Share the blame to make the gains

If a company is on the lookout for a scapegoat, the marketing department often appears to be a good place to start. But is it the right place?

Over the years, a roll call of names has built up of those who have disappeared from high-profile marketing positions never to be heard from again. Falling sales and failed product launches have often coincided with the departure of these marketing executives. But are they the ones who can be truly blamed for the poor state of affairs, or have they been turned into martyrs for their brands?

The truth is never clear. One of marketing’s most recent casualties is The Sun and News of the World marketing chief Belinda Furneaux-Harris. Her job was always going to be an uphill struggle with the circulation of the country’s favourite daily tabloid – like the majority of other news-papers – in long-term decline. During her seven-month tenure, daily circulation has fallen by more than 100,000 copies to 3.3 million. Owners News Group Newspapers will only say she left following a “disagreement over strategy”. But Furneaux- Harris is not the first marketing casualty in the newspaper industry, nor will she be the last. Marketers are easy targets, despite the fact that editorial and circulation play an equal, if not greater role in the long-term success of a newspaper.

Similarly other sectors are just as quick to point the finger of blame at marketers, who frankly do not have complete control over a company’s output. Often product pricing, sales, quality control and sourcing do not fall under their remit. So why should they be the first to fall from grace when others manage to slip under the net? Maybe it is because marketers are responsible for the very public relationship with consumers, one that can be manipulated through high-profile advertising and promotional campaigns.

But that special relationship with consumers can turn sour at the drop of a hat, as Coca-Cola has found to its cost with the ill-fated launch of Dasani. Although the company may publicly claim that it is not about to apportion blame for the botched launch of the water drink, you can be sure that in time a restructure will take place. And it is likely that it will extend to the marketing department, even though the withdrawal of Dasani is down to higher than acceptable levels of bromate, rather than the bad publicity generated by the fact that it is merely tap-water supplied by Thames Water that has undergone a purification process. But the launch was destined for failure from the start. While the company may claim that it has not misled consumers over the nature of Dasani’s origins, surely the marketing department should have foreseen the potential outcry that would follow Coca-Cola’s move to bottle and badge tap-water?

With most companies marketing – somewhere along the line – can be linked to the particular failure at hand, and that is why it is so easy for others to duck for cover as marketers take the flack.

Amanda Wilkinson, Deputy EditorCover Story, page 20

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