The biggest marketing blunders of 2011

December 16, 2011  |  Advertising Age  |  Comments

For its Dec. 12 issue, Advertising Age has put together a special report titled “Book of Tens 2011″ to celebrate industry and pop culture winners (and a few losers) from the last year. The report includes over 20 lists with topics ranging from must-read marketing books to the top viral advertising campaigns.

Here are the biggest marketing mistakes of 2011: Pulls Back
“I think if it all works really nicely, you’ll just see fade away and take its place.” That was CEO Patrick Byrne speaking in the first half of the year. “We were going too fast, and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job… We’re still focused on getting to, just at a slower pace. … We’re not flipping back, we’re just refocusing.” That was President Jonathon Johnson in November, explaining why the company was kinda-sorta going back to its original name. At least consumers were merely confused, rather than absolutely outraged.

The Charlie Sheen Show
The antics of one-man train wreck Sheen are sure to fill numerous lists. His battle with the producers of America’s No. 1 comedy, Two and a Half Men, brought the show to a complete halt. But that was only, well, half of it. Sheen sent deranged tweets, gave interviews flanked by porn stars and raged on radio shows, and Americans kept tuning in. Thankfully (we think), Sheen survived, Comedy Central got a roast out of it and Ashton Kutcher snagged a new job.

Nivea’s Uncivilized Ad
The company’s campaign for a men’s line included photos of sharp-dressed guys chucking remnants of their former scraggly selves. The problem? Under the photo of a clean-shaven black man tossing what looked like a severed head with an Afro, ran the words “Re-civilize yourself.” After blog outrage, including a charge that Nivea was “unapologetically racist,” the company didn’t even attempt to defend the ad. It simply apologized and vowed never to run it again.’s Buggy Relaunch
Site crashes, broken links, missing baby and wedding registries, and carts with a mind of their own were just a few of Target’s problems six weeks after the retailer unshackled itself from Amazon. The redesigned launched Aug. 23, ending the retailer’s decade-long relationship with Amazon. Target enlisted more than 20 vendors – including SapientNitro (as partner and lead integrator), Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Huge, Infosys, IBM and Endeca – to build its own e-commerce technology and website. With that many cooks in the kitchen, it wasn’t a surprise to hear reports of friction and miscommunication.

Booty-Shaping Shoes Busted
You can firm up your butt just by strapping on a pair of shoes and walking around? No sweating? No grunting? No exertion? Sound too good to be true? According to the FTC, it is. The agency announced in September that Reebok had agreed to a $25 million settlement to resolve charges that it deceptively advertised toning shoes and apparel. In a statement, Reebok said it was standing behind its shoes and agreed to the settlement only to avoid a protracted legal battle. While Skechers, another big “toning” shoe marketer, escaped that round, SEC filings indicate that it’s bracing for its own multimillion-dollar settlement.

BofA Tries to Make You Pay
With consumers still feeling they’re in a recession and middle Americans angry enough about bailouts and bank profits to give Occupy Wall Street a chance, this was definitely not the year for a bank to do something so tone deaf it bordered on stupidity. Like, say, propose a $5 monthly debit card fee on consumers. Which is exactly what Bank of America did. It abandoned the scheme after a customer outcry – and after other banks rejected the idea, as well.

HuffPo Punishes Aggregator
In his ongoing chronicling of the aggregation sins committed by The Huffington Post, Ad Age writer Simon Dumenco offered an example of how a HuffPo staffer used and abused one of his columns. HuffPo responded: “We have zero tolerance for this sort of conduct” and then indefinitely suspended the staffer. But the punishment may have been worse than the crime. Bloggers at Gawker, The Awl and elsewhere pointed out that the writer was publicly skewered for doing as she was taught, as “overaggregating” has basically been HuffPo’s business model from the start.

There’s more! To read the full article in Advertising Age, click here.

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