5 Of The Biggest Marketing Mistakes In Recent History

Some of the grandest mistakes we make in life teach us the greatest lessons. Making a mistake first hand and suffering the consequences is one of the best ways to learn. But when it comes to your business you have a lot on the line and while making costly marketing errors might teach you lessons, you don’t want these lessons to come at an unaffordable cost. While some mistakes may be unavoidable, you can at least prevent making the same marketing mistakes other companies have already learned the hard way from.

All of the biggest brands have made a monumental mistake in marketing at one point or another. Here we detail 4 of the biggest mistakes in recent years by Apple, Microsoft, J.C. Penny, Cartoon Network and Kenneth Cole.

Mistake #1: Releasing A Product That Isn’t Ready

Offender: Apple

In 2012 Apple released their new Apple Maps for iOS, which was supposed to be just as good, if not better than the incredibly reliable Google Maps. Shortly after its release, it was clear that Apple’s maps program had a lot of flaws.

First off, the self-proclaimed “most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever,” was misleading people, taking them to destinations they did not sign up for. In Australia, a number of tourists were actually led in the wrong direction to an isolated national park with very little water. Plus, bridges appeared to be melting, cities were misplaced out in the ocean, and parks were suddenly called airports.

All in all, the release of Apple Maps was a complete and total disaster. It seemed perplexing and deterring that a company with as many resources as Apple would release a product with such obvious blunders. Did anyone actually try the product first before giving it the ok go?

As easy as it is to laugh at Apple’s mistake, we have all done something similar at some point in life. When it comes time to release a new product or ad campaign, it’s hard not to rush the release process. Apple’s mistake is a reminder that there are no short cuts in business, or anything else in life.

The public depends on you to provide a product, platform, or service that works without flaws, and if you don’t you can’t expect any sympathy. It’s better to push back a release date than to release something that is not fully tested and ready to go. (Read more)

Mistake #2: Blatantly Using Tragedy For Opportunity

Offender: Microsoft

Businesses raise money for good causes, donate to relief efforts, and support a number of deserving charities. The public loves philanthropy, which is why this marketing mistake made by Microsoft dances on such a thin line. In 2011, Microsoft created a campaign that promised to donate $1(up to $100,000) to Asian tsunami victims for every retweet promoting Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.

Sure, sounds like a great way to do some good and promote a product, or at least that’s what Microsoft assumed. The public didn’t take it that way though. People became irate with the company’s marketing techniques, claiming Microsoft was exploiting a tragedy in order to promote their own self-serving interests.

Good deeds, charity events and generous donations are all great, they make a company look good and they also help people that need it most. BUT, if your company makes a donation that is obviously self-serving, the public is going to call you out on it.

In the world of online Twitter rants, consumers are just waiting for the next thing they can sink their teeth into. Don’t let it be you, make sure your good deeds are carefully assessed from a variety of view points before taking them to the Internet, or anywhere else.

Mistake #3: Ignoring Current Public Sentiment

Offender: Cartoon Network

In 2007, Cartoon Network launched a new marketing campaign using LED signs crafted into one of their robot-like characters. These LED signs were placed around different cities, glowing near bus stops, bridges, and other random locations. It seemed like a great idea, until it freaked out local residents.

In Boston, one individual actually called the police, fearful that the odd LED character was related to a bomb threat of some sort. This one call turned into an all out terrorist scare, which caused many popular bridges, roads, and other lines of transportation to shut down. As a result, the head of Cartoon Network lost his lucrative job and the company was forced to pay $2 million in fines to compensate emergency response teams.

While in some places and at certain times, this might have been a great ad campaign, it wasn’t appropriate with the current mindset. Terrorism remains a big threat in America post-9/11; therefore every last marketing decision must be realized under these circumstances—and all other current circumstances.

Releasing a large-scale campaign all at once comes with risks, but the less research and real-world applications that are applied prior to the release, the greater the chance for failure.

Mistake #4: Making Insensitive Jokes On Social Media

Offender: Kenneth Cole

There are certain jokes it is okay to make among close friends and family, but as a company you are responsible for being politically correct and kind when it comes to your humor, especially in regards to marketing. Someone forgot to tell this fact to the chairman of Kenneth Cole. Back in 2011, the clothing brand tweeted: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo.

Yikes! Cairo was in uproar but it had NOTHING to do with Kenneth Cole’s latest collection of clothing. The ‘KC’ sign off at the end of the Tweet is indicative of the company chairmen himself.

Shortly after the post was published, the world began to fire back with nasty comments. Almost immediately, Kenneth Cole removed the tweet and sent out an apology. The lesson for anyone doing social media: be careful what you Tweet, just because it doesn’t offend you doesn’t mean it won’t offend thousands of others. And, poking fun at news that is controversial and serious is never a good idea.

Mistake #5: Alienating Loyal Customers

Offender: J.C. Penney

In 2012 J.C. Penney’s new CEO Ron Johnson tried to save the company’s declining sales by giving the department store a complete makeover. His ideas for change included giving the store a new identity in hopes of luring in new, trendy customers.

Johnson gave many of the flagship stores huge makeovers, including tech-savvy iPads.

Johnson made a crucial mistake though when he took away sales, and instead promised everyday low prices. This is what upset loyal J.C. Penney shoppers the most. After all the department store is best known for its awesome sales. Without speaking to the customers who had loved the store for years, JCP quickly saw how the public felt about Johnson’s decisions. Revenues tumbled at unreal rates, dropping 25% in only one year, causing 19,000 employee lay offs, a free falling stock, and a classic company many speculated might not be able to make it out alive.

In the end, JCP’s old CEO came out of retirement to head the company for a bit, Ron Johnson was given the boot, and plenty of sales were returned to the store. Reconnecting with customers has helped JCP begin to start picking back up the pieces. The lesson learned here is that even if your current customers are not as frequent as they once were, you still don’t want to alienate them. Knowing what your customers like most about your business is key because you don’t want to change that.


Learning From The Mistakes Made By Others

Learning from the mistakes of big companies can help your own campaigns ditch disastrous ideas. Still, trial and error is a part of life. The more research, expert opinion, and overall effort you put into a campaign the less likely it will be to backfire.

Contact Contour Graphics to create a winning campaign that speaks to your target audience in a way that promotes sales and customer loyalty.