10 Worst Marketing Blunders of 2009

1) NBC GOES ALL LENO ALL THE TIME

Edsel … New Coke … Lenovision.

NBC has joined the immortals of marketing stupidity. This year the molting peacock network and president Jeff “Have They Fired Me Yet?” Zucker decided to turn five of the primest pieces of prime-time real estate — the hour between 10 and 11 PM from Monday through Friday — into the Jay Leno hour.

The result? A 28% drop in viewership (through mid-November). This has not only killed network revenues but done in affiliates who have no lead-in for their late news casts.

Despite this, Jeff “10% Of Americans Are Unemployed and I’m Not?” Zucker recently said that all is going according to plan. “Right now, in terms of its performance on the television network, at NBC, in terms of ratings it’s doing exactly what we thought it would do.” Comcast recently bought NBC in what must have been an attempt to copy the government’s cash for clunkers program. Comcast shareholders can now only hope they are being lied to. The worst case scenario is that Mr. Z believes what he is saying.

On the plus side:

  1. It is now possible to buy every ad slot during the Leno show for less than the cost of a house in Detroit.
  2. The federal witness protection program is using guest slots to hide people.

2) TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT

(Originally #9 — Who knew?)

Because I have a really limited imagination I thought the big celeb marketing mishap story of the year would be Michael Vick’s failed attempt to become a spokesperson for PETA. Then along came Tiger who prefers women with bad nose jobs to the Swedish bikini model he is actually married to. The story broke on Nov. 27th, when Mrs. Woods apparently decided to prove her own golfing expertise. This was unfortunate for Accenture which two days earlier had kicked off its annual Tiger campaign. A print ad which ran in the Nov. 30th Wall Street Journal featured Tiger Woods walking in the rough under the headline: “The road to high performance isn’t always paved.” And watch out for the trees and fire hydrants. Accenture has since declawed its Tiger connection.

UPDATE: File this under “Pull the other one, it’s made of wood.”

“We decided several months ago to discontinue Gatorade Tiger Focus, along with some other products to make room for our planned series of innovative products in 2010,” Gatorade spokeswoman Jennifer Schmit said in an e-mailed statement.

3) BANKERS CUT BONUSES, INCREASE SALARY & BLAME JESUS

First the banking industry made a big show of cutting the obscene bonuses it was paying itself for going on the dole. Meanwhile they hoped no one would notice the allegedly eliminated bonuses were now being paid as plain old salary.

But wait … that’s not all!

Apparently still feeling that their efforts to destroys the economy were still underappreciated, bankers started claiming Jesus wanted them to do it.

“The injunc­tion of Jesus to love others as our­selves is an endorse­ment of self-​interest,” Goldman’s [inter­na­tional adviser Brian] Grif­fiths said Oct. 20, his voice echo­ing around the gold-​mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathe­dral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s finan­cial dis­trict. “We have to tol­er­ate the inequal­ity as a way to achiev­ing greater pros­per­ity and oppor­tu­nity for all.”

How much LSD do you have to take to interpret Scripture this way? However much it is, it is certainly being passed out at all the best financial institutions. Two weeks later, Barclays CEO John Varley spoke at the venerable St. Martin-in-the-Fields and tried to wrap the Bible around his bonus.

“There is no conflict between doing business in an ethical and responsible way and making money. We make our biggest contribution to society by being good at what we do. Profit is not satanic.”

I guess it all depends on who gets to determine how we define ethical and responsible. Perhaps Varley could have gotten away with this specious argument had he not added this gloss to the text after the service: “Is Christianity and banking compatible? Yes. And is Christianity and fair reward compatible? Yes.” (Not a good sign when a banker can’t even get his verb and subject numbers to add up.) Hey John, can we parse the word “fair” for a moment?

I believe the renowned 20th century theologian Ray Price put it best when he asked, “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?”

4: GM EXPLAINS AWAY ITS “LITTLE PROBLEM”

In the face of the greatest single corporate collapse in the history of the world, GM rolled out an ad that inadvertently explains the company’s failure.

It is a veritable symphony of weasel words.

Let’s be completely honest, no company wants to go through this.

By the end of that first sentence it is clear this ad has no intention whatsoever of living up to that initial clause. You can tell because the final pronoun is never made specific. That “this” covers billions of sins. It implies we all know what has happened without saying what that was. It is everything to everyone and thus means nothing. Is “this” an utter failure of leadership? Or is it an inability to have even the vaguest understanding of the needs of the marketplace? Sadly, I suspect “this” is “an economic calamity no one could have foreseen” – the preferred phrase of everyone from Alan Greenspan to, well, the Detroit-based car makers. There is no taking responsibility anywhere in this ad just as there has been no taking responsibility at GM for decades. (Read more here)

5) VOGUE: BLACKFACE IS THE NEW BLACK

Vogue The October issue of French Vogue had a photo spread of the very Caucasian Lara Stone painted head to toe in dark make-up. Vogue went with the old “I’m sorry if you found my words insulting” defense and told the Daily Mail “it was unaware it had caused offence, but said it could not give any further comment.” (Worth noting: Italian Vogue’s issue for the same month was filled with actual Black women.) In a keeping up with the KKK move inflight magazine EasyJet ran a photo spread featuring brooding generic models dressed in black POSING IN FRONT OF BERLIN’S HOLOCAUST MONUMENT.

Fortunately for me marketers just can’t seem to figure out that Nazi = Bad. This years examples:

LATE BREAKING STUPIDITY UPDATE: NYT runs gift guide with special section devoted to:

“Somali fashion, do-it-yourself henna kits, children’s books that draw inspiration from the lives of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor: it’s not hard to find gifts created for and by people of color this holiday season.” (emphasis added)

Why it’s almost like they’re real people!

6) CHOCOLATES SHAPED LIKE PRESIDENT OBAMA & MORE

CandyExpress said its commemorative Barack Obama heads would only be available for a limited time, unfortunately it wasn’t limited enough. Off the top of my head I would say there are three things Mr. Obama should not be used to advertise: Chocolate, fried chicken (a German company did it), watermelon (that’s a yet). However, the Russians came up with a bunch of things I’d never thought of. They used our President to advertise a tanning salon, a dental clinic and pre-packaged ice cream with the slogan “Everyone’s talking about it: dark inside white!” The bars have a chocolate-flavored center embedded in a layer of vanilla.

Obama Daughters DollsHowever these are just idiocy, the sheer stupidity award goes to Beanie Baby maker Ty. First they decided to sell two new dolls named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia. Then they tried to deny they were named after America’s First Kids.

“[We] chose the dolls’ names because “they are beautiful names,” not because of any resemblance to President Obama’s daughters, said spokeswoman Tania Lundeen. “There’s nothing on the dolls that refers to the Obama girls,” Lundeen said. “It would not be fair to say they are exact replications of these girls. They are not.”

Sorry dear, but in order to get away with a lie like that you have to be a bank.

7) STUPIDITY? THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

The word of the year really should have been app. The ubiquitous iPhone has spawned an industry of companies trying to market their wares by providing allegedly useful and/or humorous apps. To paraphrase Pogo, this confronted Pepsi with an insurmountable opportunity. The company released an app called Before You Score for its Mountain Dew AMP brand. The app gives you 24 different types of women (sorority girl, etc.) and offers “appropriate” pick-up lines for each type and other similar information.

Not to be outdone, LawFirms.com, a legal referral site, decided to get attention with a campaign featuring the (fictitious) app iCoyote. It “packs all of the features of a real immigrant smuggler into the iPhone. Using GPS, navigate through the patrol packed desert without worrying about that pesky Border Patrol.”

The app included a variety of features such as:

  • iWife. It “will take care of finding marriage prospects for you. Aggregating and analyzing data from a variety of online sources [to] match you up with only the most promising US Citizen candidates.”
  • iLawyer. “Homeland Security is Cracking down. Not to worry. With iLawyer, you can find an attorney to convince the immigration court to grant Asylum Protection. A Green Card is a finger swipe away.”
  • Weather Monitors. “The desert can get hot, and trying to cross it when it’s 120 degrees is not fun. Get up-to-date weather forecasts to pick the right time and ensure your trip to the US is comfortable and fun-packed.”
  • City Statistics. “San Antonio? Albuquerque? Tucson? San Diego? Not sure which is best? Get unemployment statistics, current average wages, cost of living expenses and more. Get the job you want, at the right wage, tax free!”

8 AMERICAN GIRL SELLS “HOMELESS GIRL” DOLL

Your child can learn that the homeless are just like real people once you spend $95 to buy her a “less fortunate” playmate for her other American Girl doll(s). The latest addition to the American Girl line of how-do-you-justify-it-ly expensive dolls is Gwen Thompson. Ms. Thompson

wheelchair and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen’s father left them and they became homeless the fall before the start of the book’s events. Initially, Gwen’s mother has them live in their car until the winter comes; she then takes them to Sunrise House, a place for homeless women and children. Sunrise House helps them get on their feet and eventually get a new apartment.

And should you also want to teach the kid that the disabled are people too, American Girl also sells a wheelchair for $30.

9) KFC UNDERESTIMATES OPRAH’S POPULARITY

Why would you pay to have Oprah endorse your product if you didn’t know what the result be? In May the chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken paid Ms. Winfrey to discuss its new grilled chicken on her show. (This is part of an ongoing effort to rebrand KFC as someplace that serves something besides FC. By the time it’s over KFC will be Rhode Island Clam Shack. But I digress.) In addition to giving product to her audience — and how pissed were they? Other folks got a new car and they get a food experiment – viewers could go to a website and download a coupon for up to four free two-piece chicken meals with two sides and a biscuit. If there’s one thing the US loves more than Oprah, it’s Oprah and free food.

You’ll never guess what happened. OK, so maybe you will.

Several bajillion people downloaded the coupon and sprinted to the nearest KFC. Well, the food disappeared faster than a dollar bill on the floor of the Senate. As a result somefranchisees started refusing to accept the coupon, some told people the promotion was over for the day, some quickly pointed to the “while supplies last” clause, the more creative said that coupons with barcode numbers ending in “1234″ are not valid. Look closely at the barcode below to see what that meant.

All this brought new meaning to the chain’s horrible new tagline: “Unthink What You Thought About KFC.”

Another chain, El Pollo Loco, moved smart and fast and sent out a twitter saying they’d accept the coupons on Mother’s Day. Soon Oprah was having to apologize for the stupidity and KFC issued rain checks to the disgruntled.

All of which goes to prove that whatever you have to pay Oprah, the ROI is REAL!

10) (tie) BLACKWATER, NIGERIA & SWINE INDUSTRY LAUNCH REBRANDING EFFORTS

  • In an attempt to change all the nasty connotations that go along with being mercenaries, Blackwater Worldwide changed its name to Xe. That’s pronounced zee, as in “zee idiots in marketing thought of it.”

Blackwater president Gary Jackson said in a memo to employees the new name reflects the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security. “The volume of changes over the past half-year have taken the company to an exciting place and we are now ready for two of the final, and most obvious changes,” Jackson said in the note.

That exciting place seems to include a lot of lawsuits.

“At international airports, in trains, in shopping malls, and almost everywhere, every Nigerian is a marked person,” Dora Akunyili, information minister and self-styled chief image maker said at the launch of the re-branding campaign this week. “We are pulled aside for questioning. We are seen as potential drug pushers or fraudsters. We are unfortunately denied the benefit of the doubt.”

  • Swine flu is no laughing matter. Especially if you’re the American Pork Association. They went into overdrive screaming about how it was hurting their sales and enlisted Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin who constantly referred to the “so-called swine flu.” Unfortunately humor trumps branding every time. Thus we got headlines like:

“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

CIO writer and friend Al Sacco came up with this: Swine flu isn’t a scary enough name. It needs a slogan, too: “Pork Plague, the (Other) White Death,” for example.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

AMAZON DELISTS GAY AND LESBIAN BOOKS

The online retailer blamed an “employee in France” for a “software glitch” which oddly delisted gay and lesbian themed books from its search listings. (Example: Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain vanished, but not her book The Shipping News in which all the sex is hetero.)

Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as “adult,” the source said.

CRAIGSLIST CEO SAYS SITE HAS NO SEX RELATED ADS

“I would not describe any section of our site as ’sex related,’ ” [Craigslist CEO Jim] Buckmaster wrote in response to a series of e-mailed questions from the Globe. He acknowledged that Craigslist offers an “erotic services” section that should not include more than “legitimate escort services, sensual massage, exotic dancers, etc.,” but said that offers to exchange sexual favors for money are “strictly prohibited” and removed from the site.

SPECIAL PENGUIN OF IRONY CITATION:

THE WISCONSIN TOURISM FOUNDATION
had to change its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin

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BONUS: A few other totally wrong products from the year

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26 thoughts on “10 Worst Marketing Blunders of 2009

  1. In what furnace was thy brain? Or, given the people you were writing about, their brains? A lot of char between the ears would explain a lot about modern business.

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  3. Pingback: Collateral Damaged Publishes “Top Ten Marketing Blunders of the Year” | The Copywriter Underground

  4. Pingback: Collateral Damaged Publishes “Top Ten Marketing Blunders of the Year” | Tamasindo Secret & Technology

  5. Pingback: Dear Jesus Santa, Excuse My Greed

  6. It appears there’s a common thread in these blunders: that people are stupid enough to buy the groundless, illogical BS you’re peddling (after you drive your car company into the ditch twice in the past 40 years, cheat on your wife and expect that it will be a private matter or assemble an evil company and pick the name Blackwater!!, etc.). We’re getting smarter.

  7. (a little off-topic, sorry :))
    Re: “How much LSD do you have to take to interpret Scripture this way?” – From my experience LSD can only help you understand the Scripture for what it really means. Alcohol would be more appropriate in the cited sentence.

  8. Pingback: Collateral Damage Publishes “Top Ten Marketing Blunders of the Year” | Tamasindo Secret & Technology

  9. Pingback: The Best Of the Rest « The Flehmen Response

  10. Pingback: Bulo Remembers 2009-An Epic Year For Marketing Blunders : Delaware Liberal

  11. Not only in America! From Australia… Kraft launched a new variety of the popular Vegemite spread. The name? iSnack 2.0 , so bad its ads were pulled in less than a day and the name changed in one week

  12. Pingback: Marketing Blunders of ‘09 « Annoyingly Observant

  13. Pingback: Siglas para reírse « OT Copy Madrid

  14. Pingback: 2010 in review « Collateral Damage

  15. Pingback: Vogue’s hot, new fashion trend is the sexual objectification of children « Collateral Damage

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