CNN Money Business 2.0 has a very funny section dedicated to 2007's 101 Dumbest Moments in Business. It includes a subset on marketing that's pretty good and definitely worth taking a look.
Among the high-lights (or low-lights):
- A promotion for Spirit Airlines that revolved around a " help find Jimmy Hoffa's body" theme. You'd think that, at minimum, they could have been a little more current and had a "where's Whitey?" or "where's Bin Laden?" theme.
- A McDonald's giveaway of MP3 Players that contained a Trojan horse that, when uploaded, forwarded logins, etc., to hackers. No thanks, I'll just have the fries with that.
- Microsoft's release of two different products bearing the same name (Windows Live Search). At least it was a decent product name. I've been saddled with some lulus in my time: when the Feds were taking down David Koresh in Waco, I marketed a product called ATF that had a component named the "ATF Agent." And years ago I was the product manager for a statistical modeling package that did Automated Box Jenkins Modeling. It's name? AutoBJ.
- Disney's refusal to allow a family in England to carve the image of Winnie the Pooh on their child's headstone. (Disney eventually gave in.) It is hard to even imagine what was going on with the Disney brand police when they came down on this one. Here's one case in which everyone would have been better off it the stonemason had decided it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission. It's unimaginable that, once someone had carved the headstone, the Disney folks would have dared to do anything about it.
- A web-site spellchecker that put out a press release in which the word "we" was used when they meant "web." I am in complete sympathy with this company. No matter how many times you read (and spell-check) something, as often as not things like this find their way in. Proofreading hints: don't proof-read your own materials - in never works; read everything frontwards and backwards; never trust spellchecker, even when you use the grammar checker, it just doesn't do a good job on words that are in the dictionary, but out of context.
Wal-Mart made the hit list a couple of times, for - among other things - it's faux blog debacle with Edelman, and an online uh-oh in which it suggested that customers who purchased movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes would also be interested in bio-pics on Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson. (I'm no fan of Wal-Mart, but this sounds like it was a nasty, racist little employee thinking he was doing something funny. I hope they found and fired the creep.)
Talk about a list you don't ever want to make.
And, of course, there's a really potent lesson for marketing people here, and that's think things through. If you're doing anything that's even vaguely chancy, think through how the world might react to it. Something that seems kind of funny (find Jimmy Hoffa) sitting around the conference table, may be pretty darn offensive to the outside world (let along Jimmy Hoffa's family). Something that seems straightforward and by the book (of course we can't let a brand icon like Winnie the Pooh be used anywhere and everywhere) may seem ridiculous, abusive, and heartless to the customers you most want to appeal to, like the parents of young children.
In any case, the list is worth a look. Enjoy.