Goof Off Day

Silly    March 22, was officially National Goof Off Day. Well, it’s wasn’t actually official. That’s because the creators of this holiday, who came up with the idea in 1976 – as the result of a joke made by a 10-year-old on a radio call-in show – never actually bothered to get any government to declare it a holiday. This is somewhat appropriate, given its nature – a “day to do anything and everything…except what you’re supposed to do today.”

In the spirit of celebrating high-level slackerdom, here are a few examples of marketing campaigns that were so poorly thought out or executed that they were clearly undertaken by people who were observing National Goof Off Day. And before you email us with the biggest marketing disaster in history, please be aware that the “Chevy Nova flopping in Latin America because ‘no va’ means ‘it doesn’t go’ in Spanish” story is an urban legend that has been thoroughly debunked.

So, what makes for a marketing disaster? Well, lots of things, actually. And, with global brands and 24/7 real-time coverage, there are many new ways for marketers to mess up since the bygone days of the Edsel and New Coke.

We used to judge a bad marketing idea based on the sales results. Now you can be mocked instantaneously – in full, public view – by the very people you are trying to charm and influence. So your bad idea might get lots of attention. Maybe you still believe that even bad publicity is good for you? We humbly disagree – reputation is important and it’s hard to change once dinged.

In no particular order, here are some doozies that should make any marketer cringe:

Wal-Mart Creates a Sizable Problem

As the country’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart surely wants to provide a wide range of products to its enormous customer base. They went too far, however, with an online marketing promotion during Halloween. The “dress up” products for the festive holiday may have been accurately described, but the marketing copy was less than flattering. Labeled “Fat Girl Costumes” the company caught major flack and apologized, quickly revising the copy. The damage was already done.

Lesson? Don’t offend a segment of your customer base and subject your copy to multiple reviews.

McDonalds and Random Acts of Unkindness 

Trying to tweak the long running slogan (I’m Lovin’ It) for a Valentine’s Day promotion, McDonalds launched a campaign (“Pay with Lovin”) that not only sounded cheesy but also was also poorly executed.

Participating locations were charged with randomly selecting 100 customers to get a free meal. That works. The problem arose when the lucky customer actually had to “pay.” A McDonald’s employee was required to (randomly) select how the customer would earn their free meal by drawing a piece of paper from a heart shaped pencil box. Requests included asking someone to dance or writing a poem. So, chagrined customers had to perform on the spot instead of being free to grab an Egg McMuffin to go.

Lesson? Don’t make your customer do something you think is cute or clever to earn something free — especially when they just want fast food.

Malaysian Airlines and Short Term Memory Loss

Airline safety generally gets high marks and most airline promotions are benign and easily forgotten. However, one airline in particular – Malaysian Airlines — made the news for losing two planes in the space of a month with a major loss of passenger lives.

Despite the news, Malaysian Airlines launched a major ad campaign exhorting passengers to travel on their airline to achieve their “Bucket List” and to tweet places they’d like to see before they die.

Lesson? Think about your company’s recent history and reputation before you devise a campaign that might sound great — under different circumstances, not yours. And, do consult your crisis communications team as needed.

Let’s close with mention of a mere days-old entrant that will likely go down as a head scratcher – in a presumed corporate social responsibility category.

Starbucks and No, I Don’t Want to Talk About It

Baristas at 12,000 Starbuck locations have just been asked – if they want – to write “Race Together” on the side of your coffee cup and start a conversation about the issue, after they master spelling your name or alias on same cup.

CEO Howard Schultz has a history of getting involved with other social issues – can you name any?

Given the sheer magnitude of the mocking in social media – with lots of opposition and snark – count on this making the next annual list.

Lesson? Doing CSR right is tricky. A strong, clear link between your company’s product, mission and values helps and shouldn’t leave you vulnerable to an ask about your own corporate behavior.

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