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The internet's greatest marketing bloopers

The internet's greatest marketing bloopers Jim Nichols

Who doesn't love a TV blooper? They are fun to watch -- flubbed pronunciation, forgotten lines, double entendres. You don't even need to be a mean person to enjoy them because bloopers are mistakes, but not deadly ones.

In an environment as dynamic and ever changing as digital, it's natural that even the smartest in the digerati make bloopers in judgment or execution. Many such online marketing bloopers are the result of the changing reality brought on by the advent of digital, and as such are quite understandable. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from them.

Stay informed. For more insights into online branding, along with tips from the companies that are doing it right, attend the iMedia Brand Summit, March 6-9. Request your invitation today.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, then perhaps this article can help us avoid straightjackets by pointing out a few digital bloopers and what we should take away from them.

Don't assume you can isolate messages
The web provides enormous opportunities to segment and tailor creative messages. But it also breaks down demographic, geographic, and other boundaries. Segmentation and tailoring does not prevent some segments from hearing and seeing what you are saying to others.

Remember this ad from Absolut, which depicted the pre-1848 Mexican and U.S. borders? Run only in Mexico, the ad was designed to be a funny nod to Mexican pride. The brand surely felt it had found a powerful visual to help la gente identify with the brand. Unfortunately, right-wing American bloggers got hold of the ad, and within hours were lined up to ban Absolut, call it reverse racist, and on and on. Former CNN personality Lou Dobbs switched to Grey Goose over it.

Now, in large part due to income disparities and population, Americans drink more Absolut than Mexicans. So the company had to scramble to apologize to Americans who might have been offended. Here's what the brand issued:

"This particular ad, which ran in Mexico, was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility. In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues. Instead, it hearkens to a time which the population of Mexico may feel was more ideal." -- Paula Eriksson, VP of corporate communications, V&S Absolut Spirits

But from a digital perspective, the key takeaway is that you need to assume that everyone can see everything.

Avoid building the branded destination website
Most of us have created a digital something in the misguided hope that significant numbers of people care about it and our products as much as we do. If you're like me, there's a $500,000-plus error in your past that reflects this sort of "Field of Dreams" mentality.

It wasn't so long ago that lots of brands were building massive websites in hopes that consumers would spend half their online time interacting with branded games, participating in brand chats, talking to brand experts, etc. While less common these days, the branded "destination" site still appears periodically in the digisphere.

It's fairly unlikely that you can attract and hold the sort of audience you are dreaming of. Why? Because just as The New York Times shouldn't go into the chewing gum business, you probably shouldn't go into the content business. It's not what most of us do. Better to stick to what you know.

The classic example of this is Bud.tv, a $30-million experiment that folded in 2009. Now, hold the phone. I am not ragging on Bud here. If any brand could develop a compelling content destination, it'd probably be these guys. After all, the company "gets" its customer and knows how to bring the funny in a 30-second spot.

But even Bud couldn't define and deliver a place where its customers would want to "live" online. The hype and anticipation of Bud.tv were ultimately met with lukewarm consumer response -- despite a broad range of decent-to-good video, activities, and game content on the site.

The hard, cold reality: Bud makes beer, not movies and games. And you make pine-scented air fresheners or electronics or weekend getaways or whatever it is that you make. Not entertainment.

Don't field social media programs just before the weekend
Arguably, no one is better at marketing to moms than Johnson & Johnson, so its misstep on Motrin was a bit surprising. Motrin developed a tongue-in-cheek ad that poked fun at moms who love baby slings -- fabric baby carriers that keep your child right next to your body. Motrin suggested that moms who wear them cry more than moms who don't, presumably due to back and neck strain. Here's the ad:

The video went up late on a Friday. While of course social media is a 24/7/365 proposition, most marketing and PR people are at home on Saturdays, and probably not monitoring the social sphere for consumer reaction. But as Motrin soon learned, mommy bloggers and mommy Twitterers do not take Saturdays off. The maelstrom of negative reactions was fierce, and it built throughout the weekend. By the time Monday came along, Motrin faced a tsunami of angry moms.

Motrin responded quickly. Down the ad came, and with its disappearance the controversy more or less ended.

We could dissect the ad and try to take creative lessons. But hindsight is 20/20. I think its best that we remember that we live in a connected world, and individual opinions matter. And when we don't participate in the dialogue about our brand, bad things happen. So never field campaigns or social media on the weekend. Because listening to early reactions is critical to ensuring success. Had the campaign gone out on a Monday, J&J could have addressed the concerns in near real time, provided it was using one of the many social insights platforms currently available. Nothing good comes from not being around at launch time.

Never claim "hackproof"
When a medium reaches more than a billion people, it's safe to say that there is someone out there who can hack whatever you can make. How long does it take before Microsoft launches its latest security update before the next virus hits?

It's not just software that has been hacked as well as shamed online. The people who make Kryptonite bicycle locks found themselves in a whole mess of negative publicity way back in 2004 when Engadget was able to pick its signature high-end lock using only a ballpoint pen.

And of course there's LifeLock, which famously posted its CEO's social security number everywhere to prove how protected its members are. While said CEO was able to use the service to avoid damage to his credit, his identity was stolen many times. Meaning people used his social security number in a variety of ways, but none had material impact on his credit. Because LifeLock had stated or implied (tomato-tomahto) absolute security, it lost the PR battle, even if its CEO can still easily get a new mortgage.

In short, claiming hackproof is like waving a red flag in front of 6.5 billion bulls. You might be able to outrun the pack, but at least one is getting its horn into your gut.

Don't "wing" it without a social media policy
It seems that many companies have recognized the importance of social, and the value of a "live" company presence in social media. Unfortunately, some jumped straight to social media execution without first developing a sound social media policy.

Hospital nurses cell-photoing an embarrassing X-ray and posting it on a social net. Earnest social media managers making statements that are inappropriate. The number of examples in which companies would have been helped by offering explicit and well-considered social media policies is legion.

Fortunately for those who made or are making this misstep, many organizations have made their social media policies public, and reviewing these can help companies understand, anticipate, and address potential issues before they arise. With all these examples publicly available, there's no reason or excuse to wing it anymore. Naturally, companies need to strike a balance between natural and genuine thoughts and opinions with the need for strong corporate controls. Fortunately, more and more companies are succeeding.

Don't ignore privacy concerns
Most industry participants are certain that advanced targeting technologies pose no threat to consumer privacy. That doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that consumers and the government think that they pose a threat. The WSJ article last July was just one of the stories that are slowly rousing public concern about online privacy.

You can say people are confused. You can say people are being paranoid. Or moronic. But you are in the people-pleasing business, not the people-judging business.

"Judge not lest ye be booted out on your snotty arrogant a*s, you self righteous b*stard." (Book of Jim 1:1).

Ask Phorm if privacy concerns matter. Or now defunct Gator/Claria/JellyCloud. Or better yet, ask Jon Leibowitz, FTC chairman.

The self-regulation efforts from a cross-industry coalition, encapsulated in the "Power i" program, have created a great means of informing the public and enabling cool, rational decisions about advanced targeting. Get on board.

Jim Nichols is senior partner at Catalyst: SF.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Jim Nichols is VP of Marketing for Apsalar. Jim has 20+ years experience in over 80 different categories, including developing successful positioning and go-to-market plans for more than 40 adtech and martech companies. He joins Apsalar after...

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