The Importance of Understanding Audiences

Successful marketing is all about appealing to the right audience. If you don’t understand what your audience wants, or if you feel as though you can’t realistically tell them what they need or want, you’re in danger of making some serious and expensive mistakes. Take a look at these three examples of how major companies have made comprehensive blunders when it comes to understanding their audiences – and the prices they paid as a result.


Ford – The Edsel

1958 – 1960

Throughout the 1950s, Ford was one of the undisputed automotive kings of America, but in order to compete with the might of General Motors, it was required to produce new and successful machines to exploit gaps in its own model range.

The Edsel was released in 1958 to much fanfare, thanks in no small part to Ford’s lavish investment in the car’s marketing. In advertisements, the Edsel was only ever portrayed mischievously hidden just out of sight, so when the time came for its release, the public didn’t really know what to expect.

To compound the confusion, Ford somehow managed to price the Edsel in competition with other models in its own lines, so buyers didn’t know if they were, say, getting a less-luxurious version of a Mercury or a comparatively well-specced Fairlane.

When the public were finally able to see the Edsel, they were universally underwhelmed by the car’s looks. Some said that the grill resembled a toilet-seat, others even less favourable things. In either case, the Edsel was a resounding failure, despite Ford having pumped $400 million into its development; a cautionary tale in audience comprehension indeed.


‘New Coke’

1985 – 1992

As a reaction to increased competition from rivals such as Pepsi Cola, Coca-Cola decided that they were going to reinvent themselves, changing the soft drink’s formula in order to coincide with the company’s centenary in 1985.

Focus groups had reacted positively to the new formula Coke, although some had expressed a sense of betrayal and alienation at the idea of the established company changing its stripes, so to speak. Despite this, Coca-Cola went ahead and launched ‘New Coke’ on April 23rd 1985.

Coca-Cola had leaked ahead of time that they had a ‘big announcement’ ready for that date, and although the nature of the announcement was secret, most observers had guessed that it signalled a change in the drink’s formula, and this gave Pepsi an opportunity to react.

Many US Southerners, who often considered Coke to be a part of their regional identity, deeply resented the formula change, and there was an angry backlash coupled with widespread ridicule lavished on Coca-Cola’s new baby. The original formula was re-introduced some three months after it was retired, and the hastily rebranded ‘Coke II’ stuttered in and out of existence across the States until it was dismissed for good in 2002.


Logo Redesign


One would think that marketing execs would have learnt from the lessons of history, but as recently as 2010, a brand with the worldwide might and influence of Gap was seen to make a marketing blunder almost exactly in the ‘New Coke’ mould.

Ever since the 1980s, the Gap logo had been white, block capital text inside a blue box; an image that had become synonymous with the brand as all good logos do. However, in October 2010, the clothing company changed its logo, bringing in a lower case, Helvetica font with a little blue square perched behind the ‘P’ of Gap.

Why Gap’s marketing department decided the logo needed changing in the first place is a fair question in itself, but such was the style of the new logo and the approach taken by the company upon its release that Gap customers complained in their thousands.

The volume of complaints was so great that Gap scrapped the new design and reinstated their original logo within a week of its release, costing the company thousands in the failed campaign and damaging their overall credibility indelibly.

These examples show how failing to understand one’s audience can be a big, big mistake. Even multinationals as large and powerful as these three can make mistakes and damage their reputation thanks to ill thought-out marketing campaigns.

Don’t fall victim to the same mistakes.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.
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