Great Brand Blunders

The Worst Marketing and Social Media Meltdowns of All Time and How to Avoid Your Own

By Rob Gray Published by Crimson Books, £12.99, also available for Kindle.

Reviewed by Sarah Alder

“Shame lies not in failing, but in failing to learn from failure.” Is how Rob Gray, long time PR writer, concludes this highly entertaining book about marketing and social media #fails.

Great Brand Blunders is a well-researched book bringing together dozens of examples of brand blunders from the 1930s onwards and including some very familiar stories such as the Hoover flights fiasco, the Ford Edsel and the #McStories debacle as well as many that will be new to most readers.

I feared it would be amusing for twenty pages or so and then a rather tedious string of case studies. Two things make this more than just a list of disasters that make you either wince or laugh.

Firstly the structure. The chapters group the examples by the nature of the blunder. Chapter 2 is “Out-of-control promotions”, Chapter 7 “When fakery, falsification and scams come to light” and other chapters look at brand stretching, advertising failures, and cross-cultural faux pas. Each chapter tends to focus on one or two blunders described in detail, with a briefer listing of other similar incidents. In this way Gray is able to cover not only a lot of examples but also show how bad practice is not confined to any particular brands, sectors, industries, marketing activity or geography.

By focusing on problem areas, Gray is able to bring in the second strength of the book which is the “Tips and Lessons” section at the end of each chapter, a handful of bullet points ensuring that the reader understands why such well-respected brands could have got themselves into such situations, and how we, the reader, can avoid a similar fate. Some of these Tips sound obvious if read outside the context of the chapter. At the end of Chapter 6 Regrettable Rebranding for instance, the tips include “Think twice before dispensing with a name, logo or brand image that has served you well in the past” and “Always bear employees, customers and other stakeholders in mind. How will the rebranding benefit them?”. Extracts from a branding for beginners text perhaps? But in the context of having just read how the Consignia brand came and went at a cost to the Royal Mail of £1.9m and the Gap clothing company ended up with three logos in three years, you realise that being reminded of the basics is something we all need.

There are quite a lot of social media examples and my first assumption was that it would be a longer, hard copy version of one of the many “20 marketing failures” that I have read online. However, overall the book balances these out with a range of examples from other areas of marketing and brand management and its historic range gives the book a weight and breadth of insight that could never be achieved in an online post.

Gray was able to interview key players in many of the case studies and he writes with empathy as well as insight. He understands how such things can happen, even though he knows why they shouldn’t. He sets out the examples very clearly and with a lot of humour although he can be quite caustic, about inappropriate advertising for Hyundai for instance.

I wish I had seen the Bic for Her campaign happening, I hope I would have been able to contribute to the social media backlash with as much wit as some of the examples quoted. Other highlights for me were Too Hot for Snapple (a huge melting ice lolly in New York) and Wee for a Wii, which not only had tragic consequences but shows how much influence brands can wield over consumers.

This book has some important lessons for us as marketers as well as being entertaining. Approach it as a book to dip into rather than to read from cover to cover. If you are studying for any qualification which looks at brands, how to build them and how easy they are to destroy, this would be extremely useful. Candidates for the CAM Integrating Digital Media and Branding, PR or Integrated Communications modules or looking for examples at a more strategic level of how branding impacts marketing, as part of the CIM Professional Certificate or Professional Diploma for instance, would find this useful.

I recommend that every PR, social media and marketing manager gets a copy for the team. Pass the book from person to person each day with the instruction to open it at random and read one example. Over a few months you will have disseminated a lot of great learning throughout the team, for the cost of a round of coffees.

Reviewed by Sarah Alder

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About the Author

Quentin Crowe

Quentin Crowe

Managing Director & Founder of The Marketers’ Forum. Quentin has over 20 year marketing experience in the insurance, sports and education sectors. He has taught every level of CIM since 2002 as well as being a visiting lecturer at Greenwich University. He worked in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market for 13 years before setting up his own consultancy business in 2000.

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