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Marketing Flops: 5 Mistakes from the Hall of Marketing Shame

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Think Marketing for Big Biz is Easy?

Marketing is a lot more than work it seems. Marketing flops can (and do) happen to any sized business. Releasing a product and then convincing an already distracted public to listen to what you have to say and then buy your product is difficult.

It can be so difficult that even companies with million-billion dollar budgets access to exclusive marketing agencies, and teams around the world can’t always get it right.

So, if you’re a small or medium-sized business who thinks that big businesses always get it right, let me introduce to five stops on the “Marketing Hall of Shame”.

Marketing Flop #1: Ignoring the key consumer feature in a “good-enough” product (Betamax and VHS)

If you missed the 80’s, you missed one of the most epic battles in video recording technology ever, known as the “video format wars”. The video format wars was a marketing war between Sony’s Betamax format and JVC’s  Video Home  System) VHS format. Sony’s Betamax format was released first in 1975. Betamax offered better image quality, sound quality, bookmarking and plenty of additional features for home recording.

There were just two minor problems with Betamax.

First, Betamax decided not to focus on a key feature that consumers wanted, video recording time, until too late. When Betamax originally came out, it had a lot of fancy features but it only had one hour of recording time. VHS offered two hours, something that allowed consumers to record entire movies.

Second, Betamax held back on another key feature that consumers wanted, price. Sony limited Betamax to a few manufacturers and didn’t work with retailers. This was the opposite strategy of the VHS format which worked with any retailer and manufacturer. This made the price cheaper and more available in more places.

VHS won out.

Key Marketing Lesson: Understand the core features of your product or service from your customer’s POV customers. What are the core features your customers care about? 


Marketing Flop #2: Jumping on a trend without understanding the context (aka Pepsi AM)

Image Credit: Dinosaur Dracula

Pepsi is one of the most popular global products in human history. With that kind of record, it’s understandable that PepsiCo would want to experiment to exploit even more opportunities.

With that mission, PepsiCo decided to go after the morning crowd. Marketing research showed that more people were drinking caffeinated beverages. That same research also showed that coffee drinkers were on the decline.

Naturally, this meant people were willing to replace their cup of morning Joe with a clear version of Pepsi with less carbon and a bit more caffeine (aka Pepsi A.M.).


Key Marketing Lesson: Don’t rely only on marketing research. Marketing research only shows a slice of your customer’s reality. Take the time to understand more.


Marketing Flop #3: Targeting a Brand New Product to the Same Customer Audience who Didn’t Ask For it (aka Coors Water)

If it comes from the Rockies and has a Coors label on it…it’s bottled sparkling water?

In the 90’s Coors, like PepsiCo, decided to dive into a new market. For Coors, it was the bottled water market.

The problem?

Consumers didn’t get it.

Marketing Lesson: Never underestimate the power of associations.  Once your business becomes associated with a particular product or service, adding a new association can be tricky.

Coors’ strategy after going after a new market (bottled water ) wasn’t a bad idea. It was attaching their label (and hence their brand) with it. This was a larger, and ultimately failed, risk for the company.


Marketing Flop #4: Don’t create a product that will ruin your customer’s bathroom routine (aka WOW chips)

Image credit: Wikipedia

Frito-Lay thought they had a hit and for while they did. WOW chips were a product that had less than 100 calories and almost no fat. Plus, it was really tasty.

It seemed like miracle wrapped with a multi-million dollar profit attached.

That is, until the FDA got involved.

After hearing reports of stomach cramps, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues, the FDA required Frito-Lay to put a warning label on their chips. This warning was aimed at the fat-blocking olestra, the key ingredient in WOW chips that caused these health issues.

Sales plummeted quickly.

Frito-Lay pulled the product off the shelves.

Marketing Lesson: You are responsible for the intended and unintended consequences of your product or service. As a business, if you release a product or service to the world, you must be prepared for what will happen next.

Although businesses can’t predict the future, this doesn’t leave them off the hook. Businesses should remain vigilant for the good and bad news and be prepared to act.


Marketing #5: Creating an Exciting New Gadget that is too Exclusive for Your Audience (aka Google Glass)

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the surface, Google Glass sounds like another amazing Google invention. Google Glass offered glasses that allowed you to check your email, check the weather, take pictures, record video, and more.

Google chose not to do a traditional advertising and PR campaign. Instead, they relied on intrigue and expensive price ($1500) targeted to tech geeks. This marketing move and the technology itself fueled a lot of interest in the problem.

Then things just fizzled out.

The public who expressed interest in the product didn’t know how to get their hands on Google Glass. There was also no release date when it was officially launched. There were also several concerns. There were concerns about radiation, privacy concerns, questions about the function of Google Glass, and the social appropriateness of always having tech-driven glasses on during conversations with others.

Marketing Lesson: With the push for more innovative, it can feel really empowering to create a product your customers have never seen before. (Think about the iPhone, iPad, and MP3 Players.) Making this never-before-seen product a financial success requires more than technical skill, it requires a market.

Google made the mistake of creating interest about a product without engaging the public. That is a risky move because it required Google to trust that customers would “get it”. They didn’t.

Learning from the Marketing Hall of Shame

The above examples demonstrate that even big businesses don’t have this marketing thing all figured out. It isn’t the size of your marketing budget of your business that determines your success. It’s your ability to anticipate and meet the need of your customers that is the determining factor. Remember that lesson and your business will be able to adapt, no matter what the business throws at you.

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