3 Marketing Disasters (Sort Of)

I started thinking about this blog entry in response to something I saw while standing on the Clark and Lake El platform. Adventures in Stupidity

The last train car was wrapped up in advertising for the new Samsung Blackjack II. And the URL? www.blackjackll.com. That's right, they used Roman numerals in the URL! Does anyone there know the internets? Are those written as ones, or "i"s, or "l"s? Or just a two? Guess what? None of these addresses work. Samsung spent all this time making a phone and didn't think about how to communicate it. Fire your marketing people.

The Old Way: Marketing Lies

When I got to work, a friend emailed me Dan Froomkin's new article. The Center for Public Integrity (a non-partisan and highly regarded beltway watchdog) assembled 935 instances in which members of the Bush administration lied or mislead the public regarding Iraq. Despite what side of the aisle you reside on, you have to admit we might have gotten sold a pack of false goods there.

Froomkin's article is different from a marketing perspective though. The folks at Samsung just made a stupid mistake; they didn't think about the arena in which they were operating. The Froomkin article is about flat-out lying. And it relates to a trend that has been going on for several years: people - highly intelligent, well-educated CEO-types - do not seem to understand that you can't lie anymore.

The New Way: Leveling With The Customer

Marketing is changing. While there is still a healthy serving of "spin" (or "creating a compelling narrative," as I prefer to think about it), this is changing because of the massive amount of information online combined with incredibly advanced search capacity. There is a glut of information available to the customer. (My job in the future will be more about creating value for the customer and my next blog post will be about the yet-to-be-created position of Chief Conversation Officer - subscribe so as not to miss it.)

Yet still, these old-school guys think they can lie and steal and no one will find out about it. Sometimes they get the money before someone finds out (see: Enron) and sometimes they just get busted (see: following paragraph). Forget the subterfuge: just tell the truth. If you make a quality product, you won't need to lie about it. And if you don't make a quality product, why are you working for those people, anyway?

Poison Pill

Which bring me to my third marketing disaster. Much like the Froomkin example, it deals with a huge organization knowing that it is lying to people. It turns out that Vytorin (with the eye-catching ads comparing people to food) does not work and is actually worse than a generic worth a third of the price. This isn't the debacle; this is simply a bad product. The debacle is that 1) Merck and Schering-Plough continued to spend millions on marketing this drug after they knew it was ineffective and 2) that S-P execs allegedly sold stock after the trials failed.

Of course I care about the health risks. And of course I care about the older folks who bought this useless drug instead of food or other medication. But for right now, let's focus on the sheer stupidity in a company brazenly lying to the public. The halls of business are positively littered with the bodies of executives who thought they could get away with it. And maybe in the old days, they did. But this is a new world.

It makes me wonder if (especially younger members of) the marketing department brought up the uselessness of lying. Surely they do Google searches of their company, they know the regulations involved in pharmaceuticals, and they've heard all the stories of companies being discovered of lying. Did not one of them raise the issue? "Maybe we should just confess? Instead of spending millions marketing a junk pill and making thousands from shady stock deals, we should consider the billions we may be fined or that will be lost in company stock after this is exposed?"

Instead, they kept quiet. Now, in addition to losing their own jobs and likely an executive or two, they risked countless lives and have further degraded an industry already in peril. What kind of golden parachute do you get for those results?

The Gist

I know this is wearing on a bit, but my point is this: there is an epic change occurring in business. The marketing guys are no longer the sniveling spinmeisters. Now, we are responsible for good business and good communication.

Feel free to comment on either other marketing disasters caused by stupidity (Blackjack Deuce) or dishonesty (Bush, Merck/S-P). Or, better yet, comment on how the marketing department saved your company's ass through honesty or open conversation. Those are the stories up-and-coming marketers really need to hear.