Good To The Last Flop

2 12 2009

Marketing is a funny subject. It’s all about trying to get people to buy your stuff. Sure, we talk upbeat about how we’re all really your friends, and we just want to service your needs. It’s very altruistic sounding, and makes us out to be a bunch of caring big brothers.

Let me give you a piece of advice. Marketers are all pigs. I know. I am one.

OK, some women say the same thing about men, but that’s not important now. Unless all marketers are men. Or all men are marketers. You decide.

It really is all about making money. Strip away all the feel-good relationship stuff and you will find, at its very core, marketing is about cash. Money. Lots of it. Nothing more, and nothing less. So go ahead and tell me that beneath my hat are a couple of horns, that I have a pointed tail tucked in somewhere, and there’s a pitchfork on the front porch.

But even if my guilty admission still raises your hackles and makes you want to throw a few punches at me and my marketing buddies, please note that there is a rather natural form of justice already at work in the world. It comes in the form of product failure. Big, fat juicy failure. Expensive. Cash-depleting. And even embarrassing.

Like New Coke. Introduced in 1985 amid much media hype and consumer hysteria, the Coca Cola Company managed to misread market research data. In the process they were deluded into thinking they should alter the time-honored formula of their flagship product so that it more resembled that of its chief competitor. Nothing like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

There are well over 12,000 new food items introduced each and every year, and countless other non-food products. It is the norm for at least 80% of these to fail within the first five years. It’s not a whole lot unlike going to Las Vegas and losing your shirt most of the time. Every once in a while you get lucky, but those casinos didn’s get big and glitzy by giving money away.

And that’s exactly how it works with marketing. The shopping public is like the casinos in that we only pay out if the marketer is lucky enough to have truly provided us with something without which we cannot live. All other times, we just keep the money for the house.

The Marketing Freeway is littered with the debris of many notable product failures. In spite of all the good efforts by the marketer, missteps are routinely made each and every day. We are left to trip and stumble over them, and while the marketers may hope we all just forget about those errors, they never really go away entirely. Like a bad scar.

So if this makes consumers feel better about everything, then be it. It can be poetic when the big guy falls down. And like most people, I will confess to enjoying the taste of schadenfreude in the morning from time to time.

But none of this serves to lessen the importance of what we study in a marketing course. We still have to consider the various marketing variables, the latest data and trends, the competitive landscape, etc. And we must do this knowing full well that the odds are actually pretty good that we will still fail. Miserably. On our face.

It’s a pretty unforgiving world out there. And the casinos are still dealing the cards. It’s enough to give you a headache. Just don’t pass the Ben-Gay Aspirin and hope to get any results.

Dr “I’ve Enjoyed The Journey” Gerlich


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