The 7 worst marketing and sales disasters OF ALL TIME

…And how sales enablement could have prevented them.

Every marketing and sales professional makes mistakes. It’s part of the job. However, some are more EPIC than others. Here are seven of the biggest blunders. We also explain how a sales enablement program could have prevented them.

New Coke

It couldn’t beat the real thing

Today, it’s common for soft drinks to roll out multiple varieties of their products. However, back in the 1980s, people had their favorites and stuck by them. So it was surprising that Coke decided to change their formula in 1985. Despite losing market share to its rival Pepsi, the Coke brand was still popular with a big part of the public. 

New Coke was a marketing disaster because it replaced the formula many people loved with an unproven alternative. The change to a flavor similar to Pepsi’s signaled that the rival product had beaten Coke in the battle for top cola. 

What’s worse is that New Coke didn’t sell any better than the previous version. Coke soon realized its mistake and brought back the original formula.

How sales enablement could have helped: Coke would have gathered feedback on its new formula from key stakeholders, including researchers, product developers, and marketers. The information might have revealed sooner rather than later that the change might be a bad idea. Coke might have taken a slower, more prudent approach to the roll-out which might have prevented a major brand embarrassment.

Walkers social media contest

Walkers is a snack company based in the United Kingdom. A few years ago, it ran a contest through social media, asking customers to submit selfies for a chance to win tickets to a sporting event.

The issue: Some people posted pictures that were not appropriate for public sharing.

This turned into a public relations nightmare because the company failed to monitor the photos before they were published on their social sites.

How sales enablement could have helped: Greater collaboration when planning the campaign would have encouraged more input from social-savvy people. They would have known that photos should be checked before they’re shared with a broad consumer audience.

Circuit City DIVX

When home video technology shifted from tapes to discs in the 1990s, DIVX (Digital Video Express), was developed to compete against DVDs. It was promoted by Circuit City, a major electronics retailer at the time, which went out of business in 2009.

The DIVX format was very similar to DVDs.

The issue: You had to purchase the discs, which cost about four dollars each. They could only be played for 48 hours after the initial viewing. After that, you had to buy additional viewing time. (This made it similar to today’s pay-per-view). In addition, DIVX machines tied up phone lines when purchasing the time. (Phones were required to log on to the Internet in the 1990s.)

The technology was too costly, cumbersome and complicated. Consumers chose DVDs, instead. They let people buy titles and watch them as often as they wanted.

Circuit City lost almost $115 million in the venture.

How sales enablement could have helped: A more collaborative product and marketing development process might have uncovered the issues with DIVX technology early on. Circuit City could have cut its losses.

Facebook virtual reality tour

Puerto Rico was almost completely destroyed when it was hit by hurricanes a couple of years ago. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s often tone-deaf CEO, used Facebook’s virtual reality app to produce a video of the island post-storm.

The purpose of the video was to show how much support Facebook was giving to Puerto Rico. Instead, it was viewed by many as silly and self-serving, NOT serious. It felt as if Facebook was exploiting the disaster.

How sales enablement could have helped: A more open and collaborative development and review process would have identified the inappropriate tone of the video and allowed for adjustments prior to its release.

Airbnb floating world campaign

Two years ago, Airbnb developed a floating world themed marketing campaign. It featured photos of houses sitting on the water. The copy focused on vacationing on lakes and oceans.

The issue: The campaign launched on August 28th, 2017, the day Hurricane Harvey reached Houston. Thousands of unfortunate people were actually living in floodwater.

How sales enablement could have helped: Greater involvement of Airbnb leadership in the campaign might have provided the foresight needed to pull the plug on it before it was released.

Ford Edsel

The Edsel is the granddaddy of all marketing disasters.

Ford spent $400 million (in 1950s dollars) to develop the Edsel. The car model crashed and burned in less than three years.

The Edsel had four significant issues:

  • It competed against other better-known Ford cars without differentiating itself.
  • The model was introduced during a major economic recession.
  • The car was made of parts from other Ford and Mercury autos.
  • There was no quality control and the vehicle had serious mechanical issues.

These problems, taken together, killed demand for the Edsel.

How sales enablement could have helped: A good program encourages communication across all parts of organizations. This includes product development, marketing, and sales. An open dialogue could have uncovered issues with the Edsel before it was released to the public. It might have avoided a huge embarrassment that took Ford a long time to recover from.

Department of Education social post

Our deepest “apologizes” for the earlier typo

Everyone makes typos, and it’s usually not a big deal. However, it is if they’re made by the Department of Education. A couple of years ago, they tweeted a W.E.B. Du Bois quote. His name was misspelled.

What’s worse, when they apologized, the word “apology” was misspelled.

In terms of public messaging failures, this one was epic!

How sales enablement could have helped: Marketing and communication messages are shared more broadly and reviewed by key stakeholders. This makes it more likely mistakes will be caught before materials are released to the public.

Want to prevent marketing and sales disasters at your organization? Find out how Mobile Locker’s sales enablement system could help.

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