Marketing Muck-Ups: The Biggest Follies of 2011
O.co Pulls Back
“I think if it all works really nicely, you’ll just see Overstock.com fade away and O.co take its place.” That was CEO Patrick Byrne speaking in the first half of the year. “We were going too fast, and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job. … We’re still focused on getting to O.co, just at a slower pace. … We’re not flipping back, we’re just refocusing.” That was President Jonathon Johnson in November, explaining why the company was kinda-sorta going back to its original name. At least consumers were merely confused, rather than absolutely outraged.
Netflix Angers Everyone
In July, Netflix announced a price increase to subscribers with scant explanation. A September email from CEO Reed Hastings starting with the phrase “I messed up” had customers expecting a price rollback. Instead, they were told the company would be split into DVD-by-mail service Qwikster and the Netflix streaming service, with separate bills and queues. Credit to Hastings for trying to get out of the dying DVD model, but demerits for sloppy execution.
The Charlie Sheen Show
The antics of one-man train wreck Sheen are sure to fill numerous lists. His battle with the producers of America’s No. 1 comedy, “Two and a Half Men,” brought the show to a complete halt. But that was only, well, half of it. Sheen sent deranged tweets, gave interviews flanked by porn stars and raged on radio shows, and Americans kept tuning in. Thankfully (we think), Sheen survived, Comedy Central got a roast out of it and Ashton Kutcher snagged a new job.
Nivea’s Uncivilized Ad
The company’s campaign for a men’s line included photos of sharp-dressed guys chucking remnants of their former scraggly selves. The problem? Under the photo of a clean-shaven black man tossing what looked like a severed head with an Afro, ran the words “Re-civilize yourself.” After blog outrage, including a charge that Nivea was “unapologetically racist,” the company didn’t even attempt to defend the ad. It simply apologized and vowed never to run it again.
Target.com’s Buggy Relaunch
Site crashes, broken links, missing baby and wedding registries, and carts with a mind of their own were just a few of Target’s problems six weeks after the retailer unshackled itself from Amazon. The redesigned Target.com launched Aug. 23, ending the retailer’s decade-long relationship with Amazon. Target enlisted more than 20 vendors — including SapientNitro (as partner and lead integrator), Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Huge, Infosys, IBM and Endeca — to build its own e-commerce technology and website. With that many cooks in the kitchen, it wasn’t a surprise to hear reports of friction and miscommunication.
Booty-Shaping Shoes Busted
You can firm up your butt just by strapping on a pair of shoes and walking around? No sweating? No grunting? No exertion? Sound too good to be true? According to the FTC, it is. The agency announced in September that Reebok had agreed to a $25 million settlement to resolve charges that it deceptively advertised toning shoes and apparel. In a statement, Reebok said it was standing behind its shoes and agreed to the settlement only to avoid a protracted legal battle. While Skechers, another big “toning” shoe marketer, escaped that round, SEC filings indicate that it’s bracing for its own multimillion-dollar settlement.
BofA Tries to Make You Pay
With consumers still feeling they’re in a recession and middle Americans angry enough about bailouts and bank profits to give Occupy Wall Street a chance, this was definitely not the year for a bank to do something so tone deaf it bordered on stupidity. Like, say, propose a $5 monthly debit card fee on consumers. Which is exactly what Bank of America did. It abandoned the scheme after a customer outcry — and after other banks rejected the idea, as well.
The Ongoing J.Lo Fiat Fiasco
When football and Fiat fans saw Jennifer Lopez shaking her moneymaker for the Fiat 500, responses ranged from puzzled to furious. But they misunderstood, said Chrysler. The spot was not an ad for a car, but a marketing tie-in for J.Lo’s upcoming music video. It wasn’t long before Impatto, the agency behind that part of the effort, was dropped and a “real” ad was released. It also featured Jenny from the Block, now driving around the Bronx. Or so it seemed. J. Lo was too busy to film the Bronx scenes, so a double was used.
HuffPo Punishes Aggregator
In his ongoing chronicling of the aggregation sins committed by The Huffington Post, Ad Age writer Simon Dumenco offered an example of how a HuffPo staffer used and abused one of his columns. HuffPo responded: “We have zero tolerance for this sort of conduct” and then indefinitely suspended the staffer. But the punishment may have been worse than the crime. Bloggers at Gawker, The Awl and elsewhere pointed out that the writer was publicly skewered for doing as she was taught, as “overaggregating” has basically been HuffPo’s business model from the start.
Groupon’s Super Bowl Fumble
A few of us thought Groupon’s Super Bowl ad — which pivots from Timothy Hutton talking about the plight of Tibet to Timothy Hutton pitching a Groupon for a Tibetan restaurant — was hilarious. The other 99%? Not so much. And with the social-media multiplier effect, it wasn’t long before a full-scale scandal was brewing. Groupon initially stuck to its guns and defended its agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Then it apologized. Then CEO Andrew Mason just threw Crispin under the bus, saying he’d placed too much trust in the shop “to be edgy, informative and entertaining, and we turned off the part of our brain where we should have made our own decisions.” So who’s he going to blame for that IPO?