How companies handle marketing situations can say a lot about their businesses.

In last week's edition of Marketing Update, Dan Dunn and Kara Sassone talked about the importance of learning from the past marketing lessons, and how one company did...and another didn't.

The Company That Didn't Learn

JCPenney is getting a lot of unwanted attention lately because of a line of shirts it is...well, was...selling. The shirt that's getting the most attention read, "I'm too pretty to do my homework, so I have my brother do it for me." Another shirt read, "My favorite subjects: Music, Boys, Dancing...and Shopping!"

What JCPenney may not remember is back in July 1992 when Mattel got into hot water with parents for selling Teen Talk Barbie, who spoke phrases such as, "Will we ever have enough clothes?" and "Wanna have a pizza party?" There was also one that said, "Math class is tough!"

Well, it was that last one that got the majority of the criticism, especially from the American Association of University Women. In October 1992, Mattel announced that Teen Talk Barbie would no longer utter the phrase and offered to swap the doll for another.

The number of women in technology and mathematics professions is constantly being evaluated. With messages like these, it's no wonder!

But how come JCPenney didn't learn from Mattel's marketing snafu 20 years ago? Apparently, history repeats itself, even in the marketing world.

The Company That Did Learn

Another story is about a company that has learned from the past.

Hurricane Irene, which eventually turned into Tropical Storm Irene, traveled up the east coast last weekend and caused a lot of destruction in her path.

There are several companies and organizations that are helping communities clean up and rebuild in the storm's wake. One company that has a track record of lending a hand to natural disaster relief is Walmart.

According to its website, Walmart and its foundation works with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army to provide life-sustaining items and support to those in need of assistance. And these efforts extend around the world.

What Walmart has learned is that being a good community member will gain trust and loyalty, which is always an effective marketing tactic.

Marketing Takeaway

Most simply put: Learn from the past, or you are doomed to repeat it. Yes, historical mistakes in marketing are dangerous to repeat, too. So what's the best way to stay on top of this stuff? Read! Especially read things related to your industry. Make sure you're aware of the biggest case studies in your industry, and stay up to speed on new trends developing in marketing.

And most importantly... use common sense :)

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Originally published Sep 5, 2011 9:00:00 AM, updated June 10 2021

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