It sounded like a good idea at the time…

As a marketing director for most of my working life, I was always amused when someone introduced me as a “marketing guru.” It was a buzz phrase that sprung up somewhere as a compliment to someone who had true genius in the area of marketing, but undeservedly became applied to almost anyone who worked in that field. Given some marketing blunders I pulled, I certainly wasn’t deserving of the title.

In one promotion I created, I saw a chance to boost sales of a particular product by tying it into the “green” movement. The idea was that if a customer bought that particular product, they’d get a small pine tree to plant in their yard. Good for the environment, good for the customer, good for the company — right? I even went to a local greenhouse to buy an eight-inch pine tree in a planted in a six-inch diameter pot to demonstrate the promotion to the store managers, who praised me that it was evidence of a “marketing guru” at his best.

I found a supplier of small “eight-inch” pine trees and ordered several hundred of them to be distributed to stores to hand out to happy customers when they bought the targeted product. But when the trees arrived, they were clearly not what I had expected. Yes, they were eight inches, but instead of eight inches above the top of a six-inch diameter pot, they were eight inches of long-skinny weed-like trees — including long bare roots — packaged in indivudal clear plastic bags. Store managers, some of whom had borrowed large pickup trucks to haul the trees back to their stores, looked on in stunned silence when they saw what they thought were just weeds in a bag.

Needless to say, I hadn’t thoroughly investigated what I had ordered, and the thing turned out to be a big bust, with most of the trees ending up in the trash can.

On another occasion, a group of marketers for a larger region came up with what all of us “gurus” thought was a splendid idea. We concluded that we could help increase sales by sending a “Fiesta in a Box” to help already overburdened employees get excited about an otherwise uninspiring promotion.

The “Fiesta in a Box” that would be sent to each store included snacks and other inexpensive promotional items and props to carry through the theme. One of the snacks was a jar of salsa, to go along with some tortilla chips included in the box. One of the props was a tiny box of Mexican jumping beans that you find at those cheesy curio stores throughout the Southwest.

The first problem occurred when the “Fiesta in a Box” items were being flown in an un-pressurized courier plane to some store locations in far West Texas. Somewhere over the vast emptiness of that region, the salsa jars began exploding because they had been sealed at a factory at sea level, then subjected to thin air at 12,000 feet. Some of the bags of chips may have loudly popped open as well. The pilot of the aircraft, made an emergency landing for fear his aircraft was disintegrating or that he had picked up a cargo of terrorist bombs. Needless to say, we quickly cancelled delivery of the remaining boxes and were left with an endless supply of salsa and chips for our future team meetings.

Now imagine if you are the manager of the U.S. Post Office in Post, Texas, (yes, there is such a place and it was named after the guy who started the Post cereal brand,_Texas) and you suddenly hear something ticking inside of a box scheduled for delivery to a local business. Yes, the Mexican jumping beans had awakened, and were twitching like crazy in their tiny plastic boxes. Convinced that the ticking was the timer on a bomb, the postmaster called the Fire Department, Police and nearest bomb squad while the building was evacuated. After the careful extraction of the suspect package from the post office, it was gingerly opened, only to find the jumping beans happily leaping around their plastic box and oblivious to their perceived role as agents of destruction.

I had a colleague who did something similar, which also resulted in a post-office shut down. He had dreamed up a beach theme for a promotion and sent small packages of white beach sand in the promotional box. This was at the same time that a number of national political figures and news anchors had received envelopes with anthrax-laden powder in them. So when white sand began leaking out of the promotional boxes, postal officials feared it was part of the anthrax conspiracy, shut down the post office and contacted those responsible.

Gurus indeed.

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