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3 Lessons to Learn From Others’ Marketing Mistakes

By Jessica Brown

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You’re told time and time again to use a mistake as a learning experience. But you shouldn’t be limited to just learning from your own mistakes. Even huge companies make marketing blunders that damage their reputations and profits.

Lesson: Sensitivity has a place in marketing.
Example: Kenneth Cole

So much of marketing focuses on the bottom line: How can we reach more prospects? How can we earn more profit? But as a marketer, you have to remember that your customers aren’t just equal to a dollar amount… they are human!

Kenneth Cole has made this mistake, and unfortunately continues to make this mistake repeatedly. In 2011, in the midst of a political breakdown in Egypt, Kenneth Cole sent out this insensitive tweet making light of the situation:

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Following that debacle, the company tweeted:

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However, it seems that “KC” didn’t learn his lesson. Following the recent talks about using military force in Syria, the official Kenneth Cole twitter account tweeted out:

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Following this incident, Kenneth Cole spoke to critic on his Instagram feed, saying that he had simply been trying to, “Provoke a dialogue,” about Syria.

The lesson here is to remember that you should never use a marketing slogan or tactic that offends your customers. They are at the heart of what you do, and it is important to remember that sensitivity has just as much a place in marketing as creativity.


Lesson: Know what your customers want.

Example: Netflix

Before Sept. 1, 2011, Nexflix users could pay $9.99 per month for DVD rental vial snail mail and unlimited video streaming. But AS OF Sept. 1, 2011, the company separated the two services, charging $7.99 per service, boosting the cost to $15.98 for providing the exact same service.

Those signed up for the $9.99 plan were given no option other than to pay or cancel service, and they received the following email from the company:

“Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:
Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month
Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don’t need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.
These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.”

According to Bloomberg, Netflix lost 800,000 customers in Q3 of 2011 following their price hike.  Perhaps if Netflix had done research and gotten customer opinion on what a price hike would mean to their customers, they could have foreseen this.

Long story short, if you’re going to make a big business or marketing decision that you feel could affect your customers, either ask their opinion or give them options so that they can make a decision that is right for them – and possibly for your reputation.


Lesson: Have a trustworthy team.

Example: American Red Cross

Voltaire said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And giving someone access to your social media channels means giving them a lot of power, whether you realize it or not. The American Red Cross obviously did not.

In Feburary 2011, a Red Cross employee mistakenly tweeted, “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch Beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd,” to the @RedCross Twitter account rather than her personal account.

The outcome of this incident actually ended up being beneficial to the Red Cross. They added some humor to the situation, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

Dogfish Head also acknowledged the incident, tweeting to encourage giving to the Red Cross while using the hashtag #gettngslizzerd.

Learn from the mistake Red Cross made by setting clear social media guidelines with your employees – you’ll avoid social slip-ups that might be harder to come back from than this one!