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January 10, 2014

The Biggest Marketing Mistakes of 2013

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Every year, earnest marketers do all they can to expand brand identities and create unforgettable marketing campaigns. And every year, a handful of efforts become unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. Marketing blunders are commonplace – mistakes are what help us identify the road to success. Yet some snafus are so outlandish, so utterly awe-inspiring for the lack of consideration and offenses, that they provide glaring examples of what not to do for the rest of us.

As you read the list of this year’s biggest advertising boo-boo’s, bear in mind these are easier than we think to step into. Marketers normally have insane trajectories and goals and equally unrealistic deadlines, as well as ever-shrinking budgets. We all have made decisions on the fly that perhaps were better left out of the public eye. Be thankful to the folks who enacted the mistakes below; they did so that we may never follow suit. Learn from these oopsies – or be destined to repeat them instead.

Marketing Mistake #1 – Offending the Masses

It goes without saying that launching an offensive campaign is borderline brand suicide. Yet every year, many companies do just that. American Apparel was one of this year’s biggest culprits. Notorious for using scantily-clad models that often looked underage, the clothing giant opted to broaden appeal by launching a plus-size modeling search. All good and well, until you examine the details.

First, they actually called the campaign “The Next BIG Thing”. The way they presented the contest was anything but appealing, stating they were looking for someone “booty-full” to represent their brand. When a clear audience favorite emerged, a lovely woman named Nancy Upton, the drama continued. Nancy had actually been the winner of a fan-sourced model search back in 2011 for American Apparel, too. And just like they did in 2011, they once again turned Nancy away, inciting an avalanche of protest, confusion, and disgust.

How we learn from this: Never, ever use offensive language in any marketing campaign you create. And if you run a contest, for heaven’s sake, be prepared to honor the results. There are no take-backs in marketing that don’t leave egg on your face.

Marketing Mistake #2: Promising What You Can’t Deliver

The President’s health care website roll out this year has been one of the biggest technical and marketing disasters of the century. The first grievous error was the launch – despite a massive feel-good marketing campaign aimed at creating a positive image around the controversial health care initiative, when the website launched hardly anyone could successfully register. And it’s just gone downhill since.

The administration is now proudly touting that over 125,000 people have successfully registered on the site since its launch. Contrast that to Amazon’s 26.5+ million orders on Cyber Monday – all successfully processed – and it’s clear the marketing team and product team were simply not in sync, and not looking at things realistically.

Furthermore, the campaign has been lambasted for seriously inappropriate ads. In order to try and appeal to the younger set, they used images of college guys standing on top of beer kegs and pictures that are degrading to women.

How we learn from this: Don’t ever fall into the trap of over-promising to consumers, and then finding your team can only under-deliver. Likewise, just like American Apparel above, let’s not offend our customers, please.

Marketing Mistake #3: Ignorance to Public Opinion

Financial behemoth JPMorgan launched a social media campaign this year called “#AskJPM”. A seemingly innocent and engaging idea, the premise was simple: Incite Twitter users to ask their hard-hitting financial questions to JPMorgan professionals.

Here’s where they went wrong – they forgot to consider the public view and opinion of banking institutions overall, and the inevitable snarky comments from the angered masses. In other words, they were asking for trouble, and they found it. Because the industry had already generated so much frustration and blame, creating a hashtag to direct public questions only fanned the flames, and created a direct portal for venting. A little forward thinking would have prevented this debacle all together. Instead, it was (and still is) an embarrassment for the company, with many negative #AskJPM comments and questions posted for all to see.

How we can learn from this: If you’re in an unpopular industry, or if you’re doing damage control with your audience, be very careful about the feedback you elicit. Never be ignorant about your reputation online and elsewhere, and communicate your campaigns with a clear purpose and awareness.

Marketing Mistake #4: Skirt Blame and Go on a Rampage

After a brutal episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” aired, showcasing Arizona restaurant Amy’s Baking Company, the company’s two owners took to the social media space in grand style. Instead of gracefully and honestly addressing the issues revealed in the episode, the owners lambasted not only the show’s producers, but every single customer featured and every last complaint – to the point of appearing totally and completely insane. They used expletives, deferred all blame to other parties, and pretty much lost the respect of every last customer, and potential customer too.

How we can learn from this: No matter how tempting it is, don’t ever become defensive if you receive a bad review or bad press. Address issues with integrity and kindness – the more you defend your actions, the more you appear ignorant and arrogant. Just ask Chip Wilson, CEO of Lululemon who committed the same sin in grand style this year as well. It won’t do anything but continue to tarnish your reputation, and there is a tipping point from which you will never recover.

What other examples of marketing fails did you learn from this year? Share your words of wisdom in the Comments below!


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Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile

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