He was told in the 4th grade he was too stupid to learn anything. Thomas Edison. After being cut by his high school basketball team, he locked himself in his room and cried for hours. Michael Jordan. He was rejected by 27 authors and laughed out of 5 more offices. Dr. Seuss. His fiancée died. He failed at business and then lost 8 elections. Abraham Lincoln. These are personal stories of triumph. What do they have to do with my business? Simple. If you have never failed, then you have never tried anything new.
Take Little Caesars for example. Little Caesars Pizza had been struggling and was an “also ran” in the competitive pizza game. Ever heard of Chet Wallaby? The Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza has been suspiciously missing from the Little Caesars menu lately, and the man in their commercials wants you to know why: You can view it here. It’s because of their “corporate scapegoat” intern, Chet Wallaby. Trying to be the best intern he could be, Chet apologizes and awkwardly shakes the hand of the corporate representative. The company invites viewers to direct all the blame for the item ever being taken off the menu toward the innocent intern. Hence another component of measurement and success – enhance with social media. They introduced the hashtag #BlameChetWallaby.
When the bacon-wrapped delight was taken from the menu in late 2015, loyalists were ready to protest outside of every Little Caesars location. Just in front of the Super bowl in late January, which meant an onslaught of spots by key rival Dominos, Little Caesars launched the scapegoat campaign. Since then, Little Caesars has enjoyed a 13% increase in sales with the majority of the profits deep, deep inside the Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish pizza. In the past 30 days, Little Caesars Pizza has had 9,403 national airings and earned a hot airing rank of #17 with a spend ranking of #77 as compared to all other advertisers.
Obviously, the marketing and communications lesson when taking on failure is learning, reacting and persevering. There are many brand and business stories that give marketers hope. George Steinbrenner bankrupted a baseball team before he purchased the Yankees. Walt Disney was told in high school he had no creativity and wouldn’t amount to much. In the outdoor business, Realtree’s Bill Jordan’s start is legendary. He didn’t have any money and was dressing his mannequins at midnight before the 1987 SHOT Show with the only garments he had. The rest in the outdoor world is legendary. And what about Bill Gates. Bill Gates is now one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, but he didn’t earn his fortune in a straight line to success. Gates entered the entrepreneurial scene with a company called Traf-O-Data, which aimed to process and analyze the data from traffic tapes (think of it like an early version of big data). He tried to sell the idea alongside his business partner, Paul Allen, but the product barely even worked. It was a complete disaster. However, the failure did not hold Gates back from exploring new opportunities, and a few years later, he created his first Microsoft product, and forged a new path to success.
Perhaps the best example of taking a negative and turning it into a positive happened back in the late 80s during the cola wars.
New Coke was the unofficial popular name for the reformulation of Coca-Cola, introduced in the spring of 1985 by The Coca-Cola Company to replace the original formula of its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola (also called Coke). New Coke originally had no separate name of its own, but was simply known as “the new taste of Coca-Cola” until 1992 when it was renamed Coca-Cola II.
Coca-Cola’s market share had been steadily losing ground to diet soft drinks and non-cola beverages for many years; meanwhile the consumers who were purchasing regular colas seemed to prefer the sweeter taste of Pepsi, as was learned in conducting blind taste tests. However, the American public’s reaction to the taste change of Coke was negative, even hostile, and the new cola was a major marketing failure. The subsequent reintroduction less than three months later of Coke’s original formula, re-branded as “Coca-Cola Classic”, resulted in a significant gain in sales and eventually increased its market share by double digits over Pepsi.
This led to speculation that the introduction of the New Coke formula was just a marketing ploy; however, the company has always claimed it was actually an attempt to replace the original product. Coke’s stock soared when the classic formula came back and even in those anger-filled months between April and July, sales were good. In May, Coke sales shot up a sparkling 8% over the same month in 1984, double the normal growth rate.
We’ll never know, but regardless of a marketing ploy or not, the company turned a negative or failure into profits. Today, Coca Cola is hotter than ever and outgaining its competitors in sales, profits and stock price. Certainly Crystal Pepsi didn’t help PepsiCo the same way New Coke did for Coca Cola.
The truth is that Edison was right. He never failed. He just found 10,000 ways of how not to do something right. It’s hard to be a Maverick. But the end of the journey is almost always worth it. It takes courage. For a marketer, especially in the competitive environment in the outdoor industry, the worst thing would be to follow a different division of the company instead of lead the brand into the future.