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What To Learn From These Failed Sales Promotions

Marketing isn’t always easy because you have to get into the heads of the customers you are trying to reach, try to understand their needs or even tell them what they need based on their psychology, preferences or tastes. Then you have to convince them that your product or service will satisfy their desires or needs. That’s marketing in a super simplified nutshell, but it’s nothing but formulaic and what works for one company will not work for another. The digital landscape has made marketing even more complex. Companies are able to get away with social media campaigns that are awkward, funny or disruptive to the constant social scroll that businesses have to contend with in this day and age. How can you compete with this as a small business? Certainty about your product or service and your customers needs will serve you better than many sales promotions do now for companies always chasing the new trend. Take the sales promotions in this article for example. All of these campaigns had a focus, a desired outcome and a strategy to achieve that outcome, but some number of factors limited them from seeing a big mistake in the making. No matter what size your business is, look at these mistaken sales promotions as lessons to learn to avoid a costly mistake with your small business.

Be Wary Of Poorly Worded Special Offerings

Special offers, free products, money off of services and other sales promotions are great tools to encourage your customers to buy your products or to increase their loyalty to your brand, but you have to be cautious with what you offer and how you offer it. If you give away too much or you don’t look at the campaign cautiously, you could end up spending tons of money on a promise and lose all your profits. There are countless examples of companies trying to increase buzz that end up backfiring from Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta pass to Red Lobster’s Endless Crab promotion that nearly bankrupted the company, but none failed so spectacularly as Hoover’s promotion to receive two free flights on what was deemed as a “Hoover Holiday” if you spent over £100 or more on any Hoover product. The promotion ended up costing the company over $60 million as more than 220,000 people went on Hoover Holiday.

Lesson Learned: Do promote your business with fun sales promotions, but be careful what you offer, lest you lose money to the same customers you rely on.

Overly Political Or Charged Statements For Sales

We all have an opinion and that’s an important part of the human condition, but these opinions can get people into trouble depending upon their company’s image or influence. If you operate a company that’s based on social consciousness or political activism, then sales promotions that are a little more charged might be fine, but remember that even if you have the best intentions, sometimes that can backfire too. For big companies, their messages can come across ham handed and even disingenuous, as was the case with both Pepsi and Gillette respectively. Pepsi released a now infamous commercial where Kendall Jenner steps forward out of a crowd of protestors to a riot line of police officers, offering of a cold Pepsi to a cop to keep the peace between the police and the crowd. In a time when there is a lot of dialogue about relationships between the police and civilian populations, this came across a little tone deaf. In the same vein of missing the mark, Gillette released a commercial after the #MeToo movement came to light about the changing of the guard among men and the need to be a good example. Except it didn’t come across like that at all. Instead of reigniting the feeling of “the best a man can get,” Gillette lost over 30% of its market share because they alienated their customer base with a message that came across to them like a jabbing lecture, rather than an opportunity to turn a new leaf.

Although it can’t be included in the same category as these other sales promotions, it’s important to point out that these two are nothing in comparison to the World Wildlife Foundation running an ad that was meant to bring attention to the devastation caused by the East Asian Tsunami in 2004. It depicted the World Trade Center in New York City with no less than 10 airplanes flying toward the buildings that fell in the 2001 attacks. The message was meant to imply that the Tsunami had been 10 times more deadly than 9/11 but the blatant disregard for victims and their families was devastating for the company.

Lesson Learned: Make sure your sales promotions reflect your values and that those values are something you actually hold. Don’t take a stand without belief or understanding of that stand and make sure you do research and test before you step on someone’s toes with good intentions.

Being Offensive Or Rude For The Sake Of Comedy

It’s tempting to call disruptive marketing a relatively new practice, but in many ways marketing has always tried to find ways to disrupt your complacency and present you with a solution to your problems. In the scrolling age,when you really only get less than a second to attempt to make a connection with your customers as they scroll by your ad on their feed, you have to figure out how to make them stop. That’s why disruptive marketing in the digital age feels so new. Marketers have to constantly push the envelope to get people to pause. However, disruptive marketing is risky and a lot of companies end up losing their market share and people lose their jobs over the attempt to be rude, shock or be funny. Here is this case in point: You can’t possibly expect to be a big company like Bloomingdale’s and get away with an ad that blatantly says “Spike Your Best Friend’s Eggnog When They’re Not Looking” and try to pass that off as a misunderstanding. Perhaps they didn’t intend to promote any sort of assault, but they certainly weren’t promoting healthy choices among friends. The same could be said about Budweiser’s campaign choice to include the slogan “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” While they meant to imply that drinking their alcohol removes your stubborn inhibitions which might keep you from a fun night, the message comes across just offensive enough that it doesn’t seem like it could have been approved in a concept meeting without the implications being mentioned.

Think small businesses are immune to this kind of stupidity? Think again. In a video that has since been made private on Youtube, a small mattress company out of San Antonio, Texas had a brilliant idea to have a 9/11 twin mattress sale with a commercial that’s…just…so…hard to watch. Luckily, you can see it on CNN’s page here. They’re not the only ones that have demonstrated a lack of awareness in pursuit of a joke. Denver-based Ink Coffee shop cause a national outcry when they put up a sign reading “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014” alluding to their establishment in a city that has been improving and gentrifying for about the last five years. The problem is that gentrification is usually responsible for pricing out the current residents which are often comprised of lower income minority populations. Cue the outrage over a smarmy, ill advised joke.

Lesson Learned: Jokes are fun and they can even connect you to your customers who share your sense of humour, but don’t compromise common sense or professionalism in your sales promotions for a joke. Sometimes the experiment isn’t worth the fallout.

The Small Business Marketing Takeaway

While many of the gaffs referenced in this blog post might be attributed to the ignorance or even cognitive dissonance of massive companies or even the failure of the review process before a campaign goes live, it’s vital that small businesses learn from the mistakes above. It takes very little to ignite national outrage with a simple mistake, as displayed by Ink Coffee’s joking sign. And it’s important to watch for these things now while your business is relatively small before it gets too big to maintain a close watch over sales promotions that could be a huge mistake. Basically, start paying attention now while you’re small so you can breathe easy when your company is big.

At HJR Global, we want to help you access your full potential as a company and to see you grow as big as possible. That’s why we offer this advice here and why we help distressed and fledgling companies across the U.S. to gain access to the resources and funding that they need to realize your dream. Whether you need something as simple as a bit of marketing advice or something as complicated as finding a funding partner, send a tweet to to connect with our team.