When Great Marketing Goes Wrong

As you watch this video, ask yourself:

(If you’re over 50:)
Which U.S. luggage maker is it advertising?

(If you’re younger:)
Is it a trained or a wild gorilla?

OK, the banner gives it away, but most people who remember this commercial think it’s a Samsonite ad—including people like my wife, who actually owned luggage made by American Tourister, the company behind the ad. It’s perhaps the most infamous case of mistaken brand identity.

Marketing experts like to trot out this ad to prove a supposed truism: brand advertising usually benefits the market share leader. (In the early ’70s, when this ad aired, Samsonite was the market leader in molded luggage.)

But can’t market share also-rans succeed with brand advertising? Of course they can. I think market share has little or nothing to do with this.

Instead, what’s wrong with the gorilla ad—tragically wrong, since it was one of the century’s most memorable campaigns—is the concept. The ad emphasizes the product’s strength against overpowering force. Whereas the root of their biggest competitor’s name—Samson—is synonymous with… strength against overpowering force.

Great creative has great power. Make sure those great words and concepts aren’t inadvertently marketing your competitors

And the gorilla? It’s neither trained nor wild. It’s an actor in a gorilla suit.

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