You can learn a lot about business from marketing history. Some of the most successful companies were born from great ads and publicity stunts (think of Apple's groundbreaking 1984 spot). On the other hand, bad strategies can be just as educational.
Here’s a look at what some of the biggest marketing failures can teach you:
The move: New Coke.
How it flopped: In 1985, The Coca Cola Company unveiled its first formula change in 99 years. The public was outraged. Replacing a tried-and-true classic with an unknown version would be like trying to change the national anthem to a Justin Bieber song. Coke quickly learned not to mess with brand loyalty and brought back the old formula 79 days later.
What you can learn: Stick to your brand. If you aren’t getting complaints about a service or product, there’s probably no need for drastic changes. On the other hand, it’s important to tap into your client or customer base and find out what they really want. Coke’s biggest mistake was trying out a new formula without ever asking consumers if there was anything wrong with the old one.
The move: Starbucks takes over the world.
How it flopped: Starbucks relies on its omnipresence as its primary form of advertising. How often do you buy their coffee because you literally can’t think of anywhere else to go? But there’s a downside to Starbucks’ ubiquity. There are so many stores (not to mention licensed franchises and grocery store products) that the brand itself has become watered down. It represents consumerism, not great coffee and friendly service.
What you can learn: Let your company grow naturally. Don’t force expansion or your message will become as diluted as a cup of Starbucks’ coffee.
The move: Kenneth Cole jokes about Egypt.
How it flopped: This year’s protests in Egypt were many things -- tragic, chaotic, revolutionary -- but funny wasn’t one of them. However, that didn’t stop designer Kenneth Cole from tweeting, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our spring collection is now available online.” Public reaction was so bad that Cole ended up deleting the tweet and issuing several apology statements.
What you can learn: Bad publicity is almost worse than none at all. A recent Google search for Kenneth Cole brings up articles about the social media misstep right under its own website. If you think a stunt might offend people, it’s best to hold off.
The move: The Titanic is called "unsinkable."
How it flopped: Everyone knows the story. The luxury steamship was marketed as unsinkable -- until it was felled by an on its maiden voyage.
What you can learn: Whether it’s to one client or 3500 passengers, don’t make promises unless you know you can deliver. Reliability is crucial, especially for a new business.