Not surprisingly, many marketers were outraged, offended & upset by the recent Marketing Is Dead essay in the Harvard Business Review.
Personally, I thought the piece was (intentionally) overstated – but directionally correct. Marketing isn’t ‘dead’ (as my fellow Enterprise Irregular and friend Maggie Fox asserts) but there’s no doubt things are changing – quickly.
Yet despite all of the positive brand equity built and established through their traditional (advertising) marketing initiatives, all it takes is one badly-handled (and tragic) case, a socially-aware customer and a socially-clueless response – and it has all come tumbling down.
But when Matt decided to make public the whole ordeal on his blog—which then proceeded to be picked up far and wide by the chatterati, Twitted and Tumbl-ed ad infinitum—Progressive made the mistake of trying to do damage control. With predictable results. After thousands of people went on the company’s Facebook page, threatening to cancel their policies, Progressive’s PR people issued via Twitter what has to be the single lamest apology ever penned:
This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they’ve had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations.
Yep, that’s right, “within our contractual obligations.” And to make matters worse, in the face of growing public outrage, Progressive simply continued to Tweet the same robotic post. It’s been all downhill from there.
Perhaps Old Marketing isn’t ‘dead’ – but it is effectively powerless here. Traditional marketing and advertising is simply no match for the power of a socially-connected and aware customer community.
To top it all off, there’s even talk of the company’s retiring Flo, the bizarrely bubbly counter girl in its highly successful ad campaign, whose grin has suddenly come to seem a liability, even disturbing. The upshot? A glaring sign above the stock’s ticker: DO NOT BUY.
Progressive seems not to have learned one of the key lessons of the social-media age. There is no privacy anymore. Every move a company makes can, and given the public’s endless need for stimulation, inevitably will, be broadcast on the huge Jumbotron that is the internet. Corporate decision-makers would be well-advised to behave as though their every move were being played before a capacity crowd at the Rose Bowl. The distance between in-house and viral is exactly two mouse clicks, the time it takes to send an angry blog post into the cybersphere. Caveat venditor: let the seller beware.