Examples of digital marketing fails (broken windows)

The last time I gave a workshop on the Broken Windows Theory and how it related to marketing, a participant gave me feedback that I needed to include more web-based and digital examples. And, she’s absolutely right.

So to fix that, I’ve started collecting digital examples of broken windows. Taking inspiration from one of the blogs I read for fun, McMansion Hell, I’ve added parody comments to the photos.

Without further adieu, enjoy!

Priority Pass website with residence spelled incorrectly

Another fun fact about this one: I was nice and emailed their support department over a month ago and let them know about the typo. I got a standard, “thanks for your feedback” macro response. But did they fix it? Nope.

Cooking light recipe missing ingredients

So much for wanting to make this recipe

Branding to millennials web banner where millennials is spelled wrong. It also shows only white men and they are using their technology in ways that looks like work. There is only one woman in the photo. She's white, and taking a selfie

Thanks to a friend for sending me this one. Beyond the typos, my friend pointed out that the graphic is also problematic; it only shows white millennials even though millennials are incredibly diverse, and the only woman depicted is using her technology to narcissistically take a selfie.

Linked in notification, saying I haven't connected with a coworker for 2 years, even though I work with him every day

Let’s be real here for a minute: We really know why this came up. Phil hasn’t had a need to get on LinkedIn in a few years and they want him back, because eyeballs mean ad revenue. So it’s more about getting him back than doing to me a favor. But to me, it feels like that ex who tells your friends to tell you that they “just hope you are well” in hopes you’ll take that as a cue to contact them.

To give LinkedIn credit, this may be helpful at a large organization where you don’t interact with almost everyone every day. So, for this one, it could be a simple change to the algorithm; only show these messages if it’s an organization of x (200?) employees or more.

Screenshot of a law firm website where the photo of the lawyers is pixelated in a way that gives them a weird halo/aura around their heads

Two ideas of how this might have went down:

Option 1:

Web designer: Can you send me a high resolution version of the photo of you in the courtroom?

Lawyers: Sure. Here you go.

Web designer: Um, that’s low resolution. Can you send me the high res file?

Lawyers: We sent you the file.

Web designer: Yes, I know, but you sent me the low res file

Lawyers: We sent you the file!!!! Just do your file.

Web designer: (sigh) Fine. I give up (or a stronger version of this)

Option 2:

Web designer: We need high quality photos for the website

Lawyers: How much is that going to cost?

Web designer: (gives number)

Lawyers: What?!? That’s too much money. Ted’s kid does a great job taking photos. We’ll just have him do it with his phone.

Web designer: Those won’t look good

Lawyers: They’ll look fine…

On another note, the reason I ended up on their website in the first place is because of some entertaining billboard replacement.

A billboard for a law firm that represents drunk driving cases. Below it is a billboard for Miller Lite

Moving on…

A screenshot of an email promotion from a gym advertising a pizza and beer party after a new workout class

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the hypocrisy of gyms serving pizza and beer. This one is especially fun because the fitness center is tied to a hospital.

An iphone screenshot of Jason's Deli's website with the words "Access Denied" when I tried to click on their nutrition information

Actually they are right, I don’t want to see the nutrition info. I’m happy being blissfully unaware in this case.

iphone screenshot of a website with an error message that says "email not exists"

There, I fixed it.

Fair use disclaimer

All screenshots are used in this post under fair use for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107.

Rule of thumb for showing technology in advertising and signage

A quick rule of thumb for technology in ads:

A sign with an outdated cell phone pictured on it with a red circle and slash through it, symbolizing "no cell phones"
Yes, I took this picture with my cell phone. In my defense, a lot of trainers were at the gym using their cell phones to video their clients, so I’m pretty sure this means no TALKING on your cell phone.

A quick rule of thumb for technology in ads:

If the advertisement or sign is going to be up for over a year, don’t show the technology. If it’ll be up for a year or less, go for it.

Technology changes rapidly and your advertisements and signage can look really out of date quickly. If it’s something that’s going to be up for a year or more, use words vs. pictures/graphics.

Also consider what you’re really trying to communicate. For example, the photo above was taken at my gym. People continually use their cell phones to listen to music and trainers regularly use their cell phone to video a client to help coach with form. Did the gym mean we couldn’t do this? I don’t think so; I’m thinking they actually mean no talking on your cell phone while working out.

Fitness center marketing, an outsider perspective

As news of Equinox fitness chain’s opening in Houston makes the news, I find myself pondering what I would recommend to my fitness center chain.

One of the things you can’t help but do if you truly love marketing is playing the “what if” game: What if I knew enough about the business model to suggest changes in their marketing plan, what would I recommend?

As news of Equinox fitness chain’s opening in Houston makes the news,  I find myself pondering what I would recommend to my fitness center chain.

First, some caveats/assumptions:

  • I don’t think my fitness center will be impacted that much, the price points are vastly different. But any time is a good time to assess your current market strategy, right? So why not now?
  • I’m assuming that my fitness center wants members to actually come regularly. In comparison, inexpensive gyms don’t want you to come.
  • I don’t know anything about my fitness center’s goals, revenue structure, etc. A review of these would probably completely change my recommendations, but it’s a fun mental exercise anyway and these may be good ideas for other fitness centers.
  • There’s a lot of things I think my fitness center does right, which is why I’m a loyal member. For brevity’s sake, this post will focus only on improvements.

Maintenace and equipment

Maintenance of equipment and new equipment has to be a huge line item in any fitness center’s budget and, unfortunately, I think it needs to be a much heftier part for most gyms. Nothing frustrates a “regular” more than broken machines. On Monday, I jumped between four treadmills before I found one that worked. Sadly, not as gracefully as the video below.


As I’ve written about before, facilites can really impact your marketing.  When thinking about location, you have to think beyond the interior of the walls. My fitness center’s locations are very convenient, but parking is usually a huge nightmare (especially at peak times) and the lots aren’t well-lit or very safe (said the warning poster at one of the local center locations about crime in parking lot).

Insert Fun

Fitness centers often try to insert fun into the atmosphere by getting members to dress up (i.e. “wear your Halloween costume to the gym”). These efforts usually fail because a) employees don’t participate b) I’m here at the gym at 6 am, what more do you want from me? c) My workout outfit cost over $100 already and I have several of them. I’m not spending any more money.

Instead, why not do something that involved the employees having fun and the customers just being part of the experience? Every day I walk in to a stack of square towels. Boring. I so desperately want to stealthily sneak a creative towel folding book onto the employee front desk and watch the employees take initiative and get creative. Imagine the impact. Social media posts, selfies, and “I have to get up and go to the gym to see the towel of the day” motivation. This may also increase employee retention.

A towel animal, possibly a ray, hanging from a ceiling with sunglasses on it
“Towel animal” by Klobetime, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Review System for Classes

We can review items we purchased on Amazon, we can review businesses on Yelp, how about being able to review classes and read other member’s reviews of classes offered at our fitness centers?

There have been several times I’ve walked out of a class and thought, “That was a waste my workout time.” If a review tool exists that showed me the difficulty level, intensity level, and attendee comments about classes, I’d not only use it, but contribute to it too. And be more likely to attend classes. It may also make instructor evaluation for the fitness chain easier and more efficient too.

Revise the Trainer Model

So far, my suggestions have been pretty simple. Here’s my radical one: Somehow, I’m not sure how, but somehow, change the personal trainer model.

Opposite goals are not ideal, but tolerable in a short term seller/customer relationship (such as a car sale); they never a good idea to create long-term relationships. A client’s goal is to reach their goal as fast as possible. In contrast, a trainer’s reward system is to have the client improve just enough to make them want to come back, but not enough as the client no longer thinks they need them.

This also usually means the trainer is solely focused on their clients (they are paying by the hour), usually at the expense of treating other gym members as potential clients or potential referrers of clients, which is ultimately bad for the gym and for the trainer’s future business.

What would you add? How would you revamp the fitness center business marketing model?