5 Colossal Public Marketing Failures That Were Actually Secret Successes – And How to Learn From Them

5 Colossal Public Marketing Failures That Were Actually Secret Successes – And How to Learn From Them

In May of 1975, the Sony Corporation unveiled its cutting-edge home recording technology, Betamax, in Japan. Six months later, the video recording system was released in the United States. It boasted professional-grade picture and sound quality, far exceeding anything that had come before it. Sony boldly positioned its proprietary hardware to become the dominant format for everyday use. By all quantifiable measures, the technology would indeed live up to the lofty goal.

However, approximately one year later, the Victor Company of Japan released its rival open-source platform, and by 1977, the competitor had also made it available in the U.S. Known as VHS, the upstart did not offer the same quality of picture or sound but did hold two distinct advantages: a longer recording time and a cheaper price point. Consumers decidedly chose the latter home recording technology over the former and within just a few years, VHS had successfully captured a super majority market share, forcing Sony to abandon Betamax and begin producing VHS-compatible products.

Setbacks Don’t Define the Future

The Sony Corporation obviously overcame its miscalculation and enjoys a market capitalization of nearly $105.6 billion with all its divisions. And this is just one example of a company making a public misstep that didn’t lead to the brand’s end. In fact, the episode actually helped Sony to take a new direction and benefit from its strategic pivot. Today, Sony is synonymous with home entertainment and is arguably the premier producer of the highest-quality products in the sector.

Of course, this isn’t the only example of such a paradoxical situation. Several other well-known brands have also experienced failed marketing campaigns that have gone on to benefit their companies, though not always necessarily monetarily or traditionally. Regardless, these corporations gained more notoriety or advantage, even though they did not succeed in their marketing messages.

5 Failed Marketing Campaigns That Became Beneficial

It’s interesting to note that other marketing failures have inadvertently helped companies by generating publicity, even if the original campaigns were poorly received. Here are a few notable examples:
  1. Ford Edsel (1957). Ford’s Edsel was a new car model sporting cutting-edge technology that failed to meet sales expectations due to its design and pricing. However, the failure of the Edsel has made it a case study in business schools and is still discussed today, keeping the Ford brand in the public consciousness.
  2. New Coke by Coca-Cola (1985). This product was a reformulation of the classic Coca-Cola recipe. Consumers were not happy and demanded the return of the original formula. This backlash, ironically, led to a surge in sales for Coca-Cola Classic when it was reintroduced. The controversy and subsequent return to the original recipe garnered significant publicity and consumer engagement for the brand.
  3. Fiat’s Love Letters (2001). Fiat sent 50,000 letters to women in Spain with a message that read “We met again by chance and I thought of you.” This was a marketing stunt for the Fiat Punto. It was widely criticized for being creepy and intrusive. However, it did generate a lot of publicity and discussion about the brand.
  4. Dr. Pepper’s Guns ‘n’ Roses Debacle (2008). Dr. Pepper promised a free soda to everyone in America if Guns ‘n’ Roses released their album “Chinese Democracy” in 2008. The album was finally released after a 17-year wait, and Dr. Pepper had to make good on their promise. This generated a lot of publicity and consumer engagement for the brand.
  5. The Burger King Google Home marketing campaign (2017). This campaign was designed to trigger Google Home devices to describe the Whopper burger, but it did not consider the public’s reaction – which was perceived as intrusive by many. Despite the controversy, it also managed to generate a substantial amount of publicity and engagement, which ultimately contributed to its success.
These examples show that while these campaigns were considered failures in terms of their initial reception, they often led to increased publicity and consumer engagement, which can ultimately benefit a brand in the long run.

3 Savvy Strategies for Dealing with Marketing Campaigns Gone Awry

Indeed, companies can turn a marketing failure into a success by learning from their mistakes, adapting their strategies, and leveraging the situation to their advantage. This all begins with analyzing what went wrong. The first step is to understand why the marketing campaign failed. This could involve examining the target audience’s response, the effectiveness of the message, the choice of media, and other factors that may have contributed to the failure.

Also, organizations need to learn from their mistakes earnestly. Once the reasons for failure are identified, companies should learn from these mistakes. This could involve changing the marketing strategy, refining the message, or even pivoting to a different target audience. Businesses can also try the following strategies to turn things around:

  • Rebrand or reposition. If the failure was due to a misunderstanding or negative perception, companies can rebrand or reposition their product or service. This could involve changing the product’s name, logo, or tagline, or emphasizing different features or benefits.
  • Engage with the audience. Companies can use the failure as an opportunity to engage with their audience. This could involve apologizing for any misunderstandings, explaining the changes that have been made, or even involving the audience in the rebranding process.
  • Leverage the failure. In some cases, companies can leverage their failure to gain attention and publicity. This could involve humor, self-deprecation, or even turning the failure into a marketing campaign in itself.
The point is even when marketing campaigns go awry, it’s usually temporary and not necessarily a foreboding sign of the end. With honest evaluation and sincerity, companies can turn their misfortunes around and even benefit from their shortcomings. It all depends on how they respond and the path they chose to move forward.

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