5 marketers reveal their biggest ever career mistakes

Monumental f**k-up or minor glitch, we’ve all made an embarrassing professional mistake that we'd rather forget. Jess Pike spoke to five marketers about theirs – and, crucially, what they learned as a result.

Mistake made: When I was a marketer for a now-major (then much smaller) software company, I was part of a team that was approached with an interesting project. Our leadership had discovered some unspent marketing dollars at the end of the year, and wanted to experiment with a video that they’d hoped would go viral. This was in the early days of social media and YouTube, so the concept of content ‘going viral’ was a new phenomenon, but companies were desperately trying to understand and do it.      

My team created a video that we thought was very funny, and were sure would get a lot of shares and drive visits. It was risqué and provocative and involved partial nudity — you know, all the key ingredients for going viral. When we presented the final video to our CMO, he was horrified. He gave us a very firm ‘no’, and made it clear that the video was not to be released. We were hugely disappointed by the decision, as we felt we’d completed the task as instructed.

Lesson learned: Looking back, I now recognise that our CMO made the right call. In our pursuit of being provocative we took it to the extreme and made a video that could have resulted in a public backlash against our very professional, serious B2B brand. Still, I think that our instructions were flawed. Creating controversial content probably wasn’t a smart move for an enterprise-focused brand, and instead we could have invested that money into incremental marketing efforts that had a smaller, but ultimately more predictable, return.