5 Crucial Lessons Learned From Failed Marketing Tactics

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In a world where people constantly bury their heads on their devices, guerilla marketing is a low-cost yet effective way to grab a consumer’s attention.

Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of memorable, over-the-top, and impressive tactics from brands and small businesses. There’s the brilliant Reynold’s Wrap garage door approach (very cute), the Taco Liberty Bell (delicious!), and who could forget Vodafone’s streakers?

Although these types of guerilla marketing are risky, the biggest upside is of course, huge publicity. Especially with videos going viral these days, a clever marketing tactic would be a good investment to put your brand at the top.

But before you go to your drawing board, learn from some of history’s failed marketing tactics. Aside from an angry mob, the last thing you want is an expensive lawsuit in your mail.

1. Snapple Giant Popsicle Disaster: Make It Sustainable

In 2005, the famous tea and juice brand tried beating the Guinness record for “The World’s Largest Popsicle” with its kiwi-strawberry Snapple on Ice. The 17.5 ton frozen treat would’ve been refreshing on a hot summer’s day – except for the fact that anything cold would eventually melt once exposed to heat.

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(Source)

Even before the giant Snapcicle could be erected on Manhattan, pink liquid started flowing out onto the streets. So much so that policemen and firefighters had to be called to try and contain the ooze.

Sadly, the massive frozen treat cannot be raised fully due to its instability and merely stood at an unsatisfactory 25-degree angle. Snapple officials who were in-charge of the stunt had several theories about the failed marketing effort. But one thing’s for sure: when performing huge feats of guerilla marketing, make sure the medium you’d be using won’t cause a hassle (like flooding) to your venue.

Better example:

When it comes to promoting food-related products, a fail-safe method is to ensure it won’t go stale, melt, or crumble. American meat and cold cut company Oscar Meyer had a brilliant idea with their Wienermobile. Since 1936, these hotdog-shaped cars would advertise the sumptuous offerings on the road for far lesser costs.

2. Mission Impossible 3 Paper Rack Stunt: Foresee Possible Tragedy

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Properly targeting the right audience is key to a successful guerilla marketing campaign. But for the launch of the Mission Impossible III movie, this advice seems to have gone MIA during the marketing campaign.

Although their motive was innocent enough (they just wanted to amp up the “everyday news rack experience”), the newspaper racks of Los Angeles Times that were fitted with digital music devices designed to play the Mission Impossible theme each time they were opened, alarmed several of the citizens instead of making them feel like real spies.

One news rack in Santa Clarita was blown up by members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department because they thought the music device was a bomb. That’s what you call an explosive start.

Better example:

A safer bet? Use props and let your target audience watch from a safe distance. This is what Thinkmodo did during their marketing campaign for the movie Chronicle. They dressed up three model planes and flew them over populated New York. With footage of the scene gone viral, it’s no wonder the movie went on to become a $100 million Box-office hit.

3. FIAT Love Notes Bust: Think Twice for New Concepts

Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, more commonly known as automaker FIAT, knew the effectiveness of direct mail for improving customer loyalty. But it’s such an old concept! So they tried to use a little creativity to promote their Fiat Cinquecento. About 50,000 “love notes” were printed on pink paper, then sent out to the car’s target buyers: the “independent, modern working women” of Madrid.

As there were no clear indications that it was just a marketing stunt, the women became so afraid that most hardly left their homes or went out without a male escort. The “love notes” were even said to have caused fights between couples. After protests from consumer protection groups, FIAT had to cut the marketing campaign short.

Better example:

Instead of trying something new, why not put a twist on an old idea? Toyota’s recent marketing campaign did just that as they promoted their new RAV4. The 120-foot vertical climbing wall right at Times Square gets them enough visibility, while the project itself is a refreshing take on an old billboard concept.

4. Starbucks Ad Tragedy: Newsjacking Isn’t Always Effective

Starbucks is a good example of a worldwide brand that had plenty of hits and misses when it comes to marketing strategies. In April of 2002, less than a year after the infamous September 11 attacks, the coffee chain ran an ad campaign with this poster:

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(Source)

Although the photo may seem innocent enough, a good number of people were upset that the images seemed to bring back memories of the 9/11 tragedy. When word reached the higher ups, Starbucks scheduled the removal of all poster material from more than 3,000 outlets.

Better example:

Not every Starbucks marketing strategy is a fiasco. In fact, most of their social media efforts are effective and hugely successful. Take for example, their #Nemo campaign in 2013 when a blizzard hit the east coast. Many people resonated well with the ads because it was timely, yet tactful.

5. Pacific Air Lines Comedy Gone Wrong: Comedy Isn’t Always the Answer

If you made your consumers laugh, odds are, they’ll remember your brand more. But promote the wrong sort of comedy – especially at 30,000 feet – and you might find yourself (and your company) at a sore place. Take the case of Pacific Air Lines (PAL) marketing campaign in 1967.

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With airplane disasters on the rise, companies were trying to find ways to make flying feel safe again. It was then that PAL hired advertising executive and comedian Stan Freberg for an unconventional take on one of people’s worst fears. The campaign included controversial ad slogans, such as:

“Hey there, you with the sweat in your palms. Do you wish the pilot would knock off all that jazz about ‘That’s Crater Lake on the left, ladies and gentlemen,’ and tell you instead what the devil that funny noise was you just heard?”

Even with the ‘survival kits’ handed out by flight attendants, this is one marketing tactic that did not fare well with passengers. Freberg was fired in the midst of the controversial marketing stunt, and two executives eventually resigned due to the negative response.

Better example:

Although not exactly making waves in the airline industry, Alaska Airlines has had a steady profit for the last 33 years. As they have a positive corporate image as well, they try to play it cool on the marketing. Too cool sometimes, because they don’t often produce enough funny content to promote their services.

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(from YouTube)

Clever marketing tactics, like guerilla strategies, should be implemented with utmost caution. As showcased by a few of history’s failed methods, even the most brilliant ideas can end miserably. So when it comes to planning your next marketing campaign, learn from these examples and make sure yours won’t follow the same fate.

After all, even the most cost effective strategies still cost money.

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1 Comment

  • Kris Stevens Reply

    For me, the most important lesson that I must remember all the time is “think twice for new concepts”. This will make a business unique and has an edge over competitors. Thanks for making me aware about the lessons learned from failed marketing tactics, Al. Waiting for additional article posts from you.

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