New boots go too far (right)

In January 2017 Conal International Trading Co. had to recall a new product – the Polar Fox ankle boots – after a customer discovered the sole left swastika prints behind him.

An image of the tread was initially posted on Reddit and Imgur, and the boots soon went viral, leading the company to issue an apology and withdraw them from sale.

In their statement, they said “the design was not intentional and was a mistake made by our manufacturers in China. There was never any intention to include any offensive designs on the products we import. We will be investigating the issue. Conal International Trading, Inc. does not promote hate or discrimination of any kind.”

The BBC reported that Amazon was flooded with reviews cracking Nazi jokes, calling the boot “heily recommended” and rating the pair a “nein out of 10”. On balance, the backlash could have been considerably worse – but will still have been an expensive mistake.

What does good look like?

I’m sure Conal will be adding ‘check imprint of tread’ to their testing process for new products. While this one might seem obvious for a manufacturer of shoes, it is worth trying to think outside the box about how your product can be used and what it could be used for (in addition to its intended use).

Testing your new product is key, and not just in ‘laboratory conditions’. If you can, have a small sample of existing customers (or excited followers you’ve earned if you’re a new market entrant) try your product and see how they use it in ‘the real world’. That would almost certainly have spotted this issue before launch – and saved a lot of money in manufacturing and then product recall, as well as their own embarrassment.

Mistakes do happen – and responding to them quickly and honestly is also important. Conal apologised and quickly removed them from sale, which would have helped limit any damage to their brand.

Moving forward

What’s the moral of this Bad Marketing story for you? Should Conal have done anything differently? What lesson will you take into your own work?

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Chris Rogers

I curate stories of #badmarketing so marketing professionals and business owners like you can learn from the mistakes of others - and produce better marketing that’s right first time. Bad Marketing also aims to be essential reading for marketers, academics & students – and anyone interested in the challenges of marketing.

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