Marketing disasters: Westpac’s monkey business tops 2009 list

It’s been a big year of marketing disasters for some unfortunate brands, with Westpac taking the mantle as the biggest loser in Mumbrella’s top ten list of the year’s Biggest Marketing Disasters, thanks to its patronising comparison of the price of bananas to its hike in interest rates.  

Top 10 marketing disasters for 2009:

  1. Westpac – Banana smoothies
  2. Toyota Yaris – Clean Getaways
  3. Kraft – Vegemite iSnack 2.0
  4. Telstra admin charge to pay your phone bill
  5. Tiger Woods
  6. Witchery – Girl with the jacket
  7. Tourism Queensland – Fake tattoo
  8. Kyle & Jackie O
  9. Australian tourism – attacks on Indian students
  10. Coca Cola Kerry Armstrong/ Myth busting

1. Westpac – Banana smoothies

The bank created an internal video to help staff understand the changes in the economic environment as a consequence of the global financial crisis. It seemed a simple and straight forward enough idea.

But then someone internally made that now fateful decision to send the video out in an email to customers. It shortly followed the bank’s move to lift its standard variable mortgage rate by 45 basis points – nearly double the Reserve Bank’s 25-basis-point increase.

What ensued was such a widespread backlash that it extended beyond its customers to the wider Australian community.

The video was lambasted for being “condescending”, as it compared its interest rate hike with the rise in price of banana smoothies. Even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd weighed in on the debate, telling ABC Radio in Townsville “I think Westpac should have a long hard look at itself”.

It was subsequently forced to take the video down from its website.

The bank took the number one spot as Mumbrella’s Biggest Marketing Disaster of the Year because of the sheer number of Australians it managed to antagonise, patronise, alienate – take your pick – in the midst of the GFC.

2. Toyota Yaris – Clean Getaways

Toyota came a close second following the global attention it attracted – for all the wrong reasons – from a video promoting the Yaris, as part of its social media pitch.

The offensive video, ‘Clean Getaways’, was produced for the Clever Film Competition, run by Saatchi & Saatchi, as part of its submission for the Yaris pitch. It was one of five agency campaigns all vying to win the social media account.

But it all came unstuck when as more and more people started to view the video, it was deemed sexist, smutty and highly offensive.

It attracted so much commentary it even hit the headlines in the US and UK.

It has now been pulled from the competition and Toyota is reviewing the processes for “signing off any sort of information that goes into the public domain which includes the marketing department”.

A decision on the social media pitch is still pending.

3.Kraft – Vegemite iSnack 2.0

Who could forget Kraft’s ill-fated attempt to get the public to decide on the new name for its Vegemite spin-off, iSnack 2.0, or should we say Cheesybite.

The company was forced to go back to the drawing board following the widespread derision it received at the iSnack 2.0 name, chosen from a public competition in which over 48,000 suggestions were received.

It then launched a second call out, asking the public to vote from seven options: Cheesybite, Creamymate, Smooth, Snackmate, Vegemate, Vegemild or none of these.

After all that, the new, new name was Cheesybite.

Though following further prodding, Mumbrella found out that the number of people who voted for the name Cheesybite, which was over 10,000, was only marginally ahead of the number of people who didn’t like any of the names at all.

4.Telstra admin charge to pay your phone bill

The telco was forced to ditch its controversial $2.20 admin fee it slugged people paying their bills over the counter or by mail after it was flooded with complaints from customers.

Less than two months after it was introduced Telstra’s CEO, David Thodey, was forced to concede: “It is now clear to me that introducing this fee across our existing plans was the wrong way to encourage customers to move to electronic payments.”

Telstra also took the decision to refund all customers that had been forced to make the payment.

5. Tiger Woods

No one has fallen from grace quite as dramatically and as quickly as golfing legend Tiger Woods, as more and more women stepped forward alleging they had slept with the married father of two.

It was only time before his long list of sponsors would start to fall like dominos. Brands which are now severing commercial ties with Woods include Accenture, Tag Heuer, Gillette, PepsiCo.

Nike seems to be one of the very few taking the view that Tiger’s extramarital activities won’t hurt his career in the long run.

6. Witchery – Girl with the jacket

A weekend news story in The Sydney Morning Herald about a girl, named Heidi Clarke, wanting to find the man who had left his jacket in a cafe was initially dubbed a modern Cinderella tale.

That is until it was exposed as a hoax, crafted by strategy agency Naked on behalf of client Witchery.

Clarke even had a website, Hotmail address and YouTube video in which she spent much time extolling the virtues of the “really nice” jacket with its “beautiful silk lining”.

That’s when suspicions started to raise that it was a publicity stunt inspired by a similar, genuine story a year ago in the US.

Witchery was forced to come clean to the hoax, but Naked has maintained that it was a big success for the client.

7. Tourism Queensland – Fake tattoo

Tourism Queensland’s Best Job in the World campaign proved to be the most acclaimed creative work of the year.

But it almost came unstuck when the video of a girl getting a tattoo in order to win a job looking after the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef was exposed as a fake after fooling news organisations around the world.

The video appeared on a number of websites globally, as well as Tourism Queensland’s own site for the launch of the campaign. But Mumbrella revealed that the woman, Rhiannon Craig, was a digital project manager at Cummins Nitro (now known as Sapient Nitro) in Brisbane, the agency behind the campaign.

After the mainstream media picked up the story from Mumbrella, the video was taken off YouTube. While the Queensland treasurer Andrew Fraser said he took a “dim view” of the affair, Tourism Queensland CEO Anthony Hayes said: “The simple answer is that we messed up”.

fake tattoo

8. Kyle & Jackie O

In July, 2Day FM’s breakfast show hosts Kyle & Jackie O were suspended following a disastrous live broadcast when a 14-year-old girl taking part in a lie detector test revealed that she had been raped.

Everyone had something to say about the incident, with advertiser Optus going public saying it was “appalled”, while Naked Communications boss Adam Ferrier wrote an open letter to the industry calling for a boycott of the station.

Presenter Kyle Sandilands for his part penned a justification of the incident in which he suggested that some of the blame lay with the media coverage that followed.

But it didn’t end there. In September Sandilands then made offensive comments on his show about comedian Magda Szubanski losing weight in a concentration camp, which led to a second suspension.

He was sacked from his role as a judge on Australian Idol following the rape scandal, but there is now speculation that ‘the man with nine lives’ may soon return.

9. Australian tourism – attacks on Indian students

Attacks on foreign students and escalating racial tension sparked concerns of a PR disaster for Australia’s inbound tourism industry and the burgeoning international student market.

The Indian prime minister even had a word with Kevin Rudd, concerned over a spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne.

Attacks on Indian students in western Sydney’s Harris Park also led to protests involving 200 Indian nationals.

And when the Indian Government asked Australian Ambassador in New Delhi John McCarthy to explain what was going on, he could only say:  “I have not seen the evidence that they (the attacks) were racist, but I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t discount it.”

10. Coca Cola Kerry Armstrong/ Myth busting

Coca Cola was forced to release “setting the record straight” press ads clarifying the points made in an ad campaign stating it was a myth that Coke made people fat, rotted their teeth and contained a high level of caffeine.

But the ads, fronted by Australian actress Kerry Armstrong, gained the ire of the anti-junk food lobby. The Australian Dental Association, the Parents Jury and the Obesity Policy Coalition put their complaints forward to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which found Coke to be in breach of the Trade Practices Act.

The soft drinks giant was then forced to release corrective advertising.

It also needs to be noted that prior to the ACCC’s involvement, the Advertising Standards Bureau found nothing wrong with the ad. It wasn’t until the ACCC stepped in that the situation changed. It beggars the question then, is it time to stop pretending that advertising is still self-regulated?

coke myth ad

Camille Alarcon


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