Fresh Lemons And Lemonade

How to Fail and Still Win

It started innocently enough. My favorite gourmet kitchen supply store sent me an email with a very effective subject line —“Happy First Anniversary!” Aww, how swee — wait a minute. They missed my first anniversary by a dozen years or so. Oops!

Lasting Impressions NewsletterAbout four hours later, I got another email from the same retailer. Gutsy, right? Nope, it was perfect. The subject line read, “What? You mean it isn’t your anniversary?”  With a quick turn of the phrase, they had righted all that had gone wrong earlier in the day. And it worked beautifully — I’m empathetic, entertained, engaged, and ready to spend some money in their store.

It turns out this this fancy-shmancy gourmet kitchen store is just like me. This momentary glitch in their marketing campaign showed their humanity and I identified with it. I’m willing to bet they have even burned a batch or two of cookies before, too.

We try to be the best we can every day. And sometimes we fall flat on our face right in front of everybody. But if we are authentic with our message, our gaffe may not be as tragic as first thought. If nothing, it shows we are human and allows us to connect with consumers because of it. That emotional connection is what we always strive towards with marketing strategies. So embrace it when it happens. Here are a few ideas to turn these sour moments into marketing magic lemonade.


In some situations, all you can do is laugh at your mistake. If no one got hurt (save the intern who pushed “Send” before it was time), find a creative way to share your gaffe so others can laugh with you. Acknowledge your error, frame how customers might feel about such a mistake, and enjoy the levity for a little bit. Life is so serious sometimes, it’s nice to let out a hardy knee-slapper.


Nearly all of our marketing errors have the potential to be really embarrassing. Misspelled words and phrases, or even unfortunate cultural timing can color all the hard work put into a campaign. Quick, appropriate action with humility is the remedy here. Formulate a strategy to address the error as soon as you are aware of it, and then step up to the microphone and acknowledge the transgression. Own it, and then make it right.


The cost of honoring a typo in the price may be rewarded with higher customers loyalty. For instance, United Airlines discovered a server error hours after customers had purchased loads of airplane tickets at no cost. They didn’t have to honor the final price for those tickets, but they did. And I’m going to guess that move brought in more loyal customers than just about any branding campaign could muster. Yes, it may cost more than you had planned, but there is value in doing what you said you will do. Even if it was a misprint.

Once you’re beyond the crisis mode and the cursing has ended, take a few minutes to figure out why the error came out in the first place. Take this opportunity to tighten your processes, and learn from the experience.

If you’ve found yourself red faced once too often with your marketing campaigns, give us a call or send us an email. We’re human too, but we’ll always do our best for you.

Elke Giba

Elke is our chief facilitator — helping A/E/C clients uncover insights about customers and services to define a unique marketing position. She is equally at home in Dallas or Nashville, but oddly enough cannot two-step to save her life. When she isn't researching, interviewing or facilitating, she is practicing the delicious art of baking.

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