Promising more than you can deliver..?

So the Olympics are underway, and by the time you read this Team GB, or whichever nation(s) you happen to be supporting will hopefully already be in amongst the medals. It might surprise you to learn that despite our undeniable sporting prowess, Team Kalexiko neglected to send any representatives to actually compete in the games as we didn’t want to embarrass the other competitors. However this doesn’t mean that we won’t still be following them with interest.


That’s not to say that with a bit of creativity a savvy marketer can’t find ways to circumvent such rules


What Usain?

Virgin Media were one such company who, despite not being an official partner of London 2012, tried to capitalise on the Olympic fever arguably sweeping the country. The problem in this case however was not the approach, but the product itself, or at least the claims they made about it. In January of this year Virgin Media launched a campaign involving Usain Bolt.


Well what was wrong with that?

Not a lot on the face of it. Usain Bolt is fast, Virgin Media’s broadband is fast and ‘err’ Usain Bolt likes pretending to be Branson and knows a lot about broadband or something? It doesn’t make all that much sense to be honest, but it was a stroke of genius to use Bolt to associate the advert with the Olympics whilst not actually alluding to the Olympics at all. It’s also kind of cute how the press release asserts that he’s not in ‘performance mode’ because that’s the pitch, rather than because to show him as such would get them in trouble with LOCOG. Still, we liked the idea.


One of the loftier claims made in this campaign however, was that in using Virgin Media’s broadband customers could ‘say bye-bye to buffering’. Whilst 99.9% of customers would know that this wasn’t a claim to be taken completely literally, the way streaming video works means that even with the fastest broadband in the world, it’s not technically possible to completely eradicate buffering. This subtlety wasn’t lost on BT, who complained to Ofcom about Virgin Media making claims they couldn’t possibly substantiate. It might sound petty, and it really is, but you need only look as far as the smartphone market to see that these days many companies seem to spend more time litigating than innovating.


Virgin Media were understandably annoyed having spent so much time and money on the campaign only to have it scuppered by what was effectively playground politics, but at the end of the day they should’ve known better considering the level that they operate at. Marketing textbooks are full of examples of companies disastrously trying to offer more than they can deliver, from Hoover and Walkers to Tesco and even, funnily enough, McDonalds, who famously got a promotion for the 1984 Los Angeles Games all sorts of wrong.


So what can we learn from this?

Upselling is obviously important for any business, but there are ways of getting your message across effectively without having to resort to hyperbole. Whilst most businesses shouldn’t have to worry too much about the exact wording of their campaigns the way multinationals such as Virgin Media do, there’s still a vital lesson to be learnt here about ensuring that you don’t raise your customers’ expectations beyond what you can feasibly meet. For instance, plenty of businesses have come unstuck with premier deal of the day campaigns where demand outstrips supply by so much that it ultimately ends up having a detrimental effect. People tend to remember the bad experiences they’ve had with businesses more readily than the good ones, so make sure that you only promise what you can actually deliver.


That said, here’s hoping that Team GB, as well as the Olympic Games in general, exceed all our expectations over the next fortnight.