Commentary

2018's Marketing Hits And Misses

Sometimes a brand’s marketing concept just works. It drives consumer behavior and boosts consumer approval. It makes people think or makes people laugh. And sometimes, it just flops. Hard. 

The year 2018 brought strong examples.

The ‘B’ Was a Bust

When IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, hinted that it was changing its name to IHOB, it sparked some confusion. What’s the “B?” Well, it was IHOP trying to build some buzz — which it did.

The company got a lot of people on social media saying “Oh, the mystery. Is it breakfast? Is it bacon? Could it be blintz? Bagel? 

The fast-casual chain gained millions of impressions and sparked lots of conversations, ahead of a temporary name change that would tout the brand’s burgers. (Yes, “B” was for burgers.)

And then when the people came in to try the burgers, guess what? The product didn’t live up to the hype.

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Chalk that one up as a flop.

On Your Mark, Adidas

There are times in which marketing is about being a good citizen. It means asking: What can I do with my brand and how can I do things that uplift the community?

This year, Adidas had a win with a memorable campaign during the Boston Marathon, creating personalized videos for each of its 30,000-plus runners. 

We know the history of the Boston Marathon and what happened there. Adidas was saying to these runners, here is your personalized video, your journey, your experience. It didn’t put the product front-and-center. It was there, on the runners’ bibs, but subtle, secondary to the journey of that runner. It was well executed.

The good citizen marketing approach is tricky. It can be “ham-handed” and can fail spectacularly, as in the case of Pepsi’s 2017 Kendall Jenner ad. You’ve got to be so careful. People know when they are being marketed to, and they will criticize the bad approach.

McDonald’s ‘W’ Was an ‘F’

McDonald’s flipped its golden arches upside down to create a “W” for International Women’s Day this year, but the “W” was hardly a win. The fast-food chain was immediately blasted for what was seen as a hollow gesture from a company that doesn’t pay its employees a living wage.

The ploy failed in its execution. People said it looked like they were just trying to sell hamburgers and fries, instead of really caring about women’s issues and women’s empowerment.

Dove Dusts Itself Off, Tries Again

Unilever launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty nearly 15 years ago, and for much of that time the brand has gotten its messaging right. And then, bless my soul, in 2017, they had a major mishap.

It happened when the brand placed a Facebook ad that showed a brown woman in a brown T-shirt lift up her shirt to reveal a white woman in a beige T-shirt.

People were like ‘Dude, do you have anyone of color in the room when you are making these marketing decisions?’ Because what are you implying? That African American skin is dirty and white skin is pristine and beautiful?’ It was not good.

To Dove’s credit, the brand apologized, and in 2018, created something good, partnering with Rebecca Sugar, creator of the Cartoon Network series Steven Universe, for a series of body confidence, self-esteem videos. The product isn’t front-and-center, but the message is. 

Marketers can make some missteps when they’re taking chances. But they can also make it better.

Payless, Priceless

You gotta hand it to Payless for what might be the marketing move of the year. The discount footwear chain pulled off a buzzworthy publicity stunt in spendy Santa Monica, Calif., opening a pop-up store called “Palessi.” 

The store, a former Armani boutique, was stocked with $19.99 pumps and $39.99 boots, tagged with much, much higher prices. Social media influencers were invited to an exclusive shoe party, with Champagne, music, and the chance to buy those pretty shoes and boots at an 1,800 percent markup.

The way the influencers were so confident on camera was just great: “Yes, these shoes are amazing. They’re worth the $640.”

For Payless, the tone was nonjudgmental and all in good fun. And that attitude is likely to serve the brand well.

A lot of people saw this, a lot of places wrote about it, and a lot of people shared these videos. And that’s going to have a lot of people thinking that there must be some good quality at Payless, that it must be good value for the money, because the people who should be “in the know” don’t really know. That is really a win.

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