I’ve been saving stories about a couple notable marketing missteps for a few days now, wondering what, if anything I should write about them. In quick succession, Marvel both announced and then ended a promotional partnership with Northrop Grumman, drawing criticism for working with a military contractor. At about the same time, McDonald’s came under fire for not stocking enough of the “Szechuan Sauce” it rolled out after being featured in an episode of “Rick and Morty.” Fans apparently weren’t satisfied with (or didn’t understand the concept of) the actual volume of a limited supply product.
There have been a number of hot takes on both topics as people wonder what Marvel might have been thinking, it being assumed the company is working to indoctrinate children into a militaristic worldview. And McDonald’s is feeling the full brunt of one of the internet’s most rabid (and sexist) fan bases as it failed to cater to each and every one of them. Both efforts have been labeled “fails” by the conventional wisdom providers.
It’s tempting to pile on. Marvel certainly wasn’t reading the room. While its statement upon ending the partnership pointed out the intent was to focus on exploration and innovation, the complexities of corporate ownership made that goal difficult. It’s likely McDonald’s felt the limited supply of ketchup mixed with teriyaki would stoke demand and turn the product into a sought-after collector’s item, not fully realizing the internet wants everything right damn now.
There’s little point in doing so, though. I can try to make myself look smarter and more in-tune with reality than the people who green-lit these efforts by chastising them. I can deride them as clueless and promote that, if I were in the room, I would have said something that would have ended or adjusted these campaigns. I can fluff myself up at the expense of others.
While I certainly feel more marketing and communications need a “jerk” who will provide the most annoying point of view (while interrupting corporate inertia and disrupting the onset of groupthink), my experience is that no campaign or other effort is conceived by clueless individuals. Some could certainly benefit from a bit more time devoted to brainstorming, sure, but almost everything is considered and thought-out before an announcement is made or campaign launched.
No one, in other words, is acting either in bad faith or from a wholly uninformed point of view. These are good people, doing their best for their employers, clients and others. They want everyone to succeed and they want fans to benefit in some manner. Marvel likely truly did think the Northrop Grumman deal would expose more kids to sci-tech and inspire a generation of inventors. McDonald’s likely thought the limited supply of Szechuan Sauce would create buzz as fans shared their successful efforts to secure a package. There were plans, goals and other structures in place.
Just because things turn out badly or are poorly-received doesn’t immediately make them failures, certainly not intentional ones. We can have our points of view, but to assign poor motives or laziness to anyone in these and countless other scenarios is bad form. We don’t need more hot takes, we need more consideration of what the goals of the program were and how effectively those goals were or weren’t met.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.