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Missing the mark on marketing?

June 21, 2022

An ASU business expert explains the review process for products before they hit shelves

Companies are constantly exploring new concepts for products.

Sometimes, those concepts are axed way before the product is mass produced, for various reasons. 

Then there are times when a product hits the shelves, outraging consumers.

In a recent example, Walmart recalled Great Value’s Juneteenth ice cream, meant to celebrate the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. Consumers weren’t having it: literally and figuratively. The company apologized and quickly listened to consumers, pulling the product from shelves.

But this isn’t the first product mishap you’ve likely read about, and it likely won't be the last.

ASU News wanted to understand more about the strategy and review process for products that make it to market by enlisting the help of Charles (Bret) Giles, a professor of practice at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business, whose areas of expertise include branding and marketing.  

, marketing professor at ASU

Charles (Bret) Giles

Question: Sometimes companies miss the mark on new products. How does this happen when so many eyeballs have been on the product from development to marketing to release?

Answer: Most product launches fail. In fact, depending upon your source, 70 to 95% of new products fail to reach viability. 

The product management and marketing process is different among companies, and some of the most significant differences stem from when consumer feedback is introduced in the process, as well as the type of feedback that is derived from those consumers.

Breaking this down, companies that involve consumers in their process late or not at all  — and there are plenty that release products with absolutely no feedback from the ultimate users of the product — are more likely to face a situation where the mark is missed and a launch is unsuccessful. Conversely, those companies that involve the consumer early and often in the process are more likely to succeed, particularly when using both qualitative and quantitative research in uncovering product viability.

In other words, if a company interviews those people it intends on serving and becomes educated around what they need and want in their lives, a company can then learn if the new product actually fulfills the “job” the people are “hiring” you to do. If so, a company can then use that information to create surveys that quantitatively measure a broader group of people with statistical significance. 

Q: With social media, it seems like the complaints are more amplified. How do companies decide when it’s time to recall a product because it’s controversial/offensive? What’s the threshold?

A: Generally speaking, marketers welcome amplification of a product message from consumers, as it extends any promotional work the company itself might be doing and at the same time is more credible. That means when a product is released that is seen as offensive or controversial, the exact same thing can happen in a negative way to the company. 

But is it necessarily negative, or is it a way to learn, take immediate action and pledge to do better the next time? The time to recall a product that is insensitive or offensive is not based on a formula. It comes from a company acknowledging the product doesn’t align, not only with the values of its consumers, but also with the values of the company itself. It should be a very easy decision to recall a product, but just as people vary in their effectiveness of apologizing for insensitive remarks, so too do brands and companies. 

If we look at Walmart and their response to the Juneteenth ice cream flavor they inappropriately introduced, it was swift, it took full responsibility and it offered immediate action. That is really all people on social media could logically expect from a company, even if those people continue to discuss it negatively in open forums. But usually, if the apology is genuine and not performative, people respond accordingly and the matter is out of the social media fray rather quickly. 

Continuing on with this example, this course of action should have been an easy decision for Walmart because it completely aligns with who they are as a company. Over 21% of the Walmart workforce is Black and African American, and over one-third of its management are people of color. Years ago, they started a Center for Racial Equity and have committed $100 million in donations to address racial disparities in the United States. In 2021, the year before the ice cream gaffe, they donated $14 million of those funds to such organizations. 

Basically, if a company knows what it stands for, it is easy for it to look inwardly and acknowledge its missteps when social media influencers and users call it out. The action it takes at that point, if swift, genuine, apologetic and acknowledging of its own misstep, will usually go a mile in how the brand is perceived ongoing with consumers. 

Q: What kind of checks and balances exist in companies to test whether a product will be well received or be controversial? Does this process vary, and is that part of the problem?

A: Most companies complete some sort of consumer testing prior to the launch of a product or a product extension — another product within the same brand or family of products. This research could be qualitative or quantitative, or both, depending upon the significance of the product to the overall company. In most research, a company would be interested in determining product market fit; that is, how well consumers would receive a product and change their existing behavior to give it a try. If research shows the product will not be well-received for a multitude of reasons, the company might rethink the product before introduction, scrap the product altogether or continue with the launch of the product regardless of the research findings. 

If the research does not ask the right questions in the first place or if the company opts to ignore findings they don’t want to hear, the checks and balances that come with consumer research are significantly nullified. While I believe most companies do some sort of research prior to product introductions, the quality and amount of that research varies considerably, which can lead to products making it through a process that really should never have been introduced in their current form. 

I might add that sometimes a company does everything right but still a product that is introduced has an unexpected consequence. This is where a swift, genuine and action-oriented response by the company can really pay off.

Q: How badly will a company’s brand suffer if it releases a controversial product and then is forced to recall it?

A: Brands release products frequently that do not make it for one reason or another. One of those reasons might be because they were seen as insensitive, inappropriate or ill-aligned with the consuming public. If a brand then elects to recall the product, the fate of the brand really depends upon a number of factors. How long did it take the company to respond? Did they only take action because they were forced to by consumers? Did they apologize? Did it seem like they walked away from the experience having learned something and would make an effort to do better the next time? Did their response seem genuine and transparent? Did it come from a top executive and did employees support the company and its decision through their social media channels? Did the company take time to engage with top customers to learn from them?

There are other things to consider as well, but in the end many companies will make mistakes with brand and product introductions. The mistake is more easily forgiven and forgotten based on the response from the company. It was once said that “all PR is good PR,” and while I do not believe that to be true, I do believe that it is human nature to forgive and to move forward if you feel heard and if you feel real action will come. The role of the brand is to listen very closely and carefully when adding or launching new products, and then to respond very quickly and decisively when your expectation is not matching with the market reality.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

Jimena Garrison

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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Title IX at 50: Sun Devils level up for access, equity in academics, athletics

June 21, 2022

ASU advocates champion landmark legislation for women, civil rights

Fifty years ago on June 23, 1972, then-President Richard Nixon signed into law 37 words that would crystallize gender equity in education as a civil right.

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 has removed many barriers that once prevented people, on the basis of sex, from participating in educational programs that rely on federal assistance. It impacts college admissions, financial aid, research and, perhaps most notably, women’s sports.

“Culturally, Title IX’s greatest influence on college campuses since 1972 has been its creation in women of an expectation of equality,” said Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and clinical assistant professor in Arizona State University's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. “We see this best embodied by women athletes, who find their power through sport, and so often use that power and voice to create transformational societal change.”

Jackson, a former college athlete herself, is among a number of scholars, students and administrators who have been working tirelessly over the past several years to educate the ASU community about the importance and benefits of Title IX.

In 2017, Jackson and Deana Garner Smith, a senior associate athletic director for Sun Devil Athletics, collaborated with others to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Title IX with a yearlong project, and have kept the momentum going with programming, presentations and partnerships designed to elevate awareness about the rights to equity in academics and athletics.

“The impact of learning about Title IX for staff, coaches and student-athletes has been profound,” Garner Smith said. “In my short tenure, we have had several student-athletes use some aspect of Title IX as the foundation for their educational coursework — from Barrett Honors theses, to classroom assignments, to creating peer-peer educational training programs. All of these benefits of Title IX make it one of the most important laws for women and girls since women obtained the right to vote under the Nineteenth Amendment.”

In their advocacy of Title IX, Garner Smith and Jackson also carry forward the work of ASU women’s athletics pioneers who were doing the work of Title IX long before its passage. Garner Smith and Jackson recently took a time-out from their Title IX projects-in-progress to reflect on the work of their Sun Devil predecessors, Title IX wins, and the importance and impact of the landmark legislation.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Tell us about the research and projects you have been working on around Title IX here at ASU in recent years, and why these activities have been so important to you?

Victoria Jackson: Our efforts fall within a broader culture at ASU to build academic and athletic bridges, create community network, and grow relationships and partnerships with women’s sports organizations. From events honoring the Murphy’s Girls (the women who played elite, competitive sports under Nina Murphy’s leadership in the decades before the passage of Title IX) to educational and leadership programming for women athletes, a major motivation of our work is to create a culture in Sun Devil Athletics in which women athletes are provided with information to help them understand the generations of work behind building and sustaining women’s sporting opportunities.

A very fun example of the work we have done together was during a 2019 ASU women’s soccer team trip to Mexico, we helped organize, in collaboration with the Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, a public event on how sport helps girls and women find their power alongside a girls’ soccer clinic. But the project that has been most fulfilling has been our efforts with our respective teams in (the) history (department) and Sun Devil Athletics to capture and share the stories of ASU’s women’s sports history. It is a rich history!

With the help of Jordan Igo, an undergraduate research assistant who uncovered countless gems in the archives, we launched #TitleIXTuesday on social media for the 45th anniversary of Title IX in 2017. And now, this year for the 50th anniversary, students Camryn Williams in Sun Devil Athletics and Adam Gottner and Jacqueline Rowe in history have continued the work Jordan had started. You can follow along on all Sun Devil Athletics social media channels and look for the hashtag #TitleIX50.

Deana Garner Smith: Each project we have collaborated on has enriched the lives of our Sun Devil Athletics staff, community and our student-athletes. The impact of the Murphy’s Girls and other living legends who have been ardent advocates for women’s participation in not only sports but obtaining an education has been very significant. Providing an annual platform for our coaches, staff and student-athletes to interface with these trailblazers continues to inspire them to strive for academic and athletic excellence.

Q: What have been the important eras or time periods in the history of Title IX, both at ASU and nationwide?

Jackson: ASU was a national leader in women’s team sports before the passage of Title IX. Women’s physical education instructors Nina Murphy, Anne Pittman, Mary Littlewood and Mona Plummer hustled to create competitive, elite sporting opportunities for college women who craved elite competition. This meant working 12- or 15-hour days for little additional pay; coaching or refereeing after a full day’s work of teaching and advising; holding bake sales; sewing uniforms; pooling resources to pay for one hotel room for the whole team; and piling everyone into a student’s station wagon to drive to California for a competition. Once the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women commenced women’s championships — a decade before the NCAA did, by the way — ASU softball and volleyball teams, both led by Coach Mary Littlewood, won back-to-back national championships in 1972 and 1973, and 1973 and 1974, respectively. In addition to that period of ASU success in the 1970s, Sun Devil women have been enjoying much success in many sports from the 1990s onward.

When I arrived at ASU as a graduate student athlete in the mid-2000s, I had the good fortune to arrive in a moment when our women’s teams had started winning individual and team national titles left and right. Golf, softball, and track and field have enjoyed the most national championship success. Golf has won eight NCAA titles since 1990. Continuing the tradition of success started by the 1970s squads, softball made seven consecutive appearances in the Women’s College World Series from 2006 to 2013, winning twice in 2008 and 2011.

Track and field earned three NCAA team titles in 2007 and 2008 — two indoors and one outdoors — thanks in large part to the dominance and overall vibe of who I call ASU’s greatest athlete of all time, Jackie Johnson. I tease that Jackie was so excellent that even the men won a team national title (in 2007) thanks to her presence and influence, too. Deana and I have been on a mission to convey the message to our Sun Devil Community that Jackie is ASU’s GOATGreatest Of All Time. We think that all Sun Devil fans should know her name and sporting accolades.

Q: What has changed about the lives of college students since the passage of Title IX in 1972, and how would you say Title IX affected or impacted the lives of women on ASU’s campus?

Jackson: Title IX is not a sports law, though we certainly can see most dramatically the massive impact of Title IX in women’s college sports. But Title IX also revolutionized higher education for women. Title IX is the reason we see majority-women undergraduate student bodies. Title IX is the reason graduate schools, professional schools and STEM fields no longer can hold strict quotas severely restricting access for women. Title IX is why we see more women faculty. One document Jordan and I found in the archives that captures the transformation of higher education that Title IX stimulated was a spatial survey of the Tempe campus noting the location of all the women’s restrooms and identifying the many locations where more women’s restrooms would need to be constructed.

Garner Smith: Additionally, the other benefits Title IX affords beyond gender equality is it covers all aspects of the educational and or employment experience and requires that these opportunities occur and are free from sex discrimination. Title IX requires schools who receive federal funds to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and sexual assault. ASU’s own Sexual Violence Policy “is committed to providing an environment free of discrimination, harassment or retaliation for the entire university community, including all students, faculty members, staff employees and guests.”

Q: What are the hopeful outcomes of the work you have been doing around Title IX here at ASU?

Jackson: A major motivation of our work is to create a culture in Sun Devil Athletics in which women athletes are provided with information to help them understand the generations of work behind building and sustaining women’s sporting opportunities. We hope athletes come away with the understanding that this work is a project, an ongoing one requiring ever-present work, and one in which athletes can opt in to contribute to that work, to make sure future generations of girls and women get to continue to enjoy the right to play sports and to enjoy equitable sporting experiences. I am so proud to be at a university that operates with a culture and purpose that sees the civil rights functions of higher education and college sports in our mission and daily work.

Garner Smith: Since joining Sun Devil Athletics staff, I have been honored to work with my collaborators to coordinate annual sexual violence prevention educational trainings. My hope is to create a student-athlete, peer-led educational program so they can learn from each other about not only gender equity but sexual harassment and discrimination prevention. We have started this already and are hopeful that more like minded student-athletes will come forward to lead. This would be a pivotal moment that can hopefully shift the mindset around sexual harassment and discrimination in the collegiate sports arena.

Sr. Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications