Marketing Failures: How 5 Brands Turned Missteps into Success Stories

Jessica Stevenson By Jessica Stevenson, Senior Project Manager & Campaign Perfectionist, Extra Mile Marketing

Marketing is an intricate dance between brands and consumers.

What kind of dance? Take the tango.  This is one of the most famous partner dances that emphasizes a playful style of movement and rich expressions, requiring a close connection between dancers. 

It’s also a dance that revolves around a leader and a follower. The leader gives openings to the follower, and the follower then chooses how they will respond.

Similar to the tango, successful marketing campaigns require impeccable timing and rhythm, finding the right pace and cadence, and a shared connection. It involves two-way interactions. Marketers convey messaging about a product or service, and prospects respond through their actions and feedback.

Like any dance, sometimes it results in a few missteps or squashed toes. It can feel frustrating and often like a failed experience.

The key to success, however, often lies in the ability to learn from these missteps and refine what may not be working.

As the leader of the dance, marketers need to adapt to consumers' changing behaviors, preferences, and expectations. Successful marketing is agile and has a commitment to feedback cycles that will continue to improve campaigns to meet consumer needs.

To perfect the Marketing Tango, let’s explore five examples of products and ideas that initially stumbled on the dance floor but managed to find their footing through smart adjustments and strategic refinements.


1. The Segway: A Revolutionary Idea Finds Its Niche Audience

When the Segway was unveiled in 2001, it was marketed as a groundbreaking mode of transportation for everyone. But it failed to capture the mass market as expected. The broad vision didn't pan out the way the company planned. However, Segway found success when their marketing redefined their target audiences: Personal mobility devices on college campuses and law enforcement vehicles.

  • Tip: Often, casting a wide net in marketing doesn’t speak directly to a target audience. It's crucial to identify the right audience and use your product or service’s unique features to reach them effectively.


2. The X-ray Machine: Proving Technical Jargon Doesn’t Sell

In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of X-rays faced skepticism within the medical community. His paper 'On a New Kind of Rays,' and was the first scientific paper to describe X-rays, but it was filled with technical jargon. Because of this, the public had a hard time believing these mysterious rays were capable of passing through glass. Reeducating professionals and the public played a significant role in overcoming skepticism and making X-ray technology an essential tool in medicine.

  • Tip: Tech jargon be gone. If your target audience is unable to understand your product, it’s likely to be passed over. Connect with consumers emotionally through storytelling, branding, and creative messaging of your product or service.


3. Play-Doh: Right Product, Wrong Application

Play-Doh was initially developed as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s and was met with limited success. However, a brilliant rebranding effort in the 1950s transformed it into a beloved creative play product for children, demonstrating the power of packaging and perception.

  • Tip: Part of marketing sometimes requires a step back to understand a product's full potential or intent. Rebranding and realignment with the product purpose can open new ways to market.


4. The Internet: Understanding and Communicating New Concepts

When the internet started to become a household conversation, even iconic TV anchors like Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel, and Elizabeth Vargas struggled to understand and explain "What is the internet?" When user adoption and loyalty are driving forces behind product usage, it's important to remember that clear messaging is crucial to overcoming such hurdles.

  • Tip: When introducing a new concept, it's essential to make the messaging relatable and understandable to your audience. A clear value proposition can go a long way. Consumers become brand advocates, influencers, or loyal customers, contributing to the success of the marketing efforts.


5. Spotify: Reshaping the Music Industry

When Spotify emerged in 2008, it faced huge resistance from the music industry due to concerns about piracy and its impact on traditional music sales. However, Spotify's marketing team redefined the game by introducing a freemium model (a pricing strategy that offers basic features or services to users at no cost, but charges for advanced features) and emphasizing streaming. The key was creating a unique selling proposition that set it apart from competitors and positioned it as a dominant platform.

  • Tip: Understanding your key points of differentiation helps position your messaging against competitors and sets your product apart.


Marketing failures or missteps are not the end of the road, they're merely a fork in the journey.

These examples show that with persistence, innovation, and effective adjustments, even the most challenging marketing hurdles can be overcome. In the words of Albert Einstein, "Failure is success in progress."  As leaders in the dance, marketers can embrace the opportunity to refine strategies, adapt to changing circumstances, and find the path to the perfect tango even when it's initially elusive.


Feeling like you’ve been stuck in a marketing rut? Let us help you create your next success story. Schedule a complimentary 30 minute consultation to see how we can be an extension of your team.



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Marketing Failures: How 5 Brands Turned Missteps into Success Stories