Magazine article Marketing

2014 Review of the Year: Marketing Mishaps - Top 10

Magazine article Marketing

2014 Review of the Year: Marketing Mishaps - Top 10

Article excerpt

The past 12 months have delivered some marketing mistakes of epic proportions. Nicola Kemp rakes through the ashes to reveal the biggest mishaps of the year.

Apple out of tune over U2 album

In a monumental display of corporate arrogance, Apple 'gifted' all its iTunes customers with the U2 album Songs of Innocence to celebrate the launch of the iPhone 6 in September. The U2 page set up on Apple's website triumphantly declared: 'Never before have so many people owned one album, let alone on the day of its release.'

What it omitted to mention, and Apple had seemingly deemed to be a minor detail, was that none of these 500m customers had actually chosen to download the album. After a major customer outcry, Apple had to rush out a special tool that could be used to delete the album and remove it from the user's purchase history. It was a fundamentally flawed marketing strategy and one that will take its place as a long-term lesson on the importance of permission and empowering consumers to opt in or out at their convenience.

Steve Jobs famously declared: 'It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.'

However, there is a big difference between identifying something that consumers would not otherwise have realised they wanted and foisting a product, for which they have no desire, on them.

While we will probably never find out exactly how many iTunes users deleted the album, Apple will be ruing its faux pas for some time.

Facebook faces consumer meltdown over 'emotional engineering'

It was a cruel summer for Facebook. The world's biggest social network found itself on the receiving end of a widespread backlash after conducting research that involved secretly altering the news feeds of more than 700,000 users.

Facebook undertook the study in partnership with Cornell University and the University of California in 2012, but made the results public only this July.

As part of the project, the social network manipulated its algorithms so that it controlled the proportion of negative or positive posts that appeared on consumers' news feeds. It concluded that Facebook could influence whether users felt more positive or negative by doing this.

The backlash was swift and intense. Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was duly wheeled out to apologise for the research, telling users: 'We never meant to upset you.'

However, this is unlikely to be the last time the social network falls foul of its users and advertisers. TS Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men 'between the idea and the reality falls the shadow'; Facebook falls firmly in this shadow.

Coke divorces itself from gay-marriage scene for Irish ad

Coca-Cola kicked off the year on a low, finding itself under fire over its decision to cut a gay-marriage scene from the Irish version of its 'Reasons to believe' campaign. The ad, which was intended to show there is 'more good than bad in the world', ended up suggesting to consumers the opposite. The brand was quick to point out that the Irish version included an exclusive St Patrick's Day scene and that the reason the spot was changed was because 'while civil partnership for gay people is legal (there), gay marriage is currently not', but the damage was already done.

The call for transparency is loud, so brands must constantly question their ethics and creative vision. Coca-Cola may be the world's biggest brand, but it does not operate in a vacuum. Indeed, it could be argued that the fact gay marriage is not yet legal in Ireland should have made supporting its recognition even more important.

Brands would be well advised not to pick up and drop social causes on a whim, however. As Clayton M Christensen, a leading thinker on innovation, declared in How Will You Measure Your Life?: 'It's easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time . …

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