Great Brand Blunders

The Worst Marketing and Social Media Meltdowns of All Time and How to Avoid Your Own

By Rob Gray Published by Crimson Books, £12.08, also available for Kindle £9.98.

Reviewed by Sarah Alder

“Shame lies not in failing, but in failing to learn from failure.” is how Rob Gray, long time PR writer, concludes this highly entertaining book about marketing and social media #fails.  

Great Brand Blunders is a well-researched book bringing together dozens of examples of brand blunders from the 1930s onwards and including some very familiar stories such as the Hoover flights fiasco, the Ford Edsel and the #McStories debacle as well as many that will be new to most readers.  

I feared it would be amusing for twenty pages or so and then a rather tedious string of case studies.  Two things make this more than just a list of disasters that make you either wince or laugh.

Well structured

Firstly the structure. The chapters group the examples by the nature of the blunder eg Chapter 7 “When fakery, falsification and scams come to light” and other chapters look at brand stretching, advertising failures, and cross-cultural faux pas.  Each chapter tends to focus on one or two blunders described in detail, with a briefer listing of other similar incidents.  In this way Gray is able to cover a lot of examples and also show how bad practice is not confined to any particular sectors, industries or marketing activity.

Tips and lessons

By focusing on problem areas, Gray is able to bring in the second strength of the book which is the “Tips and Lessons” section at the end of each chapter; a handful of bullet points ensuring that the reader understands why such well-respected brands could have got themselves into such situations, and how we, the reader, can avoid a similar fate.  Some of these Tips sound obvious if read outside the context of the chapter.  At the end of Chapter 6 Regrettable Rebranding for instance, the tips include “Think twice before dispensing with a name, logo or brand image that has served you well in the past”. Extracted from a ‘branding for beginners’ text perhaps?  But having just read how the Consignia brand came and went at a cost to the Royal Mail of £1m, you realise the importance of remembering the basics.

Empathy and humour

Gray interviewed many of the key players and he writes with empathy as well as insight.  He understands how such things can happen, even though he knows why they shouldn’t.  He sets out the examples very clearly and with a lot of humour although he can be quite caustic, about inappropriate advertising for Hyundai for instance.

I wish I had seen the Bic for Her campaign happening, I hope I would have been able to contribute to the social media backlash with as much wit as some of the examples quoted. Other highlights for me were Too Hot for Snapple (a huge melting ice lolly in New York) and Wee for a Wii, which not only had tragic consequences but shows how much influence brands can wield over consumers.

Dip in and share with colleagues

Dip into this book rather than reading from cover to cover. If you are studying for any qualification which looks at brands, how to build them and how easy they are to destroy, this would be extremely useful. Candidates for the CAM Integrating Digital Media and Branding, PR or Integrated Communications modules or looking for examples at a more strategic level of how branding impacts marketing, as part of the CIM Professional Certificate or Professional Diploma for instance, would find this useful.

I recommend that every PR, social media and marketing manager gets a copy for the team. Pass the book from person to person each day with the instruction to open it at random and read one example.  Over a few months you will have disseminated a lot of great learning throughout the team, for the cost of a round of coffees.

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