Lessons From Recent Marketing Missteps and Successes

One of the best parts about being active in the PR blogging community is that I can constantly educate myself on industry trends from some of today’s top practitioners. I have a public relations section in my Google Reader that is an archive of case studies for best and worst practices in both traditional and digital PR.  Recently, I’ve been able to add numerous resources to my collection due to recent PR activities of some well-known brands: Motrin, Papa Johns and Burger King.


In the past week, my RSS was filled with posts about the Motrin debacle.  As people debated whether the incident was blown out of proportion or a significant misstep in marketing history, I tried to decide what big lessons I could take away from this controversy as a young PR pro.

motrin1Audience – The ad clearly targeted moms, and sparked a massive revolution among mommy bloggers who demanded the ad be taken down (which it was and replaced with this message from the VP-Marketing). Although a number of people spoke out in support of the ad saying they didn’t understand why it was seen as offensive, the fact is that a vast majority of the target audience DID find it ignorant and distasteful. As some marketing bloggers have pointed out, focus groups that were done correctly could have helped Motrin prevent this advertising faux pas from escalating the way it did. If Motrin had researched the target audience more clearly, they could have come with a more thoughtful ad that created a positive buzz instead of an overwhelming negative roar.

Conversation is Key– Another lesson learned is that with the explosion of social media in the past few years, marketing professionals have to be aware of this environment – one wrong step can be widely broadcast on Twitter and blogs. Whether working on a traditional or digital marketing campaign, conversations are essential to the campaign’s success. As professionals, we need to learn that relationships are the foundation for good PR and two-way conversations help build these relationships. Motrin and numerous other companies suffered when they talk at their customers and not to them. On the other hand, Motrin’s downfall in this instance occurred when a large group of people started talking to each other on public forums like Twitter, Web sites, and blogs. Conversations – those that companies have with consumers and the ones consumers have with each other – are equally as important for marketers to monitor.


The client campaign I’m currently working on has me immersed in Facebook pages, so when I noticed Papa Johns advertising a free pizza to encourage people to become fans of its page, I was intrigued. According an AdAge article, the promotion is supposed to coincide with the fact that the night before Thanksgiving is a goldmine for the pizza industry.papa-johns

Know Your Strengths – Even though the company doesn’t spend as much money on advertising as its competitors, Papa Johns’ vice president of marketing and communications recognized the value in WOM and used Facebook to establish a strong fan base in the weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.

We have to rely on our fans,” he said. “We have to rely on word of mouth much more than Pizza Hut and Domino’s does just from an ad-spend level.”

Provide a Sense of Community – Another reason why the Facebook fan promotion worked so well for Papa Johns is that the company used a platform that the sole purpose is to build – and eventually maintain – communities. On the site, fans can upload their own photos, vote for their favorite specialty pizza, and post their opinions about the product and campaign on the wall and discussion boards. Although some people complained about the offer being misleading (it’s actually buy-one-get-one-free rather than just a free pie), the wall became a makeshift troubleshooting forum when fans had difficulty receiving the e-mail coupon. One fan advised others to check their spam folders, which helped alleviate some of the negativity surrounding the missing coupons. A campaign that builds a community not only enhances word of mouth marketing, it also provides a legacy network that will last significantly longer than the promotion itself.


burger-kingI first got wind of the latest Burger King marketing initiative on my friend’s blog, So Good. It seems that the King has been displacing wallets in various locations around the U.S. When people look inside the wallets, they find cash, BK gift cards, coupons, maps to BK locations, and a message telling them not to worry about returning the wallet to its owner.

Timing Can Be Everything– Although people have pointed out that other companies have launched similar initiatives, what will make Burger King’s so successful is the timing. As one PR blogger pointed out, in our economy’s current state, handouts are extremely well received. The combination of cash and BK gift cards was a nice touch – consumers will think highly of the company that gave them “free money” and will be inclined to visit the stores to use the coupons and gift cards. This tactic will produce more brand loyalty than a traditional advertising campaign, and of course, timing was integral in building this positive reputation because it allowed people to view a brand positively in a time when spending money isn’t on the forefront of their minds.


3 thoughts on “Lessons From Recent Marketing Missteps and Successes

  1. Hi Meg,

    Earlier this year I read Groundswell and am now reading it again as I’m putting a proposal together to present to my company’s marketing execs about how we’re missing the “groundswell” opportunity. It’s amazing to me how many traditional brick & mortar american companies (like the one I work for) are entirely missing this boat.

    Well, anyhow…just another example with what Papa John’s is doing.

    Keep up the good work,

  2. I would call the Burger King one a PR tactic as opposed to a marketing initiative, but these are definitely good examples for discussion and lesson learning.

    It will be interesting to see if Papa Johns continues the conversation, continues to participate in the community it developed via the Facebook fan page. That is the secret to really making the most of this tool as a way to reach out to, identify, communicate and actually engage with customers.

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