When Marketing Campaigns Backfire
No marketers set out to create campaigns that will crash, burn, and explode in their faces. Nevertheless, it happens. And when it does, the internet loves to make a record of it.
If you’re in the marketing game, consider these stories as cautionary tales from companies that came before you.
Remember when Starbucks encouraged its employees to open up discussions about race, social problems, and the general struggle for minority justice in America?
Oh yes, most of us remember this blunder quite well. The #RaceTogether initiative was the brainchild of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; a well-intentioned yet misguided attempt to bring Starbucks into the national conversation surrounding race and bigotry in America.
Interestingly, insiders report that the idea was thought of nearly entirely by Schultz, and no market research was done on the idea before deployment. We all know how that decision turned out.
“We made a tactical mistake. So what? We’re moving forward.”
- Howard Schultz
Lifelock Identity Theft
“My name is Todd Davis. This is my social security number: XXX-XX-XXX. Yes, that really is my social security number. No, I’m not crazy. I’m just sure our system works.”
Thus spoke Lifelock CEO Richard Todd Davis shortly before his identity was stolen. (Stolen 13 times, actually.)
Seriously. You have to feel bad for the guy. He took a confident approach to his marketing that ended up being the equivalent of tossing a grenade in his own lap. Aside from the hassle of untangling over a dozen identity fraud charges, the highly-publicized gaffe raised concerns over whether Lifelock was actually capable of supporting its lofty promises of data security. The FTC eventually ruled against Lifelock in this regard, asking for $12 million in fines.
Don’t feel too bad for the company, though. Despite its problems, it secured a $2.3 billion acquisition from Symantec in 2017, making it part of one of the world’s biggest security conglomerates.
Apple Pre-Loading U2
If you were a fan of Apple back in 2014, you’re likely familiar with the U2 iTunes debacle. If you weren’t, here’s a quick rundown.
In September 2014, during the same presentation that debuted the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, Apple’s Tim Cook and U2 frontman Bono announced a partnership between the two entities: Rather than selling their newest album on iTunes like normal, U2 and Apple would deliver the complete album to all iTunes users completely free of charge!
So, what was the problem?
In short, users freaked out at the idea that Apple would tamper with their iTunes accounts without permission. They believed Apple was “promoting by spam,” forcing them to download an album they neither wanted nor asked for. The backlash was so immediate that Apple rolled back the gift nearly immediately, and quickly slapped together a tool that let users delete the offending album from their accounts.
Of course, Apple is doing fine today, but marketing misstep was a lesson in being cautious about how well-intentioned gifts might be perceived.
Marketing Gone Wrong
So, what’s our takeaway, here?
Maybe it’s that marketing isn’t an easy job. Market research can fail you, and even ideas that sound generous and benign can backfire in spectacular fashion. Companies need to tread lightly these days with how they approach their audiences. Sure, companies can bounce back from issues like these—but the days of “no such thing as bad press” are over, and the internet doesn’t forget.