The Basics of Marketing, how to avoid the “What were they thinking” Moments

The Basics of Marketing, How to Avoid the “What were they thinking” Moments

Guest writer Bonnie Feigenbaum introduces her lecture series with this debut blog post: The Basics of Marketing, how to avoid the “What were they thinking” Moments.

Marketing is all about creating a connection between your company and your customer, a permanent place in their lives for your product and a permanent place in their heart for your brand.  In 1971, as a very young child I remember belting “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, I’d like to buy the world a coke and keep them company… “learning the iconic Coca-Cola Hillside singers’ ad by heart.  The ad was so popular that Coca Cola had Hilltop Reunion in 1990 and brought back the singers to recreate the commercial.

There are many times I watch marketing campaigns roll out and wondered who was the marketing genius who came up with that! For example, McDonald’s does so many customer connection points right and really raised the bar on creativity in my mind when they launched their pizza line in 1989. The traditional golden arches were angled to make the Zs in pizza to communicate with one picture and one word that this is McDonald’s Pizza, a logo within a logo.

In 2018, I was intrigued by Nike’s decision to use Colin Kaepernick as their brand ambassador. I read the article by the Montreal Gazette columnist Scott Stinson, “Nike stands with a bet that outcry from Trump and his allies won’t cost them business.”   Kaepernick choose to “take a knee” using the moment of the U.S. national anthem to protest racial injustice and lost his football career in the process. The US was sharply divided on whether Kaepernick protesting during the anthem was disrespecting the flag. Nike, it would seem, was placing a large bet on the support their target market has for the issue and on Kaepernick’s sacrifice connecting with them.   Would the tagline, “Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything” resonate?

Nike’s choice did create a social media fervor as some more ardent opponents of their choice of influencer created a boycott hashtag and posted videos of them burning their own Nike shoes, socks and carving the Nike swoosh out of their garments. I would like you to remember one thing these people already paid for the products. Nike already had their money. The only person who was losing was them, as they had to spend money to replace the martyred items. Ironically, putting in practice the Nike/Kaepernick tagline. Nike did their research right, sales increased in the wake of the controversial advertising campaign, with online sales growing by 31% in the holiday weekend after the ad launched, according to researcher Edison Trends.

However, there are other times where I wonder to myself, what were they thinking and how did nobody throughout the whole creative and control process clue into the customer disconnect.

Let us go through some of my favorite fails

Urbn Outfitter was founded in Philadelphia in 1970 and is an international clothing corporation that has retail stores located in Montreal.  My fashion marketing students were trying to determine why there was a significant decrease in sales over the past year.  The Urbn Outfitter store brand sales were declining while the parent corporation’s other brands Anthropologie and Free People’s net sales had increased by 2% and 5% respectively at the same time. Through research the students were able to prove that in general the retail sales for the target demographic had been enjoying a continuous increase in revenue. So, what was the problem?

They investigated further and discovered that the year earlier Urbn Outfitter had launched controversial clothing lines featuring edgy and questionable mental health and body shaming crop tops with messaging like “depressed” and “eat less” while their direct competitorForever 21 T-shirts proclaimed positivity with “eat more” and “love yourself” on their tops.


We also discovered that some of their product line choices left a lot to be desired.  There was a Kent State University sweatshirt with blood spatters on it, a black and white horizontal striped T shirt with a 6-point yellow star on it reminiscent of the Holocaust and T-shirts in a colour Urban Outfitter identified as “Obama black”.  For the life of me I cannot understand how these items got through the approval process.


Another example of product fails because the company did not even think to take the customer reaction into account is Simons, a Quebec retailer. In September 2018, Simons launched a line of bralettes, a type of women’s lingerie. The story goes that when the Simons team was looking for a vision for their new lingerie line, they looked at inspiring Canadian women that were respected and admired. The line was meant to honour women who made historic contributions to Canada. The bralettes were called the Elsie, the Clara, the Nellie and the Beverley. So, while the last names were never used, the ad copy made it clear that the designs were inspired by aeronautical engineer Elsie MacGill, trailblazing lawyer Clara Brett Martin, suffragette and politician Nellie McClung and jurist Beverley McLachlin, the first woman to be appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Now Simon’s never sought permission from the estates of the first three women to use their names or even to ask if they wanted to be bralette brand ambassadors. Nor did they ask the sole living “honoree,” the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin who had just retired in December after spending 28 years at the Supreme Court including almost eighteen as Chief Justice.

After receiving a call from McLachlin, the president Peter Simons, immediately gave in to her demands for her a public apology and a request to get involved with fund raising campaign for the Cornerstone Housing for women emergency shelter organization in Ottawa.


In his apology, he stated that he sincerely regretted the naming mishap citing the lack of judgment on his part and that they decided to discontinue and destroy all materials related to the line following the call. During the media storm, I wondered where were the women in the room?  I noticed a line in one article, “Simons apologizes for bra named after former chief justice Beverley McLachlin,” by Tara Deschamps of the Canadian Press where Simons acknowledges that there is a deficiency in their corporate culture, a lack a comfort of the staff to stand up and express concerns.

That is what my basics of marketing series is all about.  I will give every employee the tools to spot the potential problems and recognize the opportunities to improve the customer experience.  But it is up to the management in the company to embed that into the corporate culture, empowering their employees to put customer connections above corporate politics.

We will start by reviewing the marketing process which is a good opportunity to show a relationship between several concepts we will be discussing, during the lecture series. During the first half of the series, I will focus on introducing marketing, the marketing environment and then market research. I will explain how we use the secondary data to develop marketing information systems. We will then delve into Consumer Buying Behaviour, comparing it with Business and Institutional Buyers’ Behaviour. We will then discuss the segmentation and positioning process that work in conjunction with the company’s marketing strategy. We will also cover the marketing mix, where we implement our strategy using our 4 Ps-Product, Price, Place & Promotion. In our final lecture, we will put it all together and discuss how to prepare the full marketing plan.

I look forward to helping you discover the full potential and powers of a full formed marketing process for your company.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at

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