Tumbledown Trails Golf Course in rural Wisconsin looks innocent enough. But don’t let looks fool you. This quiet course has made national headlines for a terribly offensive marketing choice. Tumbledown advertised a golfing deal for $9.11 to commemorate the 12th anniversary of 9/11.
Clearly, this promotion is in bad taste. Twelve years later, the pain of 9/11 still feels fresh. Many Americans have tragic experiences, stories, and memories from the events of 9/11. So it should go without saying that seeking profit from one of the worst days in American history is a really bad idea. But somehow, this questionable advertisement appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal:
As we have seen many times before, it never makes sense to try to profit from a tragedy. One has to wonder how such a boldly insensitive advertisement is conceived, approved, and sent to press. A surprise to no one except perhaps Tumbledown Trails, the ad spot backfired in a hurry, and in a big way. It’s gone viral, and the golf course has taken to their Facebook page to do damage control amid hundreds of comments.
The ad was a big mistake, but it does seem like one that was well-intentioned. As a small golf course, I doubt Tumbledown has a marketing department capable of multi-level ad approval that might have prevented the offense. But the inexcusable fact remains that the golf course attempted to profit from an American tragedy. Unfortunately, they’re not alone. MadMen billboards that went up last year looked as if someone was falling from a skyscraper, and a 2002 Starbucks promotion, “Collapse into Cool,” showed a dragonfly approaching two frozen drinks that looked eerily similar to the photos of the first plane approaching the World Trade Center.
With the small business environment becoming more competitive every day, there is pressure to come up with new and innovative promotions to encourage customers to try your product or services. Someone who runs a golf course might not have a strong marketing background, but with the requirements of today’s social media, this kind of knowledge is essential. It is more important than ever to get your name out there and engage both current and potential customers. Good promotions are checked, rechecked, and checked again before moving forward, even if your marketing department is made up of just one person. It never hurts to run ideas by someone in another department to make sure your statement is on target. Without measures in place to weed out horrifying mistakes like this, you might find yourself listed in the top 10 marketing fails for the year. Tumbledown Trails has surely locked down a spot down this year.
Tumbledown Trails has some damage control ahead of them, but in time, I expect things to work out fine for the golf course. The intent of the ad seems much more thoughtless than malicious, and as long as Tumbledown maintains open and positive communication lines, the negative attention should pass. While people are upset now, and rightfully so, the news cycle always moves on, and things should eventually get back to normal. I hope that people can spend time today mourning the tragedy of 9/11 rather than focusing on an offensive marketing ploy that attempted to profit from it.