How to Avoid a Marketing Apocalypse in Your Business

We have all heard of the “horsemen of the apocalypse” and the overwhelming devastation that they bring!

I recently attended a keynote by Wes Gay, marketing guru and regular contributor to Forbes, in which he painted a fairly scary picture of how our marketing communication looks to the general public. He was suggesting that poor communication in marketing campaigns is equivalent to unleashing the “horsemen of the apocalypse” on our businesses!

To his point, one does not have to look too far to find some massively destructive communication campaigns. Things like:

  1. Kenneth Cole and their 2011 Twitter message (in the midst of the Arab spring movement); “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” This message was retracted but there was damage done!
  2. The Coke fiasco around New Coke and Classic Coke back in the 1980’s. Did these new flavors mean that the old Coke was no good? This market communication fiasco was so monumental, we still talk about it today!
  3. How United Airlines responded by blaming the victim after social media showed smart phone video footage of a passenger being violently dragged off a flight. The public was stunned by United’s response and their stock price was impacted immediately.
  4. The Adidas’ tweet after the 2017 Boston Marathon “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” This was probably an innocent mistake and message was retracted quickly but not without brand damage.
  5. Dove airing a commercial that showed a black women turned white after using a Dove product. If you saw and understood the complete context of the advertisement it was probably fine. However, it was easily taken out of context and Dove was forced to pull the ad.

Wes Gay goes on to say there are four things that may seem innocuous at the time but can prove to be devasting to you and your organization. He calls these the 4 Horsemen of Marketing Communication

The 4 Horsemen of Marketing Communication

He defines the 4 Horsemen of Marketing Communication as:

  1. Cute – There tends to be a ton of effort put into the creative process to make campaigns and communication cute and catchy. However, this can go bad very quickly as Dove found out in the example above.
  2. Clever – Similar to being cute, being clever can “go south” quickly if political and cultural issues are involved as Kenneth Cole discovered!
  3. Complicated – Don’t make your message complicated. Every area of your marketing message needs to be simple, easy to understand, and free from acronyms or technical terms. This includes; your website, social media, business cards, as well as signage on and in your building.
  4. Confusing – Coke’s new products in the 1980’s confused the marketplace. Are the old products bad, are the new products replacing the old products, is the classic different than the “old” Coke? So many questions?! Don’t confuse the marketplace!

So what is Gay’s antidote to these 4 Horsemen?

It is quite simple.

  1. You must have a clear vision that leadership constantly communicates. The vision must be understood by your entire organization.
  2. You must have a single person or department responsible for all your communication. These people must clearly understand the vision of the organization!
  3. Clearly define and document your expectations and rules around marketing communication.
  4. Continuously communicate your expectations of your staff with respect to representing the organization publicly on any media, especially social media.

Take Action

Take some time this week to review your organization’s marketing communication strategy. Determine where you have gaps that you need to address. Complete an informal vision, mission, and values survey with your staff and ensure you have alignment throughout your organization. Review your policies around employees representing your business on social media . . . Is this crystal clear and is it understood by all?

Finally, review these posts for more information

  1. You can summarize a lot of this information using the “15 Minute business challenge
  2. Get Alignment on Organizational Values
  3. What is Effective Business Leadership and Why is it Important
  4. Communicate Your Brand Promise Like an Industry Leader
  5. 7 Steps to Becoming a Better Communicator


Creativity becomes compelling when your vision is clear!” Wes Gay


What marketing communication examples can you share that may add value to other readers? Leave your comments below!


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