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


Greatest product placement ever?

A boy dropped his DS in a gorilla cage and inadvertently created the best photo op ever.

gorilla-ds-1--article_image

Via GamesRadar which has more great pictures.

Medal of Honor video game shoots itself in the foot

medal of homer 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 are 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. 

How little does EA get it? From the official EA response:

“The criticism of ‘Medal of Honor’ is disappointing because I can’t think of another interactive game that has gone to such lengths to convey respect for soldiers. From the very first day of development, the ‘Medal of Honor’ development team has been dedicated to creating an homage to the soldiers who fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. [EA feels] "a deep sympathy and respect for the soldiers and people with family members killed or wounded in Afghanistan. … We don’t see a distinction between a film like ‘Hurt Locker’ and a game like ‘Medal of Honor.’ We don’t agree that it’s OK to depict the war in films and books, but not in games. We don’t see a moral difference."

Hey dummy: You don’t make a game where people can play as the enemy in a war that is still going on. That’s the point. In the words of the comedians: Too soon. And by the way: You’re comparing yourself to Hurt Locker? You’ve got big brass balls there, my friend. Unfortunately, the balls are hollow.

This would have been a strong contender for the stupidest marketing move of the year if BP hadn’t already locked that up. Given that, EA definitely has a strong case for first runner-up.

Motrin gets headache from viral moms video

Motrin has just found out that moms are pretty thin-skinned when it comes to what other people say about moms even if it’s something the moms themselves say all the time.

In the beginning was an understandable idea: Sell more Motrin. To do that meant finding a market that might buy more Motrin.  After undoubtedly copious research Motrin decides: Moms! The method: a video called Motrin Moms. I’m pretty sure the next part of the plan was not: sit back and hide from a firestorm. But that’s what Motrin got once moms started watching the video.

The video is all text and voice over and starts with what I’ve always considered a very funny line: the observation that babies seem to be the latest fashion accessory. (Full-disclosure: I’ve been the stay-at-home parent, i.e. a mom, for most of my kid’s life.) Then it talks about all the ways of carrying a baby there are — front-loaders (my preference until he hit 20 lbs.), back-loaders, slings, etc., and how they can be a strain on your back hence the need for the product.

It also talks about how despite the pain we (moms) do this anyway because its probably good for the kid and certifies the bearer as a certified member of the mom club. Then came my favorite line: “So if I look tired and crazy people will understand why.”

There is a look that parents shoot each other — a look of total sympathy and understanding as the kid is going through his or her 13th major meltdown of the morning. I have been on both ends of that look. Receiving it has helped me keep my sanity, sending it has helped me bond with and I hope helped someone else keep their sanity.

But apparently that is the truth-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. Or maybe it’s the whole thing about babies-as-fashion-accessories. I’ve certainly thought it, but clearly I am surrounded by those who are without that particular sin.

The most interesting thing about this is that the fire seems to be spreading via Twitter, the first such time Twitter has actually had any impact that I am aware of. You may follow the posts here and it won’t take long, remember Twitter is what you get when cross a blog with a haiku.

Some of the comments are smart and some are achingly stupid: Like the person who said of negative reaction to the video, “What happened this weekend went from smart, powerful activism to Palin-rally lynch-mob.

FYI: Lynch mob is one of the two words/phrases to avoid at all costs in a discussion. The other is Hitler/Nazi. As soon as you use them the conversation is over and the shouting has begun. Adding the modifier “Sarah Palin” will not help either.

Not only do these words end a conversation but they also do a very real disservice to the victims of the actual lynch mobs and Nazis.

Study: “video games make kids violent, stupid and sick.” General: “Gamers make great soldiers.”

Oddly the video game study and the general’s comments are two separate stories over at The RawFeed.

In the first:

Researchers at the University of Michigan published a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health this week that found “exposure to virtual violence increases the risk that children and adults will behave aggressively.”

I forget, what did we blame it on before? Oh, yeah … TV. Before that it was comic books and before that it was movies and before that abstract painting and before that the waltz (true) and before that … well, I remember when Dungeons and Dragons was in the mix. The only way we’re going to take care of this problem and get back to our pre-lapsarian state of bliss is to eradicate the original source. All those in favor of banning Artisophanes, signify by saying Aye. The chair will also entertain motions to expurgate the Old Testament. (Congrats to U of M for getting so much exposure for something without blaming Facebook.)

At least one police official has gone further than suggesting a mere technology is to blame and has started to name Brand names:

New Zealand’s national manager of police youth services, Superintendent Bill Harrison, said this week that youth violence has “jumped” in the past two or three years worldwide, which he says coincides with the rise of advanced console games like the Xbox. His point is that better quality video games increase the realism of violence, which does a better job of desensitizing kids to the real thing.

So remember, nurturing parents buy the Wii. Does anyone ever study the number of people who play video games obsessively and DON’T turn into murderous thugs? No headlines in that, I guess. Or maybe there are studies about this and no one reports on them. Kind of an endless circle of stupidity.

Meanwhile, General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, has found a bright side to video games warping kids today:

“There was a time when commentators and some more experienced members of the Army expressed concern as to whether the ‘PlayStation generation’ were up to dealing with the gritty bloody conflict that is routine business in southern Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, I’m pleased to say that they are. Our young soldiers, drawn from across British society, are more than a match for what is required of them and I salute every one of them.”

Clearly the more experienced members of the Army need subscriptions to The Journal of Adolescent Health.

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And speaking of Weasel-Like Animals

Joe “More Boring Than Al Gore” Lieberman and La Hillary continue their efforts to grab headlines, I mean protect the US from the threat of video games. Apparently Tweedledee and Tweedledum are tired of wasting just their own time on this — now they want the Centers for Disease Control Prevention to investigate the “impact of electronic media use.” Hmmm, let’s list our priorities for the CDC: Cancer, flu pandemic … video games. Huzzah, I suppose for bipartisan stupidity: Hill & Joe’s legislation calling for/funding this research is being cosponsored by GOP Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Too bad they can’t get together and agree on something that actually matters.