List o’ 11 Classic Marketing Goofs


confusionNo company ever develops a new product or enters new territory to fail. And any good marketing strategy will take into account basics like addressing customer needs, proper positioning in the market and developing a good reputation for quality and value. OK. But sometimes, this isn’t quite the case. You just have to wonder, how do some marketing campaigns make it through corporate checkpoints and really, in some cases, what were they thinking? Here are a few classic marketing goofs of our age.

11. New Coke

New Coke can

In the mid-1980s the “cola wars” were at their peak, with Coca Cola and Pepsi each claiming to be the best tasting and embroiled in a bitter battle for market share. So what happened? Instead of sticking with core taste and the age-old formula, Coca Cola brought all the fanfare that it muster behind the launch of the “New Coke”. The company quickly discovered that people liked Coke just the way it was. People began hording the old Coke by the case, black markets sprang up almost overnight, while sales of the New Coke were dismal. Turns out that the company never actually asked its customers if they wanted a new Coke, and quickly discovered that they had it right to begin with. Turns out that the old adage is true: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

10. Pontiac Fiero in Mexico

1984 Pontiac Fiero

Nice car, sure – wrong name. Lesson number one – when creating a marketing campaign, be sure that you speak the language! Pontiac thought that its brand expansion would be a terrific strategy for growth outside of the US. Maybe, but it would have helped if they had someone who spoke Spanish review the launch before hitting the streets in Mexico, because Fiero translates as, roughly, “ugly old man” – not a really good image to use for selling cars. As far as the Nova example that we have all heard through the lore, apparently, it actually sold quite well in its Latin markets. In another tanslation gaffer, Pepsi’s Come alive with the Pepsi Generation translated into Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave in Chinese – oops.

9. Gems? Actually, Crap


Ratners Jewelers, a chain of high end expensive stores in the UK, was the victim of its own making, or shall we say, self-marketing. All business owners would agree that networking is good and can be a foundation of success. One night Gerald Ratner, the owner of the chain, while attending a business function, attempted a little networking of his own. At an Institute of Directors dinner in 1991, Mr Ratner joked that some of his goods were total crap and that some of his earrings were cheaper than a prawn sandwich. In a surprising result, the stores soon were no longer to be soon on London’s “high streets”. Like Edlse, he has been turned into a colloquialism, in that big boners like this are now sometimes referred to as “pulling a Ratner”.

8. Look of Buttermilk / Touch of Yogurt


n the 1900′s the trend toward natural products and natural ingredients gained momentum, which saw many manufacturers move to innovation in their product formulations. Cool – sounds good: fewer chemicals and fake stuff in the food we eat and in the products that we use daily. However, Clairol thought it would be interesting to introduce two lines of shampoo with natural ingredients 0 buttermilk and yogurt. Neither fared well in market. Turns out that natural food and natural ingredients in hair care products were each great, but not together. Apparently people just did not want to wash their hair with food.

7. The Edsel

1960 Edsel

The Edsel was such a noted marketing disaster that it has become branded, but in entirely wrong way, as in to pull an “Edsel”. It has become synonymous with commercial failure to the point where similar product failures, such as the Betamax, have often been referred to as “Edsels”. In the movie Peggy Sue Got Married, the main character has gone back in time to the 1950′s when she was a child, and laughs when her father comes back form home with a new car: “Dad, you bought an Edsel!”

Four models of Edsel were produced by two of the company’s main divisions: Citation and Corsair from Mercury and the smaller Pacer and Ranger from Ford. Total sales over the three year lifespan of the brand were approximately 84,000, less than half the company’s projected break-even point. Only 118,287 Edsels were built by the time the company pulled the plug on the car’s production in 1959. By industry standards, these production figures were dismal, particularly when spread across a run of three model years. The funny thing about the picture above, an actual ad, is that the 1960 model was never produced. The company ended up losing $350 million (equivalent to $1.6 billion in current 2009 dollars) on this venture. Why so bad? Lots of research and analysis has been done on this topic, but it really comes down to the company simply over-promised and under-delivered, a good formula for falling short of success.

6. Coors – Turns it Loose

nice cold pint of beer

This is another of many translation based marketing goof ups. It is easy to miss the mark when taking a slogan that works will in your native tongue – usually English – and try to say the same thing in the language of the country that you are expanding to. With American prodcuts, this happens all too often when they enter the neighbouring Latin American countries. Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose,” into Spanish where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea”, not the ideal slogan when pitching beer. One other well known incident occurred when Clairol introduced its hair care product Mist Stick into Germany, only to discover after the new curling iron was launched that “mist” is slang for manure, or Colgate introducing a toothpaste in France called Cue, where Cue was in fact the name of a notorious porno magazine in that country. And one of the favorites: Perdue’s chicken slogan, it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken was translated into Spanish as it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.

5. Electrolux Vacuums


Sometimes rhymes can really work; other times, they make you look like a jerk. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux. ‘Nuff said – kinda sux at motivating sales too.

4. Nestle Baby Formula

baby formula

When Nestle looked to expand its international markets in the late 1970′s by selling baby food in developing nations, the company was quickly brought to the spotlight for marketing tactics that were considered to be less than ethical. In a wave of sentiment and public protest, many of the company’s products were boycotted across Europe and the US for several years. In fact, the WTO stated that “infant formula, baby cereals, and other products that fall in the category of “breast milk substitutes” have one thing in common: even when the products as such meet all quality criteria that have ever been agreed upon, they may have a negative health effect when used instead of breastfeeding”, particularly in poor countries, the water mixed with baby milk powder is often unsafe and it is almost impossible to keep bottles and teats sterile, while mothers will also stop lactating sooner if babies do not breast feed. The pictures of healthy, pink western babies on the labels gave the impression that this was what the babies fed with the formula and cereals would grow into, which is what led to the international criticism of the marketing practices of the companies that supplied formula to these markets. As a result, this activity is now strictly monitored by the World Health Association.

3. Getting an Internet Woody


The Japanese company Matsushita was promoting a new Japanese PC for internet users. Panasonic created the new web browser and had received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide.The day before the huge marketing campaign, Panasonic realized its error and pulled the plug. Why? The ads for the new product featured the following slogan: “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.” The company only realized its cross cultural blunder when an embarrassed American explain what “touch Woody’s pecker” could be interpreted as…and probably was by most people.

2. Nazi Wine


Italian-based Lunardelli winery released a new line under the Der Fuerher brand. Labels feature Hitler raising the Nazi salute, Benito Mussolini (not really an Italian hero figure) as well as an assortment of Nazi-garbed generals. The bottles were seized by Italian authorities as beiong in extremely bad taste.

1. Apple iPhone


And the best gaff, my favorite marketing mishap – the iPhone. An example of how you can really upset people, even have them bad mouth your company – for a little while anyway – and then come back in droves to buy more of the same product that they complained about in the first place. If other products failed because of wrong message, bad contact with the market, or falling into the deadly pit of overprimise/underdeliver, Apple managed to generate ill will and continue with the most successful product release of the year in 2009. With the release of the new iPhone 3G, Apple cut the price of the first iPhone by $200, thereby pissing off early buyers and giving the press a reason to take a break from gushing over the gadget. This would have ranked higher but it had no impact on sales whatsoever. Great products will survive.


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List o’ 10 More Marketing Boo-Boo’s: Part II |
March 28, 2010 at 23:12

1 Response to "List o’ 11 Classic Marketing Goofs":

  1. EJB February 6, 2010 at 00:03

    greatr lists!! I want to get these on my iPhone!