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Biros and bombs : marketing dos and don'ts

Special Report : Marketing The Family Business

The history of advertising is filled with the corpses of failed campaign strategies.Marc Smith looks at several recent examples to ascertain what family businesses should and, perhaps more importantly, should not be doing.

Marc Smith is deputy editor of Families in Business.

George Orwell once said rather acidly that advertising "is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket". And there is no doubt that when marketing campaigns go awry, there is little a company can do to prevent the fallout – and look like complete buffoons. While some may still believe that "there is no such thing as a bad press", in today's world of 24-hour news, 3G phones and wireless internet, getting your marketing strategy right the first time is paramount. And as companies get ever more inventive in the ways they try to grab consumers' attention, the stakes are getting ever higher.

Just take two recent bloopers as examples. First, Turner Broadcasting System's (TBS) attempt to promote a brand of programming called Adult Swim in January got them in hot water. TBS, the multi-billion-dollar brainchild of American media mogul Ted Turner, in association with a guerilla-marketing agency, planted 400 LED light displays in 10 US cities. The displays featured a character from an upcoming movie proffering his middle finger. Unfortunately for TBS, some residents of Boston mistook the displays for explosives and called the police. The result? Major transport routes were shut down and bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed. The whole event cost TBS $2 million, a humiliating apology and left the two men who planted the devices facing criminal charges.

Then there is UK drinks manufacturer Cadbury Schweppes. Its attempt to promote fizzy drink Dr Pepper in the US involved a treasure hunt for hidden gold coins and the chance to win $1.5 million. The problem? The agency it hired to manage the stunt decided that the Boston graveyard of revered historical figures such as John Hancock, the first person to sign the United States Declaration of Independence, was as good a place as any to hide the coins. Luckily for the city's park department, the Granary Burying Ground was closed due to bad weather when the first contestants, led there by a trail of clues, turned up to find the treasure in February. "It was poor judgement and we have apologised to the authorities," said a company spokesperson. "No damage was done to the graves … we wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery."

Global social networking
One thing that everyone agrees on is that the internet and digital media are fundamentally changing the way both consumers and companies are interacting. Not only are people changing their purchasing habits, but the ways in which they come to hear about a product or service in the first place are changing. It is the next generation – growing up with global social networks available at the click of a mouse – who will expect companies to get on their wavelength; and that means getting to grips with the technologies of the future.

One company who has actively embraced the above is family-owned BIC, the French consumer products company of Biro fame. Clearly tapping into the youth market, their website ( showcases a viral marketing campaign for its shavers and a Penspinning Academy to engage would-be buyers of BIC pens.

At visitors can discover a marketing campaign dedicated to the launch of BIC's triple-blade shaver, BIC® Comfort 3® Advance™. The site contains eight humorous films, to view, download and share with friends, a viral competition and a collaborative blog.

To inspire consumers to purchase the humble pen, BIC has hit upon "pen spinning" – a trend it is showcasing at, where comic film clips and videos show how to become a "penspinner" are available.

So, apart from avoiding bomb-like displays and a possible charge of illegal gravedigging, what are the rules you need to follow to ensure a successful campaign? Answers right

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