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From New Logos to New Coke: When Corporations Make Mistakes

It was a tempest in a coffee cup.

Mega coffee chain Starbucks wanted to spark a conversation about race when it asked baristas to write “Race Together” on customers’ cups as part of a broader effort, but people standing in line for their morning java were not amused. Many voiced complaints on social media and elsewhere that they didn’t want a debate with their brew and Starbucks ended the campaign Sunday, although they said the campaign was always meant to be brief.

Corporations spend millions to make sure their products, logos, and branding and marketing are top of mind for consumers in a positive way. But that means that when corporate missteps happen or marketing campaigns are a flop, they can go viral, too. Problems usually arise when companies haven’t fully considered the target they’re trying to reach and what could go wrong, says Atlanta-based marketing consultant Laura Ries.

“You have to have the right approach at the right time,” she said. “The problem many companies have is not understanding the customer’s point of view, only understanding their personal point of view in terms of what they want to accomplish.”

Here’s a look at some major corporations’ missteps and their impact.

Starbucks talks race

Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz is known for taking on big issues like job creation and education so the coffee chain’s latest initiative centered around diversity and racial inequality was not a big departure from that.

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