The 10 Biggest Marketing Blunders of 2010

This year it was a race for 2nd place because the top honors were nailed down before the rest of contestants were even out of the starting gate.

1) BP & Tony Hayward

Under the astute guidance of now former-CEO Tony “I want my life back” Hayward, BP proved time and time again why it so wisely decided to can its positioning as the environmentally friendly oil company. Here’s just a few of Tony’s finer moments:

  1. Creates one of the quotes of the year by saying, “I want my life back.”
  2. In testimony before Congress he makes a point to remind us all that, “We care about the little people.”
  3. At the height of the spill he takes a weekend off to go watch yacht races at the Isle of Wright in England.
  4. In a slick video ad he takes pride in the fact that BP has “organized the largest environmental response in this country’s history.”
  5. His parting words on stepping down as CEO: “Safety, people and performance have been my watchwords. We’ve made significant progress.”

But Tony didn’t win this award all on his own. No he had help from literally thousands of BP execs like BP spokesman Randy Prescott: who said, “Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp.” While space prevents from listing all the asinine things the company did, here are a few of the lowlights:

  1. Decided to pay out $10 billion in dividends to stockholders while failing to pay people hired to clean up its mess.
  2. Employed the engineer who wrote in an email about the decision not to install all the safety devices on the Deepwater Horizon, “Who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.” The email was sent on April 16th – Four days before explosion that killed 11 people.
  3. “BP is going to [spin] off its Gulf of Mexico spill operation to a separate in-house business to be run by an American in a bid to isolate the “toxic” side of the company and dilute some of the anti-British feeling aimed at chief executive Tony Hayward, the company said today.” Because it’s all about protecting Tony, that’s why.
  4. Continuing to spend millions of dollars on ads promising to fix the damage its done and emphasizing how much effort it is putting into stopping the catastrophe it created.
  5. Put together an internal report on the disaster so vapid that the best defense BP’s safety honcho Mark Bly could offer was, “It wasn’t intended to be anything it isn’t.”
  6. Lying about the amount of oil being spilled in order to limit liability.
  7. Blocking the press access to the scene of the crime by banning flyovers and keeping reporters from beaches where the oil might be seen.

Of course these last two would not have been achievable without the aid and support of the US government. Reporters calling The Coast Guard about their inability to go look at the ocean were (and maybe still are) ROUTINELY referred to the BP press office. So BP gets to enforce the 1st Amendment. Ahh, the watch/lap dogs of government.

Dishonorable mention for its actions also go to: Rep. Joe Barton and The House Conservative Caucus for apologizing to BP. They called the President’s pallid pursuit of the company a “Chicago-Style Political Shakedown.”

2) Christine O’Donnell

In The Great Book Of Political Campaigns the first rule is “Never Have To Deny That You Are A Witch”. Coming up with the other best quote of the year (“I am not a witch.” Like you needed to be reminded) was but one in a cascade of highlights for Delaware’s GOP candidate for Senate. She also thought that an ad pointing out she had never been to Yale would be a good thing. Instead it merely highlighted the fact that she hadn’t actually graduated from college at all – despite her claims to the contrary. But, in the silver lining department, all the hoopla around her claims did get her to finally finish up the work on the degree she had begun working for 17 years earlier. Two weeks before election day she was awarded a BA in English from Fairleigh Dickson University. Despite having a degree in English it turned out that reading was not her strong suit shown when when she claimed that the separation of Church and State was not, in fact, a part of the constitution.

Not content to go quietly into the good night, O’Donnell returned to the public stage earlier this month, telling a gathering, “Tragedy comes in threes. Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth Edwards’s passing and Barack Obama’s announcement of extending the tax cuts, which is good, but also extending the unemployment benefits.” Tragedy may come in threes, but in this instance stupidity is singular.

3) TIE: Sharron Angle/Alex Sink/Libby Mitchell

  • Sharron Angle should have easily won the Nevada Senate seat. In a year when not being a Democrat was pretty much all you needed to win, she was running against Harry Reid – a man about as popular as Bernie Madoff. She managed to lose because of a campaign that rivaled Ms. O’Donnell’s for egregious stupidity. Of many great moments in her run for office my favorite was when she told the Rancho High School Hispanic Student Union, “You know, I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don’t know that.” To make it clear just how hard it can be to tell who is Latino and who is Asian and who is white, Angle added, “I’ve been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly.”
  • Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, lost to Rick Scott — a man with no political experience who ran a company involved in the biggest medicare fraud case in American history.
  • Libby Mitchell, Democratic nominee for governor of Maine, came in third and lost to Republican Paul LePage – a creationist. While neither Sink nor Mitchell’s campaigns were as spectacular a flop as Angle’s, the results speak for themselves.

4) Summer’s Eve says, Want a raise? Wash your vagina.”

The literal and metaphorical douchebags at Fleet Labs ran a full page ad in Women’s Day that opened with the headline, “Confidence at Work: How to Ask for a Raise.” It then listed eight steps to getting more money out of the boss. Number 1? “Start with the usual routine and all things you do to feel your best, including showering with Summer’s Eve Feminine Wash or throwing a packet of Summer’s Eve Feminine Cleansing cloths into your bag for a quick freshness pick-me-up during the day.”

5) Montblanc regrets “honoring” Gandhi with $24K fountain pen

Either Montblanc’s execs have a brilliant sense of irony or they’re complete idiots. I’ll report, you decide. Whichever is the case, they have “unconditionally apologized” to an Indian court about it – at least until the court rules on whether the company can continue to sell the pen. The pen was marketed as a way of honoring 140th birthday of the brilliant spokesman for the poor.What, you may ask, justifies the $24,000 cost of this ink delivery system?

The gold and silver limited edition pen includes an engraving of Gandhi and comes with an eight-meter golden thread that can be wound around the pen, representing the spindle and cotton Gandhi used to weave simple cloth.

Montblanc made only 241 of the handmade pens, one for each mile Gandhi walked in his famous march against salt taxes in 1930. It should be noted that the company did think of the needs of the less affluent consumer when producing this pen. They are also offering ballpoint and rollerball versions for a mere $3000 per.

6) Drake University boasts about being a D+ school

clip_image001Let’s pretend you are an institution of higher learning. Let’s say the name of your institution starts with the letter D. Now you want something special for your marketing, something that talks about the special magic that occurs when a student comes to your university. So what do you call it? Anything BUT “D+.” Well, unless you’re Drake University. Much to the school’s surprise, some have taken the now-dead recruitment campaign amiss. Go figure. Maybe they needed a better slogan. How about, “Drake, the ultimate safety school.” I sure hope the faculty are smarter than the admissions office. The only thing dumber than the campaign is the school’s effort to explain it away.

In hindsight, introducing the concept and the testing that was conducted with the target audience may have minimized some of the concerns that have been expressed, and we are very sorry that many of you were caught by surprise as a result.

They used 42 words to say “Mistakes were made.”

“Our experience in the survey and in the field suggests that the kind of students whom we want to attract to Drake easily understand and appreciate the irony of the D+.”

Ahhh, irony the last excuse of the incompetent. Or, as Calvin Trillin once said, “I never did very well in math – I could never seem to persuade the teacher that I hadn’t meant my answers literally.”

7) Medal of Honor video game shoots itself in the foot

Simple marketing rule: Don’t include a feature in your product that directly contradicts the name of your product. Case in point: The Medal of Honor video game from EA games. In this first person shooter, players get to pretend they are soldiers. I assume it lets you pretend you are a US soldier since those are the only people who can actually win a Congressional Medal of Honor. The latest version of the game — coming out next month — includes a feature where you can play as a member of the Taliban … and thereby shoot US soldiers. Here’s the brand disconnect: Shooting US soldiers is definitely NOT going to let you get a Medal of Honor.

Surprisingly, many people and organizations were upset by this. A lot of those people are the families of soldiers who have been killed in the war. Who could have seen that coming? Also upset is the commander of the US Army and Air Force Exchange Service (that’s the group that runs the stores on military bases), who has decided that they won’t sell the game. That will hurt because, as Sgt. Big Brother CollateralDamage can attest, military folk LOVE games like this. It will also hurt because it will make Walmart and co. think twice about stocking the game. Congrats, guys, on a blunder that could have easily been avoided.

8) Sperm Logo Sneakers

I can’t top what Rebecca Cullers wrote over at AdFreak:

sperm sneakerDo you wake up in the morning wishing you could wear shoes with a picture of a sperm prominently displayed on them? Well, now, with Gravity Defyer sneakers, you can! The Web site refers to the sperm logo as the ‘Slick Seed of Life Logo,’ and says it’s there ‘because it’s cool!’ As you can see from the full-page advertisement … wearing these shoes is like pouring an energy drink on your feet. At least, I’m assuming the can (also covered in sperm pictures) that’s splashing liquid on the shoe is supposed to be an energy drink. In a press release, company officials explain how, despite a couple of retail partners who’ve pulled out due to the logo, they intend to keep it: “Our logo is deliberate. … There’s no shame, there’s pride,” they write. In my mind, there’s a big gap between not being embarrassed by sperm and wanting to have it all over my shoes.”

9) Video game lets players bomb illegal immigrants.

Spain’s conservative Popular Party launched the video game, Rescue, on its website as part of the party’s campaign for regional elections in Catalonia.

In the game, Alicia Sanchez-Camacho – the president of the PP branch in Catalonia – is depicted riding a white seagull called Pepe. She is dubbed Alicia Croft, in a reference to Lara Croft, the heroine of the popular video game Tomb Raider. Points are awarded to players when they direct the bird to bomb aircraft containing illegal immigrants or symbols of Catalan nationalism.

The game was taken down within hours and the party of course found someone else to blame for it. In this case, it was the developer who allegedly failed to follow directions. Instead of bombing the immigrants, the PP  claimed, the seagull should have targeted the organized crime groups that traffic them.

Hey, who hasn’t made that mistake?

10) Magazine industry spends millions preaching to the choir

On a list of industries with too much money the leader would clearly be banking followed probably by oil. What about magazine publishing? While it is certainly ahead of typewriters (repair & manufacture of), I don’t think it would crack the top 1000. Despite this, the industry has collectively decided it is time to waste some of this precious resource. Thus the just-announced multimillion-dollar ad campaign touting the “power of print.”

The campaign, funded by five leading publishers, seeks to convince people that “magazines remain an effective advertising medium in the age of the Internet because of the depth and lasting quality of print, compared with the ephemeral nature of much of the Web’s content.”

And how are they going to get this message across? “Nearly 1,400 pages of the ads will be sprinkled through magazines including People, Vogue and Ladies’ Home Journal this year.”

Let me get this right – you’re going to tell magazine readers that reading magazines is a good thing? Maybe it’s just me but I’m pretty sure they already know. Aren’t the people you want to reach the ones who aren’t trying to discern the difference between the ads and the articles in GQ?

SPECIAL BONUS: BEST UNINTENTIONAL MARKETING MISTAKE OF THE YEAR


About these ads

12 thoughts on “The 10 Biggest Marketing Blunders of 2010

  1. Pingback: Collateral Damage Blog List “10 Biggest Marketing Blunders of 2010″ (or, He Reports, We Snicker) | The Copywriter Underground

  2. Pingback: Quack quack oops. | duckrabbit - we produce photofilms

  3. Pingback: Wednesday Odds and Ends - AgencySpy

  4. I’m not much impressed by Christine O’Donnell. But she is correct that the separation of Church and State is not a part of the constitution. Before taking shots at people, the writer here ought to get the facts straight. That came from a letter written by Jefferson to a group of Baptists. It is nowhere found in the Constitution.

  5. Um … the exact phrase doesn’t appear but I think this is pretty clear: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

  6. The worst thing about this list is that people were paid to create these awful campaigns and the campaigns made it up the corporate chain of approval. Amazing!

  7. Pingback: Biggest (and funniest) marketing blunders of 2010 | Inside the Nerdery

  8. Pingback: Be Careful When Changing A Known Marketing Brand | Increase Sales Blog

  9. Pingback: Annum Partum Listum « The Flehmen Response

  10. Pingback: Marketing Blunders | Move Up And To The Right

  11. Pingback: Illegal immigration + video game = stupid « Collateral Damage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s