (a budget of $5000), they seem to have done a pretty good job of getting eyeballs on the ads via social media. But on the other hand, the use of offensive material seems like a cheap trick used to just get some added exposure without communicating the brand message at all. This is ultimately the reason I think this is a huge marketing mistake. At the end of the day, the ads succeeded in getting attention, but they didn’t do anything in the way of relaying the brand message that they really wanted to communicate.
I was just born the year that this marketing blunder was committed, and while it may be an oldie, there’s certainly a lesson to be learned. Prior to 1981, the portable computer didn’t exist. One company, the Osborne Computer Corporation, saw an opportunity to launch a product that would allow professionals to take their work with them via a portable computer with the creation of the Osborne 1. A twenty-four-pound machine hardly sounds portable when I compare to my current day MacBook Pro, but at the time the product was a true innovation. And with innovation we know comes competition. Big brands Apple and Compaq (who no longer exists) launched their own more advanced versions of the PC. Osborne Computer Corporation felt the need to fend off their competitors with the announcement that they were coming out with a newer, more advanced model. One problem…people quit buying the Osborne 1 in anticipation of something more sophisticated, which wouldn’t be released for more than a year later. It resulted in an immediate financial impact and eventually resulted in the company filing for bankruptcy.
Some of you may have heard of “The Osburne Effect.” The term was coined after this event of prematurely announcing a product launch before the product was made available, and the unintended effects of having a negative impact on product sales. The Osburne Computer Corporation may have been first to make this mistake, but others have since followed. When it comes to product life cycles and innovation, there’s definitely something to be learned here. Timing is everything! It’s the reason Apple stays so hush, hush about their new products, and it’s also what fuels their need for constant innovation.
Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos