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As some of the country’s best known brands prove over and over again, marketing mistakes can happen to anyone. Whether it’s an ill-devised campaign, poor execution or an email that’s slipped out accidentally, letting the world see your company’s slip-up can cost a brand dearly. We look at some of the more high profile marketing gaffs and explain how your company can avoid following suit.
Blunder 1: Westpac goes bananas
Westpac copped major flak from consumers late last year after hundreds of thousands of its customers received an animated video explaining why its interest rates were rising.
The video, dubbed Cool Bananas, worked to justify the bank’s decision to raise interest rates by almost double the Reserve Bank’s increase by likening mortgages to bananas smoothies and the cost of borrowing money to the cost of bananas.
Consumers dubbed the video childish and condescending and ultimately, Westpac was forced to apologise.
James Atkins, director of Vantage Marketing says companies should considering how they would feel if its marketing campaign ended up on the front page of the newspaper, adding that this simple approach can sometimes put things into perspective.
“These sorts of problems occur when you jump straight from objective to execution.”
“You don’t want to end up with a damaged reputation by doing something that’s just plain stupid. Companies need to ask if the campaign fits with their strategy,” Atkins says.
Blunder 2: Virgin Blue database blunder
Even big brands like budget airline Virgin Blue isn’t immune to marketing mistakes. Late last year a major database blunder took place, resulting in some major back-peddling.
The company emailed its entire Velocity loyalty scheme database (including people who had opted out of receiving messages) the following: ‘We’ve got a treat for you – a free upgrade to Velocity Gold!’
The email went on to offer free lounge membership, priority check-in, up to 32kg of baggage at no cost and two personalised baggage tags.
But hours later, a second email was sent, alerting people to the fact that the previous email was a mistake. Customers were asked to disregard the offer ‘as unfortunately you do not qualify for that upgrade’. The company apologised and blamed a processing error, but was left red-faced.
Rob Belgiovane of Sydney advertising agency Belgiovane Williams Mackay says a marketing mistake can see a brand lose millions of dollars if it results in customers turning off a brand.
“At the end of the day we’re all only human, but I do see more and more errors slip through when marketers try to rush campaigns through to get them to market quickly, or try to create campaigns on the cheap,” Belgiovane says.
“Reduced budgets and less time spent on a campaign equals more mistakes, it’s that simple.”
Blunder 3: Kraft’s iSnack 2.0
Kraft’s iSnack could quite possibly go down as one of the most inappropriate names ever coined.
The food giant created one of the most short-lived products on supermarket shelves late last year after the company named its new Vegemite cheese spread iSnack 2.0 after seeking suggestions from Vegemite fans. The unveiling of the name resulted in consumers venting online, before Kraft renamed the product Cheesybite. Some suggested that the entire episode was a publicity stunt, which Kraft strenuously denies.
Peter Harris, national president of the Australian Market and Social Research Society (AMSRS) says research is vital before a campaign launch. He recommends that marketers set aside between 5% and 10% of their marketing budget for research and pre-launch testing.
“By engaging with consumers before the launch, marketers can reduce their risk. Marketers need to regularly engage with customers to understand what they deem to be acceptable. That way you’re able to pick up any undercurrent that may deem something to be risky and made a decision whether to proceed with it, or whether you should change the campaign.”
Blunder 4: Witchery Man launch
Sydney communications agency Naked Communications created a YouTube video in which a young female actor appealed for a guy who left his jacket behind to contact her so she could return it.
The video, launched last year, received heaps of coverage but the media soon uncovered the fact that it was a hoax disguised as an elaborate marketing strategy to launch the Witchery Man brand.
Naked was condemned by industry peers over the stunt, but the agency stood by the campaign, saying it worked beautifully to launch the new brand. Social media campaigns need to be based on the truth, according to Belgiovane. “If you’re making things up to get your brand out there virally, then consumers are going to start to feel ripped off,” Belgiovane warns.
“You need to be making people a genuine offer and stick with that notion of reality when heading down the social media path. Integrity is very important. But brands should be careful. Social media is fraught with danger for the inexperienced.”
Blunder 5: Toyota Yaris ad backfires
Toyota dabbled in social media late last year, inviting consumers to make a short film as part of a competition offering $7,000 in prize money.
The car marquee launched the competition to promote its Yaris brand, aimed at young females.
The winning ad depicts a father and young male having an innuendo-laden discussion about an impending date with the father’s young daughter. The video includes such phrases as “I’m here to take Jennifer’s virginity out tonight”, “She can take a good pounding in any direction” and “I’m ready to blow”, among others.
The video was chosen as the winner of the competition and was used as the campaign despite one of the conditions of Toyota’s competition being that submissions must not be immoral. Toyota eventually apologised after a public backlash.
Atkins of Vantage Marketing says company CEOS need to hold marketers accountable when going through the campaign development process.
“CEOs need to be asking the tough questions. They’ve got to look at whether the strategy fits the objective. If the marketer can’t answer those questions then it should signal a big red flag for CEOs.”
Blunder 6: Grill’d bungled coupon offer
Melbourne burger chain Grill’d was forced to apologise for a bungled two-for-one offer aimed at university students this month after a print-only coupon found its way on the internet.
Grill’d offered a two-for-one offer through a university publication. The coupon was designed for print publications only, but soon electronic scans were being sent to inboxes everywhere and the chain was flooded with requests to redeem the vouchers, but Grill’d initially refused to honour the offer.
Rival fast food chain Nando’s took advantage of the chaos by offering to redeem any Grill’d voucher while launching a similar campaign of its own.
Grill’d then announced it would acknowledge the coupons in a bid to appease its young target market.
Jo Macdermott of Melbourne’s Next Marketing says the best way to get over a marketing mistake is to go into crisis mode.
“For most SMEs I would say cutting expenses as much as possible and as quickly as possible is a good start. Then, go through a very thorough cashflow to ensure the business doesn’t run out of cash.”
Hiring expert help can also be a good idea, she says.
“But ask your suppliers to show you your expected return on investment before committing to anything.”