Big brands face customer outrage over Easter marketing blunders: Lessons in holiday-related promotions

This article was originally published on SmartCompany here, featuring quotes from our CEO Helen Ahrens on how to survive marketing fails.

A number of Easter-related marketing bungles have lead to worldwide customer outrage over the long weekend, with one expert reminding businesses “you can’t please everyone”.

In both the UK and Australia, some popular brands have come under fire for failed attempts at advertising campaigns. The Sun reports UK supermarket giant Tesco was accused of being “extraordinarily ignorant” after running a campaign advertising beer and cider deals on Good Friday.

The newspaper advertisement read “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better”, and was criticised for linking the religious holiday with the consumption of alcohol.

Reverend Richard Coles called out Tesco on Twitter, labelling the ad as a “Religious Education fail”, and accused it of causing “unnecessary offense”.

Chocolate manufacturer Cadbury also copped flak in the UK, as many customers took to social media to accuse the company of removing the word “Easter” from its chocolate eggs.

The Sun reports many social media users called for a boycott of the brand, posting photos of its products without Easter branding.

“Seems to me these companies are trying to dissociate chocolate eggs from Christianity and Easter. No point buying!” said one customer on Twitter.

However, the brand has refuted the claims, with a spokesperson telling The Sun “There is NO policy or any effort to remove or phase out the word Easter from our marketing or packaging and to suggest otherwise is wholly untrue”.

“Our packaging includes the word Easter on pack and, importantly, for many of our Easter eggs it is even engraved on the egg itself,” the spokesperson said.

Chief executive at Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens told SmartCompany this morning businesses shouldn’t attempt to please everyone with marketing campaigns, and should instead work on getting to their “core audience”.

“Stay true to your strategies and market to your target market. As long as they’re buying what you’re selling and you’re not being offensive to the general public, you’re okay,” she says.

Coles “I’m Free” campaign backfires

In Cadbury’s case, Ahrens says sticking to your guns when presented with customer complaints can be a good strategy, but she advises businesses to always “own it” and learn from their mistakes.

“It’s always around owning your mistakes, no one likes a brand who says they didn’t know it was an issue,” she says.

“The fact of the matter it was an issue, so own it, apologise, and make it right.”

This is what Australian supermarket giant Coles was forced to do after an Easter campaign associated with its plan to keep more checkouts open over the long weekend backfired.

The “I’m Free” campaign involved the supermarket opening an additional 13,250 checkouts, and was promoted via an advertisement showing cashiers holding up blue signs with “I’m free” written on them.

These signs were provided to staff for the long weekend, but news.com.au reports a number of cashiers were subject to sexual harassment after customers made inappropriate comments in relations to the signs.

A number of comments on Coles’ Facebook pages alluded to lewd and inappropriate comments made by customers towards cashiers, such as “You’re free? When can I take you home?”

Coles has since backtracked on the campaign and removed the signs from stores due to harassment from customers.

“Use of the ‘I’m Free’ signs to indicate an open checkout was a fun way of activating the campaign. Unfortunately in response to a small number of customers behaving disrespectfully to team members, we have now removed the signs,” a Coles spokesperson told SmartCompany this morning.

SMEs can afford to “take risks” when it comes to marketing

Ahrens believes Coles should be apologising to staff also, along with making a public apology outlining how they rectified the situation. She notes there is no “blanket solution” for responding to customer complaints, with the right approach coming down to a case-by-case basis.

However, Ahrens believes small businesses have more flexibility when it comes to marketing campaigns, noting, “pushing boundaries is the only way to move forward”.

“When you’re small, it’s about testing small and failing fast, as long as everything you’re doing is with good intentions,” she says.

“That’s how we move forward, by pushing boundaries and being cheeky. Big brands are always in the public eye and therefore have to do the right thing. SMEs have more flexibility, so take risks.”