If you don’t succeed destroy the evidence so no one knows you tried

Recently, someone said to me, ‘If you don’t succeed destroy the evidence so no one knows you tried’.

We didn’t really get off to a flying start. However we did eventually agree that although you may feel like destroying the evidence and hiding your failure, if you could be brave enough to share, it could prevent others from making the same mistakes.  We discussed some of the more public corporate failures listed below and agreed that there are lessons to be learned from all of them.

Doing a Ratner

Gerald Ratner, former Chief Executive of Ratners Group made a speech in 1991 to 5,000 people at the Institute of Directors. According to our friends at wikipedia he said;

“We do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?”, I say, “because it’s total crap.”

He compounded this by going on to remark that some of the earrings were “cheaper than a M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.”

Apparently the speech went down rather well – in that it got lots of laughs, but in the end the proclamation that Ratners products were ‘total crap’ led to the bankruptcy of the business. Now when someone messes up it’s commonly referred to as ‘doing a Ratner’.

Eat more chocolate and get fit

In 2003 Cadbury launched a scheme offering free sports equipment in exchange for vouchers on chocolate wrappers. So the more chocolate kids and their families ate, the more sports equipment their schools received.

The scheme might have originally been designed in all good faith to help children get more active in sport, but when health campaigners pointed out the quantities of chocolate that would need to be consumed in order for schools to benefit, the campaign went a little sour. (Apparently one secondary school would have to have eaten 5,440 chocolate bars – containing over 33kg of fat and nearly 1.25 million calories to qualify for a free set of volleyball posts)

Pipe job

Labeled the worst car ad in history, in 2013 Hyundai released an advert showing a failed suicide attempt – because the vehicle, the IX35 crossover, did not produce enough harmful emissions for you to commit suicide in your car.

The one-minute film shows a middle-aged man sitting in the driver’s seat of a right-hand-drive vehicle inside a closed garage with a hose running from the exhaust pipe into a window. After a few moments, the man turns on the light, opens the garage door and trudges back into the house as text on the screen reads, “The new IX35, with 100%-water emissions.” A Hyundai logo appears at the end.

Hyundai apologized and the advert was removed.

Flights for lights

A Tesco offer; buy a low energy bulb and earn a £2.50 Clubcard voucher, which in turn translates into 60 air miles.

Motivating people to adopt energy-saving measures by giving them air miles is counter intuitive at best. Ed Gillespie posted an excellent piece on this in The Guardian. Flights for lights does rhyme nicely though.

A step back, seeking different perspectives from others and audience testing might have prevented these ideas from making the mass market, or it could even have developed them into something different and better.

What do you think? Have you seen some beautiful failures recently that you would like to share?

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