The Art of Learning From Screw-Ups
Mistakes, much like a table saw missing its guard, are powerful teaching tools. And while some people quietly enjoy a taste of schadenfreude when all hell breaks loose for a major company or an A-lister in the spotlight, there usually is a teachable moment or two amid the chaos, as well.
If you subscribe to our daily e-newsletter, “Today @ Target Marketing,” then hopefully you’re familiar with my weekly Friday video series “What Were They Thinking?” Dubbed as a look at “the good, the bad and the truly weird” of marketing, the series’ goal is to educate and entertain each week ... while often indulging in a little snark and schadenfreude, because that’s a fun way to wrap up the week, right?
Lets look at the top screw-ups covered from the “What Were They Thinking” desk, and delve into the lessons all marketers can benefit from.
Think Twice About That Subject Line
‘Adidas Will “Survive” Email Snafu’
Lackluster subject lines get emails dumped into the trash ... but subject lines that accidentally walk a thin line of bad taste, well, they get yelled about on Twitter.
Adidas, sponsor of the 2017 Boston Marathon, sent an email to the runners with the subject line “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon.” While the term “survive” is readily used in running circles in regard to finishing a race, people were understandably upset. Why?
Adidas did respond on Twitter, where the majority of the outcry took place, apologizing for the insensitivity. Hopefully, time will be spent in the future reviewing those subject lines to be sure they’re eye-catching, not flak-catching.
If It’s Not Authentic, Fuggedaboutit
‘Learn From Pepsi’s Embarrassment’ and, honestly, almost every episode
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve, and the mistake I see time and time again: Brands trying to jump onto a bandwagon to prove to consumers they’re hip and relevant; so, like, of course people should buy their products.It doesn’t work that way ... it’s just gross.
In April, Pepsi created an ad with Kendall Jenner that essentially co-opted and commoditized the Black Lives Matter social justice movement, and made it seem like a cold can of Pepsi can be the answer to the problem.
Like I said in the video, “If brands want to take a stand — or, in the case of Pepsi, promote unity in trying times — they need to keep their products OUT OF IT. Otherwise, the ad is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
That said, brands such as Audi, with its “Daughter” Superbowl ad spot, as well as Airbnb’s #WeAccept campaign both have a handle on being authentic while offering up the brands’ social values. See? I don’t pan every marketing campaign. (Just the dumb ones.)
Set It and Forget It Is Dangerous
‘Expedia Fails With Automated Email’ and ‘Amazon Baby Registry Email Screw-Up’
Sure, we’re all busy, and the ability to automate routine tasks is a massive time-saver. But just because you can automate something doesn’t mean you should skip the supervision portion of the task.
In September, I had back-to-back videos featuring email automation snafus. The first featured Expedia’s unfortunate email about trip add-ons in Miami, sent to a recipient whose flight and hotel stay had already been cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. I explained that as soon as Expedia knew about any of the hurricanes that hit this season, it should have halted automated messages to affected areas. But it didn’t.
The second was a baby registry email sent by Amazon. Normally not a big deal, except in this case the email was sent to numerous people who never had a registry, with reactions ranging from confusion to anger from those who’ve had fertility issues or lost pregnancies in the past.
In regard to the Amazon snafu, Michelle Huff, CMO of Act-On shared this comment with me: “This kind of mishap can happen even to the best of us, and should remind us marketers that technology by itself is never an end-all, be-all. We still need to be vigilant, diligent and competent in how we manage the campaigns we oversee in conjunction with the technologies we use to activate them.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Bonus Lesson: Learn how to sincerely apologize. In this instance, Amazon did more than Expedia, because it actually acknowledged the issue, but the response was cold and lackluster: “We are notifying affected customers. A technical glitch caused us to inadvertently send a gift alert email earlier today. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.” Um, wow. That makes me feel better already ... not.
Bottom line: Good marketing isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s not rushed out the door; even if it’s just an email. Excellent marketers don’t co-opt values or events to slyly promote a product.
Great marketing takes work, and that often means you’ll take your fair share of stumbles — yeah, it’s not fun, but neither is sitting in the proverbial corner with a dunce cap on. If you learn from your screw-ups and manage to recover with grace and tact, you’ll find yourselves on the “best of” lists, instead of being quietly ignored or shunned.
Or, you know, featured in “What Were They Thinking?”