The right marketing concepts can do wonders for a company. Just think about the 1984 Super Bowl ad from Apple. Not only did the 60-second George Orwell-inspired campaign launch the company into success, it also changed advertising forever. From then on, Super Bowl ads became something audiences looked forward to.
Every organization dreams of hitting it out of the park with the perfect marketing campaign. To do this, they tend to focus on certain marketing concepts to give themselves the best chances of success. However, they also run the risk of falling flat on their face.
When it comes to failures in marketing, that faceplant may be one for the whole world to see. A marketing failure can lead to ruined reputations, unsuccessful product launches, and hits to the company’s bottom line. Luckily, these failures can teach all business leaders what marketing concepts they should avoid.
In this article, learn about some notorious marketing failures, the marketing concepts at the heart of them, and the lessons you can apply to your organization.
1. The New Coke Debacle
No article about marketing failures would be complete without at least mentioning what happened with New Coke. In 1985, Coca-Cola decided to switch up its traditional soda formula and introduce a new recipe with a new taste. As it turns out, Coke has die-hard fans. Changing something as beloved as the regular Coke taste drew intense backlash. In fact, the company at the time received up to 1,500 complaints per day. Eventually, Coca-Cola went back to the old formula, suffering no long-term damage in the process.
The Marketing Concept: Target Audience
One thing that Coca-Cola didn’t seem to take into consideration is the “Marketing Concept.” This concept is based on the idea that you should know your target audience, be in tune with what they want, and deliver. As long as you offer something better than your competitors, you’ll come out on top.
Even though focus groups preferred New Coke to the older stuff, that wasn’t what Coca-Cola’s audience wanted. Changing a tried and true product their customers loved was a bad idea. The company completely misread what their core fans loved about the brand. They didn’t realize how Coca-Cola had become something beyond a simple soda: It was almost a lifestyle.
The bottom line is: Pay attention to your target audience’s biggest wants and needs, and make sure you address them.
2. Pepsi Plays Politics
Coca-Cola’s biggest competitor isn’t without some marketing fails of their own. 2017 was a year filled with political activism and protests, particularly with the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi decided to get in on the action with an ad featuring Kendall Jenner. The ad shows a group of vague protesters at a standoff with police officers. Jenner joins the protest and gives one of the officers some Pepsi. The actual message of the ad seems to be that Pepsi can unify, which isn’t necessarily a bad message.
However, people criticized the ad from different directions. Some said a brand straying into politics was a bad move. Others criticized the ad for being watered down and trivializing hot-button issues. Overall, audiences received the ad as a tone-deaf portrayal of real suffering. After a short-lived attempt to defend the messaging, Pepsi apologized and pulled the ad.
The Social Marketing Concept: Improving the Community
The failed marketing concept here is the “Societal Marketing Concept.” This marketing strategy focuses on improving lives and the welfare of society as a whole. Companies choosing this strategy make a conscientious effort to market toward improving their communities.
While this is a noble goal, be careful to avoid alienating customers and oversimplifying complex issues. Part of Pepsi’s problem was that audiences saw a disconnect between the product and the message. To many, Pepsi is just a brand of soda. To say that it can solve many of society’s ills is a stretch.
Keep your message consistent with your brand and product, or else you might hurt your image in the long run.
3. Burger King Embraces Technology
When many think of Burger King marketing fails, they likely think of the creepy mascot ads they ran years ago. But another fail deserves an honorable mention. This happened in 2017 when Burger King launched a campaign where people with Google Home and Android phones would have their devices read them a list of ingredients for the Whopper.
As it turns out, the ads took the information from Wikipedia, which anyone can edit. After the campaign’s launch, pranksters went in and edited the Wikipedia entry, causing the ads to read out fake ingredients for the Whopper, including cyanide. Burger King had to pull the campaign before suffering further damage.
The Production Concept: Using Available Products
For concepts of marketing, the idea Burger King tried to follow is the “Production Concept.” This concept focuses on products that are readily available and relatively inexpensive. For Burger King, they not only saw an opportunity to promote cheap fast food but to use a product many people already own: a smart device. Combining these two products seemed like a great idea, but troublemakers foiled it.
There’s nothing wrong with incorporating some of the latest technology in your marketing efforts. New technologies are wonderful tools for launching products and developing marketing funnels. As always, be cautious with how you use technology and understand what could go wrong with it. Use tactical planning to map out contingencies so you know how to pivot at a moment’s notice.
Don’t shy away from technology, but understand that people have ways of disrupting it, even if it’s just to get a few laughs.
4. Skittles Celebrates Strangeness
Back in the 2000s, Skittles ran numerous ads that were downright strange. One of the more notable ones was an ad that featured a man with a bizarre power where everything he touched turned to Skittles. What starts off as a humorous sketch takes a turn for the dark as he admits he shook a commuter’s hand earlier in the day, killing him in the process. The man basically says every waking moment is a nightmare for him. While some may find the ad’s dark humor funny, whether it was effective at getting more people to buy the product is unknown.
The Selling Concept: The Power of Persuasion
The “Selling Concept” is one item on the list of marketing concepts that focuses on pure persuasion for the sole purpose of getting the sale. The idea is that companies need to show aggression in marketing, mainly when the product is not a need. In Skittles’ case, they appear to get the aggression part right, but they fail to show why customers absolutely must buy the product. In the case of the ad mentioned above, it even comes across as telling customers not to buy it.
There’s nothing wrong with aggression in your marketing strategy. However, make sure your marketing is also persuasive. Show people why they should buy what you sell. Try following the Purple Cow concept to stand out.
If you fail to persuade the customer, it won’t matter how aggressive you are.
5. Internal Problems With Laurel & Wolf
On the surface, Laurel & Wolf looked like a great workplace. The online marketplace launched in 2014 and featured upbeat marketing through their many social media channels. These social media posts included employees dancing and having fun outside of work.
While that appears to show a happy culture, employees weren’t so satisfied behind the scenes. Workers would recount how frightened they were of company leaders. Management was in chaos. People felt they couldn’t speak up or correct problems. In short, the company culture didn’t match the marketing, and Laurel & Wolf shut down in 2019. It has since re-launched as it looks to find similar success to what it saw in the beginning.
The Cultural Concept: Reflecting Core Values
One of the marketing concepts to learn from Laurel & Wolf is to make sure your marketing aligns with what your company stands for. This goes beyond product concepts and strikes at the very heart of an organization. If there are clashing messages present, then a company will suffer from an unstable foundation. Every piece of a marketing campaign must accurately reflect the very essence of a business. Otherwise, consumers will take note that something is off.
Don’t take your culture for granted. As you look at the basic concepts of marketing, determine which strategies reflect your values and principles the most. If your company culture suffers, look for the best ways of building team culture and unifying your purpose. Only once you’ve addressed the problems at the core will you be able to build upon them through your marketing efforts.
Marketing Concepts Lead to Growth
The marketing concepts above (and how not to use them) can help you grow your company and reach new customers. Use them as additional tools in your arsenal. When combined with the likes of marketing flywheels and other tactics, these concepts will allow you to be versatile at achieving your professional goals. Learn the lessons from how others have failed in the past, and you’ll place yourself in a position not to repeat them.
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