These are the ads of our times

As the last sands of 2011 dribble through that great hourglass of life, it’s important to take stock and look back.

More than a few marketers are doing that right now. This past year was one that brought with it great developments in marketing and advertising. We saw digital channels expand. For example, Twitter topped Zeta Interactive’s annual social network “buzz report,” beating out YouTube, last year’s favorite. Twitter also happens to be rolling out an ad platform in keeping with Facebook and launching brand pages. LinkedIn, long the preferred social network for professionals, has bequeathed to brands the ability to post status updates. QR codes have been around a bit; but jeez, now they’re everywhere.

On the retail e-commerce side of things, people finally seem to be shrugging off concerns about mobile purchasing security and are either initiating their shopping online or even completing transactions. And along with just loving iPads and tablets in general, everyone and their mothers are shopping on tablets this year.

Looking back at the evolution of the marketing industry is one thing, but what kind of retrospective would this be if we didn’t name some winners and losers in terms of results? As any marketer or advertiser knows, an out-of-the-box idea can result in a viral video, good press and a win for the product or service manufacturer. Sometimes, what seems like an awesome new idea can backfire, resulting in public outcry and more public apologies. Or it can result in an Internet meme, which is arguably worse.

I’m trained as a journalist and not a judge (though my parents certainly would have preferred I pursue some variation of a legal profession), but I’m a born-and-bred consumer, and there are some ads and campaigns that jump right to mind when I think “best” and “worst” of 2011. For the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the worst.

Worst brand reactions to criticism

Listen: If you’re going to open yourself up to criticism by allowing comments to be posted to your YouTube video or Facebook wall, don’t be silly and delete the critical ones, like Chapstick did when one of its print ads didn’t go over so well with its intended audience.

The print ad showed a woman on a bed with her bottom in the air, ostensibly looking for her Chapstick behind the bed or in the covers, or something. At the bottom of the ad were the words: “Where do lost Chapsticks go? Be heard at” People poured onto the site to be heard, many saying they found the ad disgusting. One commenter quipped, “Where do lost customers go? To Burt’s Bees!”

Chapstick quickly deleted the negative commentary, which people noticed — and which prompted a whole lot more less-than-flattering commentary about the brand.

In the case of Ocean Marketing, a debacle that was just reported this week, the owner decided a customer’s complaint about a package that hadn’t yet arrived wasn’t worth any kind of regular customer service response — in fact, he insults the customer in a series of emails, which were promptly posted to the Internet, became the toast of Reddit, and resulted in his losing some of the “connections” he touts in his emails to the consumer.

Lesson: Don’t insult consumers in writing who may simply forward the unprofessional emails to your competitors, the press or your contacts.

Worst social media campaign idea

I know the Facebook stalker thing was creepy, but it was kind of cool. But if a condom company sends me a friend request from a baby with my name and “Jr.” tacked on the end, and I happen to be a dude (I’m not), I’m creeped out in a bad way, and ready to demand a paternity test.

Worst billboard idea

Let’s stick with the idea of pregnancy, as it can make for some very bad ads. Few, though, may be as controversial as the New Zealand billboard depicting the Christian Virgin Mary sitting in a state of what appears to be horrified shock, clutching a positive pregnancy test. Interestingly, the billboard was erected by a church, and its leaders defend the ad as being realistic. They are quoted by the Huffington Post in a statement that says, in part, “Regardless of any premonition, that discovery would have been shocking. Mary was unmarried, young, and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future.”

Runner-up bad billboard plan: Putting one up for The Walking Dead on the side of a funeral home.

Worst product packaging

This is tough. There’s so much out there. The J.C. Penney T-shirt that dubs a young lady “too pretty for homework” is kind of demeaning and at worst, destructive. During Fashion Week, Pepsi’s new diet soda can appeared to have spent the last six weeks puffing cigarettes and swapping food for cocaine.

But oh, then you bring me “Chick Beer.” Thank you. Because I like my brew to be extra girly and “magic.” (That is how they explain its low calorie and carb count). Hops? What are those? Body? You mean mine? Microbrew? Sorry, I’m a woman … you’ll have to forgive my lack of knowledge on the subject.

Slogan: “Above all, we think that beer is supposed to be fun! So enjoy! Grab a cool Chick and Witness the Chickness!”

Some marketing advice for you folks at Chick Beer: Start selling a “Douchebag Lager.” I know you have all the ingredients.

OK. So those were the worst (in my opinion). I was going to mention some winners this year, but found two problems with this: 1) The bad ones are more fun to write about; and 2) There are so many good guerilla and direct marketing campaigns out there this year, I could write a book about them. This is a blog.

Something good

But I’ll share one I fell in love with, a QR code concept out of Chile: When San Joaquin’s mayor offered to kill the roaming dogs wandering the streets, an animal rights’ group created a campaign in which they placed QR codes around these dogs. When the tags were scanned, it brought up a letter that was written in the voice of the dog, and a link to a related video showing how the captured animals are treated.

Did I miss the biggest loser? Do you think some other “fails” should make that list? Leave your votes in the comments. See a campaign that blew your mind in a positive way? Let us know about that, too.

And to you all: Happy New Year!

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