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Jessica Clausen
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Marketing Horror Stories – How to Avoid Mistakes in Your Campaigns

The spooky season greets scary sights and frightening faces, but there are some horrors that we just don’t want to watch. We take a look at some of the biggest marketing mistakes – or horror stories – in recent years and see how you can learn from them.

Fyre Festival

The ultimate elite festival promised an immersive experience: a massive line-up, VIP treatment, and all on a private, secluded island. Fyre festival used celebs and socialites to market a huge dream, but when the day of the festival came, they couldn’t deliver on even the basics of safe accommodation.

The problem: If you followed up with the publicity around Fyre Festival you’ll know that the main problem they had was overpromising an experience they realistically couldn’t deliver. The time spent to create this vision limited the time needed to actually create what they had sold to their customers, and it resulted in a disastrous rush to get the bare minimum done, leaving them in pretty hot water.

How to avoid it: For any business, overpromising is never a good idea. But the issue with Fyre festival wasn’t just the overpromise. It was budget, timing and planning. They envisioned an idea before securing a location, before securing catering, accommodation or anything that was needed to follow through. They also ignored the warning signs. The fix? Plan your service before you start marketing and know when to step back.


Pepsi’s Big Commercial

Kendall Jenner features in the infamous Pepsi commercial. She walks through a protest on the street, grabs a can of Pepsi and hands it to a police officer. The scene is supposed to be sharing a drink to encourage community and peace, but instead it implied the soft drink was an easy solution to a much bigger problem.

The problem: Take a serious issue surrounding race politics and police brutality and use your product as the solution? The entire ad devalues the seriousness of the issue and made a lot of people pretty mad.

How to avoid it: There are some things you just shouldn’t touch. When it comes to polarizing issues, it’s best not to put your two cents into it. It’s also best to read through and consider pitches for their sensitivity.


Microsoft’s AI Starts the Wrong Kind of Conversation

In 2016 Microsoft released Tay, a Twitter bot that was intended to learn through engaging and communicating with other Twitter users. But conversation quickly turned from innocent conversation to a number of misogynistic and racist remarks. Users spammed Tay with hateful remarks, and she picked them up.


The problem: AI is still a relatively new development, and with that comes gaps in its learnings. Unfortunately, the algorithm used to get the Twitter bot to learn and respond resulted in users being able to manipulate what the bot said. The main problem, people like causing chaos with little consequence, and they took to the new online opportunity.

How to avoid it: AI is an incredibly smart and powerful new tool for businesses, but it still misses certain aspects of humanism. It follows patterns, and unfortunately some patterns in human behavior and communication aren’t so politically correct. When you’re considering innovation make sure you’re assessing all risks associated with that innovation. New ideas are great, but if you forget to consider what could go wrong you might just find yourself in a sticky situation.


U2/Apple Forced Download

In 2014 U2 released their 13th studio album. But they didn’t just release it. They partnered with Apple to ensure every iTunes user had the album immediately downloaded into their library. Unfortunately, the ‘free’ album didn’t go down as well as expected.

The problem: The intentions were good, free music. But the issue was enforcing the free music. No one wants to be told what they want, and as a result of thousands of iTunes users having a new album forced into their library, Bono had to release a public apology.

How to avoid it: Firstly, don’t assume that everyone wants your product, because they won’t. Secondly, targeted marketing. Establishing a clear understanding of the wants and needs of your customers will help you market to them appropriately. There’s no need to force feed everyone free samples when you’ve got people lining up keen to try it out.


Szechuan Sauce Gets a Revival

When Rick and Morty released its first episode of its third season, McDonalds took to taking advantage of Rick’s mention of an old promotional product. The product was the Szechuan Chicken McNugget Sauce, and was only available in 1998 to promote the film Mulan. The franchise released a return of the Szechuan sauce, but unfortunately didn’t make enough batches to cater to the demand.

The problem: McDonalds significantly underestimated the popularity of the product and so ran out of stock pretty quickly. This resulted in a huge uproar. They also underestimated the dark side of fandoms, with outraged fans bombarding McDonalds stores and sauce packets being sold online at a ridiculous price.

How to avoid it: You would’ve heard not to assume success, but it’s also important not to disregard the impact of the success. Be aware of the market you’re targeting and cater to it. And remember, fandoms can be intense, be prepared for some pretty interesting characters.

What can we learn from horror stories?

We may love hearing the horror stories of other people, but no one wants to fall prey to the monsters ourselves. A successful digital marketing strategy will help you build brand awareness and increase conversions. So, how do you achieve it?

It’s all about planning. When you take shortcuts, skip the important prep work or jump on an idea too quickly – you can find yourself in a boiling cauldron instead of a sweet pumpkin patch. Rather than being afraid of trying new things, it’s important to learn from the horror stories and ask for help when getting your plans to fruition.

Not all marketing has to be frightening

Does marketing still sound a little spooky to you? It doesn’t have to be. WME have the insights and knowledge to ensure no jump scares in your marketing tactics. We work with small businesses to create tailored, customer-centric digital solutions. Get in touch with us, vampires, ghosts or otherwise.

By Jessica Clausen

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