The recent Dove debacle – the literal definition of “whitewashing” – is just one in a seemingly endless and accelerating series of brand-damaging misfires by marketers who believe they are too clever by half.
Oh Dove, did we not learn from the ill-fated objectifying by non-objectifying the female form as soap containers?
It’s part of a trend, and I would argue the inevitable result, of the fragmentation of the marketing discipline. In focusing so strongly on the technical aspect of marketing, marketers cease to become strategists and instead become technicians. Management then believes this is what the marketing discipline consists of – a series of stunts and quick transactional hits. As I’ve said before, transactional marketing is important and we’ve got some amazing tools to optimize the marketing dollars of which we never have enough. But these tools should be viewed as a means to an end, not the end itself.
GroupM’s Global Chairman Irwin Gotlieb recently stated, “When you become more focused on the short term than the long term…you focus on short-term ROI, and brand building doesn’t give you short-term return, it gives you long-term value.”
In short, this is what happens when actual strategy takes a back seat to undisciplined, puerile marketing “specialists.” Too strong? Well, let’s take a look at some recent marketing fails:
Just say “No” to “No,” Bud Light’s foray into date rape or, at the very least, reckless behavior. (Hey guys, place this right next to the “Enjoy Responsibly” statement!)
Bloomingdale’s creepy date rape ad (on the heels of the Bud Light brouhaha, no less. Is no one paying attention?)
IHOP’s tasteless (pun intended) tweet. (Who approved this and how is this on-brand or even vaguely related to strategy? And this from an old client of mine.)
Cinnabon (Not only trading on a beloved icon’s death to make a buck, but sexist to boot – my aren’t we clever.)
I could go on.
It's true that in today’s hyper-fast marketing cycle these f-ups may sometimes fade away as quickly as they appeared, but anyone who thinks these impulsive, off-brand, un-strategic, wholly avoidable blunders don’t have a long tail are talking to themselves. Do an internet search for “Cinnabon tweet” and see what the first dozen or more results are. Heck, you only have to get as far as typing “Cinnabon twe” before the negative reactions to auto-populate in the results. Same with IHOP, etc. etc.
So, other than figuratively standing on my porch and shaking my fist at these marketing messes on my lawn, what’s my point?
These examples are only symptoms of a larger issue: the marginalization of the marketing generalist/strategist. Many of these fiascos can be attributed to what happens when “marketers” without the ability (or desire) to look at the big picture make the work about how clever they are, not about the brand.
Consider the above screed just me, sending up a flare.