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Why marketing goes wrong

News, 08 May 2017
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TORONTO: Latent sexism, cultural insensitivity and an inability to "fail fast" are among the main reasons that marketing campaigns go wrong, according to Jon Wilkins, Chairman of ad agency Karmarama.

Wilkins – who, before Karmarama, was the founder of agency Naked – outlined ten main reasons why brands slip up during a session at the World Federation of Advertisers' (WFA) 2017 Global Marketer Week.

And he cited various ill-starred efforts – from Microsoft's Tay chatbot being corrupted by Twitter users, Bud Light encouraging drinkers to never say "no" and the launch of Hitler ice cream in India – as examples of marketing gone awry.

Drilling down into this topic, Wilkins pointed to Microsoft Tay as illustrating that the invocation to "fail fast" does not always play out in practice, even for the most tech-savvy brands.

"If anybody was going to fail fast and get out, you'd have thought it would be Microsoft. But they managed to use artificial intelligence to create a Hitler-loving sex robot in just 24 hours, which clearly was not their stated intent," said Wilkins. (For more details, read Warc's free-to-access report: The world's worst ads: Mad, bad and dangerous to show.)

Bud Light, a "brand with a strong heritage of great communications," he continued, courted similar controversy with a tagline stating it was "The perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night."

This effort, according to Wilkins, exemplifies a wider problem of sexism in the ad industry: "It's something that we do need to address … There are definitely too many male creative teams who are developing work with a lack of sensitivity."

Pepsi fell into another trap with, in Wilkins' words, "their rather dramatic portrayal of cultural insight with the wonderfully culturally rounded Kendall Jenner" healing bitter social divisions by handing out cans of the drink.

"I'm 50 years old," Wilkins said, "and I've never seen a world where you can literally stand and listen to half the room cheer and half almost burst into tears simultaneously. Culture seems to be dividing us at almost unprecedented levels, certainly in my lifetime."

And the case of Hitler ice cream, an offering launched in India, serves as a reminder that marketing missteps soon become global news thanks to digital sharing among consumers.

"The reason the internet was called the World Wide Web is because it's worldwide," Wilkins said. "Everybody sees everything."

Data sourced from WARC

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