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Epic Marketing Fails of 2012

Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013, at 6:14 PM

Despite their considerable marketing budgets and extensive teams, some of the world's most well-known brands made significant marketing missteps in 2012. Learn from these epic fails to protect your brand.

There are multiple instances of big brand, social media managers tweeting controversial personal messages from the company's Twitter account, like the Red Cross's tweet about getting drunk or KitchenAid's tweet poking fun at the President's late grandmother. If you have access to both personal and company accounts, you know just how easily this can happen -- all the more reason to put processes in place to prevent the inevitable.

Huggies launched an ad campaign portraying fathers as bumbling idiots. Men flocked to the brand's Facebook page to demand the commercial's recall, which was done, but not before the brand alienated a big portion of its target audience.

The New York Times sent out a coupon encouraging former subscribers to re-subscribe at a discounted rate. Instead of sending it to 300 former subscribers, a staffer accidentally sent it to eight million current subscribers who were furious they weren't being offered the same special.

Pizza Hut posted an ad on YouTube encouraging participants in last year's Town Hall Presidential Debate to ask the candidates if they preferred sausage or pepperoni. The first person to do so would win free pies for life. The media blasted the brand for not taking the democratic process seriously, resulting in the brand backpedaling and retracting the video.

BBH Labs, a marketing firm, blundered big time when they used -- and many thought objectified -- homeless people by paying them to serve as human Wi-Fi hot spots to make a name for the company in the mobile tech space. They made a name for themselves, as you can imagine -- just not a positive one.

The Gap and Urban Outfitters encouraged consumers to stay inside and do some online shopping during Hurricane Sandy. The public outcry regarding their insensitivity was swift and strong.

Microsoft's search engine, Bing, borrowed a strategy from Google by using its name as a verb -- "Binging" much like "Googling." The campaign fell completely flat and left the brand looking unoriginal and desperate.

Nokia produced a TV spot featuring a young girl on a bike, implying that the footage shown was through its Lumia 920 camera. The problem was a window reflection shows a cameraman in a van with a commercial grade video camera. The consumer backlash was huge, giving long-time fans the impression the brand didn't believe in the quality of its products.

These brand failures suggest two key takeaways: (1) Put processes in place to avoid inadvertent marketing mishaps, and (2) If in doubt about the controversial nature of your next ad campaign, consider polling a group of objective consumers.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing in Memphis, TN, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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Lori Turner-Wilson
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Lori spent over 15 years leading corporate marketing and communications divisions in the financial services, hospitality and franchise restaurant sectors. As Director of Target Marketing for the Hampton Hotels brand of Hilton Hotels Corporation, Lori managed promotional, direct and Web marketing, as well as custom publishing, for the brand's franchise system. In her role as Vice President of Employee Communications and Development for First Horizon National Corporation, she managed the corporation's internal culture initiatives, communications, and employee recognition programs. Other positions held include Sr. Communications Director/Corporate Editor for TCBY Enterprises, Inc., and Vice President of Marketing for First National Banking Company. Lori is a founding sponsor and member of the Board of Directors for LaunchMemphis -- an organization committed to developing an entrepreneurial community in Memphis comprised of investors, entrepreneurs and local organizations. In addition, Lori is on the Board of Directors of the Sales and Marketing Society of the Mid-South and on the Advisory Board for the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County. She is a sought-after speaker in the Memphis area, delivering sales and marketing keynote addresses and workshops to organizations like: the Memphis Chapter of the American Advertising Federation, the Sales & Marketing Society of the Mid-South, LaunchMemphis, EmergeMemphis, the Memphis Regional Chamber, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Lori holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in addition to having completed the University of Colorado's School of Bank Marketing and Management. She is the recipient of numerous industry awards including local and district Addy's, Communicator awards, and a Telly. She received recognition as one of the Memphis Business Journal's "Top 40 Under 40" recipients in 2009. Lori also served as a contributing ghost writer for the renowned "Complete Idiot's Guide to Guerilla Marketing." Beyond her passions for marketing and dogs of all shapes and sizes, Lori is an avid traveler, runner and foodie.