What You Should Do When Your Marketing Campaign Fails

Mar 26, 2015 | Automation

You’re in a meeting. You have a GREAT idea for a marketing campaign that is sure to make a statement and enhance your brand. This campaign will rise above all others to take a stand on an important issue or give your audience the voice they deserve!

*Cue heroic music*

You share your idea and everyone in the meeting agrees with you (clearly this is hypothetical). The campaign gets put into motion. The result? Instead of the inspiration and loyalty you expected it to receive, it gets twisted and there is backlash.

What’s your next move when your customers demand answers?

In the last week, I’ve seen two marketing campaign “fails” that were highly publicized. Here’s a quick summary of each in case you missed them.

Starbucks’ #RaceTogether

Starbucks #RaceTogether campaign fails

After only one week, Starbucks pulls their #RaceTogether Campaign due to backlash

The first marketing campaign fail was the Starbucks “Race Together” campaign where employees placed stickers or wrote “#RaceTogether” on cups. It was Starbucks’ attempt to ignite a national discussion about race and promote their goal of putting more stores in minority communities.

It received a ton of criticism and after only one week, the campaign was pulled. If you search Twitter for #RaceTogether, you can immediately feel the negative tone (or if you’re from Minnesota, the passive-aggressive tone) of social media’s response to this campaign. As marketers, this reaction is beyond cringe-worthy.

If you want to hear (and cringe) more, watch comedian Larry Wilmore from The Nightly Show discuss the topic further – using #AwkwardTogether.


Mall of America’s #ItsMyMall

The Mall of America, Minnesota’s flagship landmark, was recently criticized for charging the organizers of a mass demonstration about #BlackLivesMatter with trespassing and disorderly conduct in December 2014. As a way to give their customers a voice (and perhaps repair their bruised reputation) the MOA launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #ItsMyMall on Monday March 23rd.

#itsmymall Mall of America Twitter Campaign

Mall of America receives backlash when Twitter campaign #ItsMyMall is launched

The VP of Marketing tweeted out the hashtag, encouraging their followers to share their memories and stories about the mall. As the campaign gained awareness, the hashtag was twisted to fit the agenda of the MOA’s latest critics, the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators and supporters. Using the hashtag, people posted photos, stories and opinions about the demonstration highlighting their negative experiences at the mall. Essentially, the MOA fumbled the ball and Twitter is sprinting with it in the opposite direction.

So how can marketing overcome twisted campaigns and social media backlash?

Here are my 5 biggest tips to fix the ‘fail’.

     1. You Can’t Control Everything. In campaigns like the ones above, when you start the conversation around your brand and you have to realize it’s a conversation. Two ways. You and whoever might want to comment. You can’t control their tweets or comments but you can make sure the conversation continues.

     2. Respond. The worst thing you could do as a brand is to choose not to address the backlash. How should you address it? Some brands use humor to diffuse tense situations. A brand that doesn’t take their selves too seriously can show the critics that they are human too. Even President Obama isn’t afraid to laugh at himself, reading his “Mean Tweets” on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

     3. Be Transparent. Don’t be afraid to give more detail and be more transparent. If the backlash is due to confusion, this should help clear the air. Being too clear is rarely a bad thing, especially when there is an overwhelming amount of information being shared each day.

     4. Don’t Fall Into Troll Traps. You know what I’m about to say but sometimes the temptation to obsess is too great. People will be negative for negativity’s sake. No matter what you do, not everyone will be happy. Make it a priority to respond to general issues and criticisms and then put it to bed.

     5. Measure. You can’t win them all but you can certainly measure and analyze them all. Determining the catalyst for the backlash will help you rethink future campaigns. Was it the idea? The channel in which you delivered it? Use social data, sentiment analysis etc. to understand the feedback so you can do better next time.

My Recommendations for Starbucks and the MOA

Starbucks’ campaign hit on a very, very hot issue. It would be wise to thoroughly test their messaging and campaign methodology first using focus groups. Listening to peer opinion is also valuable. Starbucks’ CEO was actually advised against launching this campaign but he thought it was too important of a topic to ignore. Just because the conversation about race needs to happen doesn’t mean it has to happen while grabbing your morning coffee on your way to work. I think this campaign has a lot of potential but it’s about right time, right place, and right message.

Thinking about the 20+ year history of the MOA, I can imagine that the #ItsMyMall campaign could be really fun and positive but not without cleaning the skeletons out of the closet first. The Mall of America, to my knowledge, hasn’t offered a platform to or provided a way for the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators to be heard beyond the MOA rotunda fiasco in December. The wounds created by that incident are too fresh for MOA’s light hearted #ItsMyMall campaign to work. I think the right move would have been to divert the negative energy of the critics into a positive platform where they can be heard and where MOA can relinquish the “bad guy” role. THEN launch the campaign.

When marketing campaigns fail, data and analysis {and possibly a good PR firm} become your best friends. Determine what worked and what didn’t work and why.

Look to the data to find the answers!

If you’ve had a recent marketing campaign fail or you want to avoid one at. all.costs., let us know! We can help.

We facilitate focus groups for market research and perform data analysis to optimize your messaging and campaign execution. Contact Us!

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