When A Valentine’s Day Marketing Campaign Doesn’t Quite Soar

It’s hard to believe that February has come and gone and we’re “Marching” into spring. Although February is the shortest month of the year, it’s full of plenty of marketing and public relations campaigns to steer your attention toward: The Super Bowl, awards season in Hollywood with the Grammy Awards and the Oscars and finally (and perhaps arguably), the most noted occasion of the month: Valentine’s Day.

Ah, yes, the day of love. And roses. And chocolate. Oh, and don’t forget the Hallmark cards. One of the first major holidays in the new year brings an exciting challenge to many consumer brands and industries across the board. How do you stick out in a saturated market of tired tropes and tactics? How do you position your brand to drive conversation and ultimately…sales? Making your brand known around a day when everyone wants a piece of the market can prove to be difficult.

Many successful marketing and PR campaigns have popped up during the season of love throughout the years, but let’s look at one idea that didn’t, well…fly with everyone. A cocktail napkin proved to be quite controversial for not one, but two big-name organizations.

The Situation:

It takes two to tango. At least, that’s what Delta and Coca Cola thought when they partnered on in-flight napkins that included blank spaces encouraging passengers to write their phone number to pass on to their, “plane crush.”

In addition to a prominent Diet Coke image, the napkin read, “because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey…you never know.” Meanwhile, the back of the napkin contained smaller print that read, “Be a little old school. Write down your number & give it to your plane crush. You never know…”

Passengers took to Twitter to voice their concerns over the napkin, claiming they felt the move was creepy and “unsolicited.”

After receiving backlash for the napkins online, Delta and Coca-Cola apologized. They swiftly removed the napkins from flights, adding that the napkins were being redesigned. However, some passengers were undecided on whether the move was inappropriate or not.  Some appreciated Delta’s attempt at humor, while others argued the napkin didn’t necessarily invoke a romantic gesture. They saw it as a potential way to spark conversations with a new friend or a new business connection.

valentines day

What’s the Verdict?

Something as small and seemingly innocuous as a napkin can truly have a sizeable ripple effect. Public relations professionals know all too well that it only takes one tweet or poorly worded phrase to cause an organization to react and regroup to assess their strategy.

As major international brands, Delta and Coca-Cola are no strangers to the trials of ongoing public perception and feedback. As the deep divide between the napkin responses among their customers suggests, a successful evaluation for any marketing or public relations campaign is to measure the awareness and attitudes of their target audiences.  This can be done in several ways such as social media mentions and online sentiment — measuring both the positive and the negative. After evaluating the overall campaign, Delta and Coca-Cola will be able to use that consumer feedback to really flush out their next campaign.

It was a bold move on a tiny square around the time of a holiday when sensitivity can go a long way. The lesson learned here is that out-of-the-box creativity can certainly pay off in some cases, but it is crucial to understand and perceive all possible outcomes and responses from your audiences. And make sure the skies are clear.