Since the world didn’t end on December 21, it is appropriate to bow down to our gods and beg forgiveness for some of the most egregious marketing sins of 2012. We’ve been given a second chance so now we need to follow some rules:
Let’s face it—Apple has gone from the scruffy, underdog company of yesteryear to “You Can’t Touch This”—but 2012 was a very mixed year for the company. While its stock grew, the iPad got gobs of praise, and overall Apple continued its run as Brand of the Century, the teflon surface got scratched up because of the ongoing patent battle with Samsung and eventual loss (along with the scroll-down-the-page-to see-the-apology, which was as mature as a petulant child), the Apple 5 maps disaster, and the much-maligned Genius Bar advertising campaign that was pulled almost as soon as it began. The first full year without Steve Jobs was filled with highs and lows, and hopefully Apple has learned that, like Jobs, perfection doesn’t exist in humans.
Some of the Twitter bungles of 2012 were so bad they seemed planned. There were two kinds: Musings of disgruntled employees or all-around social media dolts, and those found under the definition of “sleazy marketing”. Witness: Stubhub’s employee “can’t wait to get the f–k outta there” tweet on a Friday afternoon, to the KitchenAid employee who decided to tweet an Obama joke on the company’s Twitter account. Then there were the tweets that capitalized on the misfortunes of others, like the Colorado clothing store that used the trending Batman theater shootings as a selling opportunity; or when Hurricane Sandy hit and national brands from Urban Outfitters to The Gap and Sears offered free shipping, or suggested staying inside and online shopping. It’s hard to believe that brands can be that insensitive, but the desire to keep social media percolating clouds good business judgment. The other plentiful Twitter bloopers involved companies trying to “own” a hashtag only to find that customers hijack it with their own less-than-flattering tweets, in the case of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and other big brands.
2012 was the year that social media stocks popped the much talked-about bubble: Facebook. Groupon. Zynga. All of these companies had mega media hype along with plenty of “subscribers”, or people who use their services, but very few “customers”. One important thing was missing: Revenue. And all of them tanked after their IPO filing. There are a number of reasons this happened, but being the victim of overvalued stock is a big contributor. Just because 1 billion people “use” Facebook does not mean that its strategy to make money over the long haul is validated. You don’t have to be a Wall Street insider to know simple math: If the company is not generating revenue or on a viable path to do so, it’s probably not a good investment. You must show ROI that is tangible. Social media companies should not only have money in their pockets before they do an IPO; they need to have a demonstrated and scalable revenue stream.
In an interesting contrast of brands “outing” their political or ethical persuasions, the Susan G. Komen For the Cure was brutally hurt when it pulled funding for Planned Parenthood, and Chik-fil-A benefited from espousing its anti-gay views. With Komen, pulling support for Planned Parenthood was seen by its main constituency—women—as a slap in the face. After multiple explanations of its decision-making, Komen finally reversed altogether, but it was too late: The annual Breast Cancer Walk registration dropped more than 30%, the foundation lost financial support, and it is still working to restore its brand reputation. In Chik-fil-A’s case, the company’s outspoken president, Dan Cathy, shared his views about gay marriage and support of anti-gay groups. Backlash came quickly in the form of boycotting, social media outrage, and otherwise “bad” PR; but in a surprising turn, supporters came to Chik-fil-A’s side in a day of solidarity, marking the company’s highest sales on record. In the fall, however, the company decided to pull all funding for these groups and that too has caused a mini-backlash among supporters. While brands have a right to their views and can finance the causes they want, they do so at their own risk and must consider ramifications from their customers—they will tell you how they feel not only their words, but hard dollars.
Well, that’s penance to the gods for now. As any good marketer, I have a bonus gift: Only five commandments instead of 10, except for this one: Thou Shalt Have a Successful Marketing Year!