Out of leftfield

Major marketing failures grab a lot of attention. But why such failures occur is often overlooked. N. Craig Smith tells how society ...


"Most new products fail” is a familiar lament of marketers. Failure to gain consumer or trade acceptance – because the product doesn’t offer a perceived superior customer value – explains most new product failures. Sometimes, however, failures of new products and other marketing programmes are the result of unanticipated and adverse societal reactions. Recent examples of these previously quite atypical and “out of left field” marketing failures include the following:

Better than tap water? – Dasani in the UK Coca-Cola’s £7 million (media cost only) UK launch in 2004 of a new bottled water backfired because the company misunderstood public sentiment on bottled water, especially when it is from the same source available in their homes. “Coke sells tap water,” the Daily Mirror complained when it became known that the water, at £1.90/litre, was “purified” tap water (cost: 0.06p/litre) supplied by Thames Water. Moreover, Coca-Cola implicitly criticized Thames Water as impure in its Dasani advertising (“as pure as bottled water gets”), resulting in a complaint to the Food Standards Agency. This failure was compounded by evidence of product contamination that emerged a matter of days later. Thames Water was no doubt delighted to confirm that water supplies into the Dasani plant were free of a cancer-causing chemical, bromate, found in the filled Dasani bottles leaving the plant. Coca-Cola voluntarily recalled 500,000 bottles of Dasani. This otherwise successful global product was withdrawn from the UK after only one month on the market. Introduction into France and Germany was postponed (though a natural source was to be used for Dasani in France) and reintroduction to the UK appears unlikely.

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