my turn


2011's REM-jarring Marketing Nightmares

If there’s one thing that can be said about last year’s bumper crop of marketing nightmares, it’s that celebrities and politicians can give any agency or marketing department a run for its money. The brand suicides committed by the likes of Charlie Sheen, Herman Cain and Anthony Weiner make Edelman’s famous social network “Walmarting across America” fiasco look like a typo on Rick Perry’s teleprompter: virtually unnoticeable. 2011’s collection of nightmares runs the gamut from mere brand destruction to REM-jarring socio-pathological behavior spanning not only the oceans, but literally reaching the stars!

By now, every pundit who dips their little toe into the dark side of marketing around the holidays has already commented on this year’s over-analyzed choices for marketing failure. To recap the obvious, the list includes: Netflix’ Romney-like price-switching scam, Groupon’s Super Bowl ad debacle (as engineered by the client-hemorrhaging geniuses at Crispin Porter) and Nivea’s “toss the uncivilized afro” ads, (courtesy of serial offenders Draftfcb). But these misguided campaigns merely cost money, caused embarrassment and alienated customers. The tolls exacted by the biggest nightmares of the year are measured in blood, international prestige and the dreams of a generation.



While Penn State’s riots may have looked like those of Berkeley or Madison, the similarity ended as soon as the students opened their mouths. The university’s true brand essence was revealed when its student body rose up en masse to protest the firing of deified football coach Joe Paterno, without batting a collective eye over the damage that had been done on his watch. Despite the staged public posturing of concern for the victims, Omnicom group’s crisis management team couldn’t put the cover back over Penn State’s picture of Dorian Gray. A student population echoing Penn State’s view of the world may not play well in the 21st century, but it would fit right into late-1930s Germany. Maybe it’s time to change the team colors from blue and white to black and red.  

The government of Japan, in collusion with Japanese industries like TEPCO, provided a rare sneak peek behind the kimono when it heaped insult upon disaster through a botched face-saving attempt to sugar coat culpability in the Fukushima meltdown. In a dodgy international PR shell game that traded reputation for safety, these powerful groups moved like ninjas to spread disinformation about everything from the management of their nuclear plants to the actual effect that radioactivity would have on the residents in the area. The fallout from this public mismanagement, however, will probably not last as long as the radioactive cesium-137 (half-life 30 years) that was dumped into the ocean. In the final analysis, Japan’s powers-that-be are destined for forgiveness and forgetfulness because the world just can’t stay mad at them. Without Japanese companies, there’d be no CES or Christmas, and J.D. Power & Associates isn’t about to start handing out five stars to the likes of Kia and Jaguar.

And finally, one of the biggest marketing disasters of literally the last 40 years was orchestrated by NASA – which allowed the bright flame of John F. Kennedy’s dream of space dominance to fizzle like a discarded Cuban cigar in a urinal. It was with limp fanfare that NASA announced the final Shuttle mission before the mothballing of our entire vaunted fleet, along with our country’s one truly aspirational government initiative: the conquest of space. The management of the marketing of space clearly bore the mark of engineers – what other group could turn the prospect of exploring an area that has captivated mankind since the Stone Age into an activity as exciting as driving a delivery truck? NASA’s fascination with the mundane aspects of Shuttle missions took the focus off the next step (Mars), and placed it on delivering the next load of toilet paper to the Space Station. Thankfully, we’ve still got Hollywood to fuel our passion for the cosmos, until the Chinese land one of their “peoples” on the moon and finally put an end to all those Capricorn One conspiracy theories.  

Look for next year’s wrap up on 12/12/12.  

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