Two weeks ago, we asked our readers to help us assemble our annual Dumb Report, a selection of Australian goofs, gaffs and groaners from the worlds of business, politics, media and marketing from 2009.
The suggestions arrived by way of blog comments, tweets, LinkedIn discussions and even one phone call (thanks mum), culminating in a list of business blunders.
TOP 10 (VOTE)
- iSnack 2.Doh!
- Ute Gate, Budgie-Smugglers and Embattled Libs
- Westpac, banana smoothies and Gail ‘Black Knight’ Kelly
- Virgin Blue’s Black Friday
- Hey Hey, It’s Jackson Jive
- Big brands social media #FAIL
- Mars gets smaller… for your health
- Storm Financial founders under dark cloud
- Myer float… Dumb for whom?
- Anyone who takes this too seriously
Vote in the People’s Poll of Business Blunder (here).
iSnack 2.Doh! (Vote)
A clear favourite among marketing pundits, the naming of Kraft’s new Vegemite spread will go down as a black day (or brownie-orangie day) for the panel of “marketing and communication experts” that picked iSnack 2.0. The brand drew almost universal criticism and several critics also pointed out that the name is not even original; iSnack is the name of an energy bar manufactured by South African company PVM Products and is also the trademark used by Ideal Snacks (iSnack), an American Corn Chip manufacturer. So, what was the fall-out? From this point onwards, all ‘i’ named products will invariably be tainted by the smell of cheese and yeast. And marketers Australia-wide will think twice when putting ‘crowdsourced’ names into the hands of ‘experts’.
Ute Gate, Budgie-Smugglers and Embattled Libs (Vote)
It’s been a bad year for the Australian Liberal Party. In fact, we considered creating a small sub-list dedicated purely to the poorly planned political plays of a party clearly on the ropes. However, the OzCar scandal stands out as an affair to remember. When Federal Leader of the Opposition (at the time) Malcolm Turnbull made allegations that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan had “used their offices and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates and then lied about it to the Parliament”, backed by an email to prove it, the Australian media went into frenzy. Of course, it soon transpired that the email was a fake, causing Turnbull’s approval rating to suffer the single biggest fall in the 25-year history of Newspoll’s two-party preferred survey, while Rudd’s preferred rating increased from 57 to 65 per cent. The saga also marked the beginning of Turnbull’s ultimate loss of the Opposition Leadership.
Westpac, Smoothies and ‘Black Knight’ Kelly (Vote)
In the world world according to Westpac, mortgages are much like banana smoothies and the cost of borrowing money is little different to that of buying bananas. This was news to the hundreds of thousands of Westpac customers who received a video-email in early December from the bank’s retail chief. The now infamous video was initially created to educate Westpac staff about its decision to jack up interest rates at almost twice the level of the Reserve Bank’s cash rate. In a classic line from the Herald Sun, David Penberthy advised, “Don’t subject intelligent adults to fairytales about bananas, especially when you’re giving them the rough end of the pineapple.” Crikey likened Gail Kelly’s response to the ridiculously optimistic Black Knight from Monty Python. Maybe the saga will give rise to a new phrase about trying to polish a banana?
Virgin Blue’s Black Friday (Vote)
Speaking of ‘black days’, few could forget the marketing groaner dealt by the direct marketing team at Virgin in early November. It seems that marketing decisions always rank highly in Anthill’s annual dumb report but few ever come from the realms of DM, or in these modern times eDM (i.e. electronic direct mail). In this instance, Virgin sent tens of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of emails to its database announcing that each recipient was eligible for a free upgrade offer to Velocity Gold, listing a range of benefits. Within several hours, the offer was retracted under the headline “friday 13h strikes!”. At the time, we suggested that it may have been deliberate. Virgin customers clearly thought otherwise, filling the twitterverse and blogosphere with their unflattering opinions.
Hey Hey, It’s Jackson Jive (Vote)
Taking a very close second place to the Kyle Sandilands ‘lie-detector’ controversy among our fave media mishaps, was the sheer ‘dumbness’ of the Hey Hey it’s Saturday Reunion producers for allowing the now internationally infamous Red Faces skit to go to air. US singer Harry Connick Jnr, who made a guest appearance on the reunion special, shared his discomfort over the act with Hey Hey host Daryl Somers, who arranged then for Connick Jnr to voice his concerns at the end of the show. Australia cringed and Channel Nine responded by commissioning a full series for 2010.
Big brands social media #FAIL (Vote)
It seems that 2009 was the year that big brands attempted to embrace social media en masse and instead simply contributed to one big Twitter hashtag (i.e. #fail). PricewaterhouseCoopers was among the first to jump on the bandwagon, resurrecting a 2007 UK campaign titled, “What would you like to change?” MYOB created its own business media channel (called my.MYOB), ANZ purchased, re-branded and then re-launched an online business forum (called SB Hub) and, most recently, Telstra launched the Telstra Exchange. If any (or all) of these campaigns are new to you, you wouldn’t be alone. PricewaterhouseCoopers backed its play with a small fortune in print advertising, the rest relied on their own internal reach. However, each failed to follow the cardinal rule of online marketing: A community is not a platform. Just because you build it, they will not necessarily come.
Mars gets smaller… for your health (Vote)
Oh Mars! Really? In this day and age, do corporate PR machines really think that if they spin the truth to Orwellian proportions we’ll either be completely hoodwinked or go along with it because, well, it’s all part of the game? In June, Mars Snackfoods, makers of the popular confectionery Mars Bar, announced that it would be reducing the size of Mars Bars from 60g to 53g, making it 11.6 percent lighter. The price, however, will remain the same. But rather than being honest and declaring to the world that, ‘Hey, times are tough’, Mars treated us with the laughable line that the decision was made in the interests of consumer health – to fight the obesity epidemic. If this sets a trend, next time McDonalds takes a beating over the fat content of its burgers, it will offer to reduce its Big Macs by 11 percent.
Storm Financial founders under dark cloud (Vote)
Many things can sink a ship and the GFC came crashing down on many investment vessels with a ferocity unseen to most sailors in the high seas of lending and finance. When Townsville-based financial services company Storm Financial sunk, taking the savings of up to 14,000 clients down with it, its flambouyant captains, Emmanuel and Julie Cassimatis, made a bee-line for the life-raft, leaving their injured passengers to fend for themselves. According to Federal Court testimony, Julie Cassimatis ordered a $2 million dividend be transferred into a personal trust account shortly after being warned that the company was in serious financial trouble. The ‘dumb’ details of this watery tale are expected to be revealed shortly. The liquidators were due to finalise a report for the corporate regulator this month.
Myer float… Dumb for whom? (Vote)
Some feisty finger pointing from spirited readers have stitched up a spot for this float turned flop in our 2009 dumb report. However, its hard to say whether any accusations of corporate ‘stoopidity’ can rightly be levelled at the venture capital consortium Texas Pacific Group and Blum Capital which bought Myer in 2006 and completely sold out of its stake in the float for almost $1.6 billion. While the ATO is chasing TPG over $452 million from the proceeds of the sale, what this example actually proves is that there will always be a place for investors, swayed by style over substance, in our dumb report. The stock is still trading below its issue price of $4.10, closing on Friday at a $3.68.
Anyone who takes this too seriously (Vote)
As the final addition to this year’s Dumb Report, we’ve added a pre-emptive ‘stoopidity’ strike. Yes, we’d like to include the people who each year harp on about the lack of objectivity in our report (To you, we say: “It’s a dumb report… there are no objective measures!”), the people who criticise the report as time-wasting folly (To you, we say: “Yes, there are better ways to spend your time… So why don’t you go do them!”) and the people who threaten to sue us (To you, we say: “Don’t bother. You need to be able to link our comments to your loss… And that ship has already sailed.”).
One more thing. There are three mistakes in this post. See if you can find them. (We call this one our get out of jail free card. We’ll let you figure out why.)
Voting is now closed! To see the outcomes, click here.