Winnie the Pooh and Responsible Marketing

What's the relation, from the branding point of view, between the French publishing house Hachette and Disney? This is what I was asking myself when I received a letter from Hachette last week. It was a long letter, informing me about an upcoming arrival of some Disney books for my kids. To me, the letter was a clear example of marketing gone seriously wrong. But let me give you some background first. Here is a story about how one brand's sloppy marketing can affect another funky brand's image, in this case, Disney.

Last week, I fell prey to quite unpleasant “marketing practices” when someone called to offer Disney books for my kids. The woman on the phone spoke French. She said I was about to receive two books for free, and then another two, albeit not exactly free of charge. Well, I could hold on to them for 10 days, but if I chose not to pay for them, I'd need to return them to the sender. Which would, of course, involve wasting my at the post office and wasting my money sending the unnecessary stuff back to France.

No, thank you. That was my clear and short response. Well, I actually added something about the fact that we didn't actually read to our kids in French.

However, the story was only beginning to unravel. A couple of days after the phone call, I received a letter from Hachette Collections. Hachette was informing me about Disney books on their way – two books free of charge, and the other two to be returned if I chose not to pay for them. I was slightly annoyed by this persistence but decided to ignore the letter. “When the stuff arrives, I'll figure out what to do”, I thought. The point was, I didn't need any of these books and wasn't going to pay for them, full stop.

I talked about Hachette and Disney books with a friend, and he told me an alarming story about a marketing attack he had had to go through once. He was also approached in a similar manner on the phone, and the “free” books kept arriving to his address during several months. Like myself, he didn't need these books, and never paid for them. Neither did the poor guy actually notice that he had to return them to the sender to avoid any payments. The story ended in a very unpleasant way when a seriously looking justice official materialized in front of my friend's door, with a bill in the amount of almost 200 Euros, and a threat of a court order in case of failure to pay immediately.

Seriously worried that this could be my destiny as well, I sent a registered letter to Hachette asking not to send me any “free” stuff and to delete my contact information from their files once and for all. I decided not to rely on their free 800 number which would allow me only to leave a message (how reliable!). I very much hope they got the point and won't bother me again.

The question is, does Disney, whose happy characters Winnie the Pooh and Bambi would have ended up in my mail box, have any idea how Hachette is promoting its books? Will every annoyed customer actually remember that it was Hachette's clumsy efforts to sell the books, or will the name of Disney be associated with any such unpleasant experience? My poor friend who ended up paying 200 Euros is actually angry with Disney, although I am pretty sure it was a similar publishing house, and not Disney itself, responsible for that marketing attack.

I like marketing. When I say this to people who are not at all familiar with the field, they often give me a puzzled look. Sometimes it is accompanied with a negative comment about annoying promotional vouchers or coupons that clog up their mail boxes. I then hastily proceed to explain what kind of marketing I like. The kind that serves the purpose of helping provide relevant information to relevant consumers. The kind that does not bombard them with unnecessary and annoyingly intrusive information stuffing up email accounts and postboxes. The kind that is a great outlet for creativity, fun and information sharing between marketers and consumers. I guess this is what one could call responsible marketing. With a lot of goodwill surrounding its brand, Disney should keep a closer eye on its licensing agreements to avoid annoying its fans. Responsible marketing is the only way to stay in the game.