Considering how we are a business school and Marketing is such a big part of business, we are starting this new series titled Marketing Misadventures. We would write about real world examples on how companies, more often than not, huge companies with professional marketing teams, messed up in the silliest, most insensitive ways in trying to market their product. We can only hope that our readers appreciate these examples in how not to market a product. Here goes part 1 of the series which we will intermittently write about.
That time when Starbucks thought 9/11 imagery was a good idea…
Starbucks sells coffee and other things people like with their coffee. They also sell other beverages and they need the world to know that, so in the summer of 2002, which acute readers may notice was a few months after the 9/11 disaster, they released this advert.
Now, if one remembers correctly, and it is very likely that Americans (where the disaster happened just a few months ago), would remember, the 9/11 attacks brought down the two World Trade Centre towers when two hijacked planes were crashed into them. It also so happens that the WTC towers stuck out into the New York skyline amongst other (not as tall) but mostly homogeneous skyscrapers.
If you look at the seemingly innocent picture again, in light of all the above information, you would notice two tall twin cups standing out amongst square blocks of grasses (since when are blades of grasses square blocks?) and a dragonfly aiming straight for them. All of these could have still been ignored but then comes the kicker – the tagline – Collapse into cool!
Inadvertent or not, that was too close to home, especially so soon after one of the worst attacks on American soil in their history. Protests followed, there was immediate and immense negative publicity and Starbucks aborted the release of new posters while taking down the already displayed ones. They learnt a valuable lesson that day – to stay away from horrible reminders when trying to sell coffee; until September 11, 2011 that is. They branded the ten year anniversary of the attacks as ‘free coffee day’ and handed out free beverages in more than one location. At least this time the campaign met with mostly positive response although there were some criticisms about opportunism and tackiness.