All publicity is good publicity, right? Oscar Wilde said that ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’ and on some level he’s right.
But there are times when some of the world’s biggest businesses (who should know better) get it so spectacularly wrong that we have no choice but to bask in the schadenfreude, call them out on social media and imagine how savagely ferocious the rinsing was the MD dished out to the marketing director.
How Bad Are We Talking?
Bad. Some of us are old enough to remember when Gerald Ratner, eponymous owner of the Ratner’s jewellery chain wiped £500m off his company value overnight. When asked in 1992 how he could sell his stock at such low prices, he said ‘because it’s total crap.’ He poured petrol on this particular fire when he went on to say that his earrings were ‘cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.’
Yup, pretty bad.
And the catalogue of catastrophic corporate ineptitude doesn’t end there.
Dame Helen Mirren, the face of L’Oreal’s ‘Age Perfect’ range of moisturiser said ‘I know that when I put my moisturiser on it probably does f–k all, but it just makes me feel better.’
In 2001, Topman’s Brand Director David Shepherd was asked to clarify his firm’s target market. He replied ‘Hooligans or whatever. Very few of our customers have to wear suits for work. They’ll be for his first interview or first court case.’
The list goes on and on. Alain Levy, former CEO of music company EMI offended the nation of Finland by suggesting that there weren’t many people there who could sing. John Pluthero, the former UK chairman of Cable & Wireless sent a memo to his staff in 2006 saying ‘Congratulations, we work for an underperforming business in a crappy industry and it’s going to be hell for the next 12 months’, and CEO of Ryanair Michael O’Leary, a man for whom most of us wouldn’t pour water on if he was on fire said his customers were ‘idiots’ and those who didn’t turn up at the airport with a printed boarding pass were ‘stupid’ and anyone who didn’t like the rule could ‘bugger off.’
So why do they do it? Most of the corporate talking heads who have to smooth the waves of discontent will tell us that it was an ill-conceived campaign or they’re very sorry for any offence caused or they release a statement saying that humour is highly subjective and while it was intended to be funny, they can, with hindsight, see that some people may not have found it funny.
Blah, blah, blah. Corporate guff. You screwed up. Get over it.
But there is a rather Machiavellian school of thought that says these guys are far cleverer than their sorry excuse for a marketing campaign would have us believe. Do they do this stuff on purpose? Is it better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission?
A Massive Mastercard Marketing Mess…
Looking for a way to piggy-back on the glitz and glamour of the World Cup and stir up football fever in a positive way, Mastercard, a company with a market cap of something like £200bn, rolled out ‘Goals That Change Lives’ with the World Food Programme. It is a campaign pledging 10,000 meals to starving children across Latin America.
On the surface it’s an amazing thing to do but if you read the small print, the caveat is that for the meals to be valid, either Neymar Jr or Lionel Messi had to score a goal in a major tournament within two years.
You’re kidding Mastercard, right? If one or both get injured or they have an off week, Latin American children will starve. People don’t forget.
As you can imagine, it didn’t go down well with consumers (many of whom switched credit card companies in disgust) and the great and the good of the football community weighed in…
Ian Wright labelled the campaign ‘Easily the worst marketing I’ve ever seen.’ He went on to say what we were all thinking; ‘This seriously got through all levels of management, and you all said go ahead…?’
TV presenter Jake Humphrey and journalist Henry Winter both had the same point, as did thousands on Twitter – just give them the bloody food.
That was one that backfired massively.
But When It Goes Right, It Goes REALLY Right
It doesn’t happen very often but sometimes an unbelievable opportunity falls into a brand’s lap without them spending a penny and on social media, it’s sometimes not what you broadcast but how you respond.
You may not have heard of American teenager Carter Wilkerson but in April 2017, the Nevada native tweeted this to burger chain Wendy’s:
@carterjwm: Yo @Wendys how many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?
They came back with this:
@Wendys: 18 Million.
They could quite easily have ignored it but the then record for retweets was just over 3m for Ellen Degeneres’ ‘Oscars selfie’ and Wilkerson set about his challenge.
So said Marketing Week, ‘News of the attempt spread like wildfire. Wendy’s took a relatively hands-off approach, but even so, within 24 hours Wilkerson had more than 1m retweets and the record-breaking attempt was being mentioned by accounts from companies including Amazon, Google and United Airlines, as well as celebrities including Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul. Twitter did its part by verifying Wilkerson’s account and creating a custom emoji triggered by the #NuggsForCarter hashtag, which was used more than 234,000 times.’
18 million retweets was a reach but he did get over 3.6m (beating Ellen) and according to Wendy’s social media agency, there were ‘more than 5 million online mentions of Carter’s quest for nuggets, boosting conversations mentioning the brand by 376% year on year.’ The dictionary definition of a win-win for Wendy’s.
The best bit? Carter got his nuggets.
To finish, here’s possibly the greatest piece of social media marketing ever. On Twitter, @KFC follow eleven people, six guys called Herb and all five Spice Girls. We’ll just leave that there and let it sink in…
Catch you soon.
The Liquid Team