The Way We Work
June 27, 2011 by Julia Camenisch

Marketing, that indispensable tool in the business owner’s work box, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, effective marketing can cause your income to grow like gangbusters. But the reverse is true as well. An ill-conceived marketing plan can cause horrendous damage to your profits AND to your reputation.

One of the best ways to avoid marketing mistakes is by learning from others’ gaffes. And there’s been plenty of those! Here’s a few of the most memorable:

  1. Faking Customer Demand
    The power of word of mouth marketing is beyond dispute. People are more influenced by a personal recommendation than they are by an advertisement. And that knowledge has caused some companies to attempt to create their own reality – a bit like Inception’sdream team, only with nightmare results.Sony’s reality shifters thought they had the perfect planto promote the new PSP: Create a “homemade” video of a teen asking his parents for a PSP. That was bad enough, but then the marketing crew started putting links to the video on forums, posing as this guy’s friend and acting as though the video was the real deal. Didn’t take long for the news to leak that the supposed filmmaker “Jeremy” was really a hire of an advertising agency.  The audience that Sony had hoped to attract responded with virulent disgust.Lesson: Be sincere and honest. Instead of creating fake fans, encourage your real fans to spread the word about your product or service.
  2. Instigating Stupidity
    For Canadian beer company, Molson Brewer, “attending college” is merely a euphemism for “excess drinking”. At least that’s the message they sent students with a contest encouraging said collegiates to submit pictures showing “school spirit and sociability” (translation: “drunkest”) party pictures. The goal? To  track down the top party school.Unfortunately, that type of reputation is not one that a college wants to put on its brochure. Parents also don’t appreciate having their children’s education sidetracked by too much alcohol. Molson halted the offending campaign after the complaints began to arrive. But it is this kind of corporate behavior that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths and puts a company under scrutiny by consumer advocates.Lesson: Think about what message your promotion sends about your company, especially if you’re trying to be edgy or funny. And while controversy has its place, it can also tarnish your reputation.
  3. Underestimating Response
    Sometimes bad marketing isn’t so much defined by the promotion itself as it is by the company’s inability to carry through on their promises. A perfect example of that is Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Oprah gaffe.The store known for its fried chicken was trying to rebrand itself with a new offering: Unfried (otherwise known as grilled) chicken. To jumpstart awareness, they paid Oprah to promote the new menu item and to point people to a web coupon for a free grilled chicken meal. But somehow, the corporate office didn’t take into account how the demand for a free meal would affect franchisees.The customer response was so tremendous, local KFC stores couldn’t keep up. Soon, they began turning people away and refusing the coupons. The company’s inability to honor their own promotion made customers frustrated and upset – not the way you want a marketing endeavor to end up. It took KFC quite a while to rectify this mistake and even Oprah ended up having to apologize on behalf of the company.Lesson: With the popularity of sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, even small businesses can seriously underestimate how popular a promotion might be. Make sure that you don’t promise more than you can deliver, and if need be, put a limit on special offers!

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.