So how was your year? Did you achieve everything in 2016 that you said you would at the end of 2015? Or is this year best forgotten as yet another kink in an increasingly erratic life curve of mistakes, error and rampant misfortune?
If the latter is true, just remember that you are not alone. Some of our favourite and best known corporate players have also had their own fair share of the, ‘Homers,’ this year.
We have therefore put together this list of our favourite corporate blunders of 2016 to help prevent you bursting into tears when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.
You’re actually not half as useless as everybody says you are – not compared to this lot anyway:
10. Admiral Car Insurance – Use of Facebook data
Insurance provider Admiral makes it onto the list after attempting to use new motorists’ Facebook posts as a way of deciding who should be eligible to receive a discount for car insurance. Admiral’s original plan was to use computer analysis of a young driver’s likes and posts to make judgements about their level of risk. Whilst Admiral considered this a legitimate use of technology to drive their business forward, Facebook had other ideas and hastily blocked the insurer’s plans on the day of the planned launch of their new app and said, “the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us. We have clear guidelines that prevent information obtained from Facebook being used to make decisions about eligibility.”
We can only applaud the social media site’s actions on this occasion. Apart from the total and utter randomness of associating someone’s driving ability with whether or not they like to share pictures of cute kittens, or short recipe videos on how to make a Mississippi Mud Cake, there are also concerns everyone might start being really boring online to try and get cheaper premiums. Just imagine it, everybody’s status updates would be like the ones people post when their grandparents are tagged in a picture. There’d be no more Bill Cosby memes or pictures of Patrick Stewart aboard the Starship Enterprise giving a brutal assessment of the big issue of the day.
We can only thank our lucky stars that Admiral’s plans went down like a sinking ship on this occasion.
9. Unilever – #Marmitegate
Who of course can forget Britain’s EU referendum vote from June of this year? Despite the UK ultimately deciding to leave, what really got the population revved up was Unilever’s decision to increase the price of Marmite stating that, “Prices should start increasing to reflect the higher import costs from sterling, subject to customer affordability.”
As one would imagine, the internet went into meltdown as a nation polarised by its favourite sandwich spread began to view Unilever as the shameless profiteer of the UK’s exit from Europe whilst Tesco, the retailer responsible for standing up to such corporate brutishness, was seen as a champion of the people for refusing to pass the price increase on to its customers.
Here at The W1nners’ club we braced ourselves for the very real possibility that the pound would be replaced by Marmite as the UK’s national currency – it clearly had more value than the downward sliding Sterling. The only question would be what amount Tesco Bank was going to charge people that went overdrawn on their current accounts. Two slices of Marmite on toast perhaps?
8. Microsoft – AI Chatbot
Futurists beware as 2016 saw Microsoft’s contribution to the artificial intelligence space race steam ahead via a new chatbot named, ‘Tay.’ The bot was an experiment in, ‘conversational understanding,’ the theory being the more people that chat with Tay on Twitter, the better it gets at engaging humans in natural conversation.
Unfortunately with the internet being the internet, people starting tweeting the bot with a whole host of misogynistic, racist, and whatever else-ist remarks which resulted in the corrupted AI becoming a flag waving Nazi that hates women and talks about smoking weed in front of police officers within the space of 24 hours.
While this tech faux pas was a lesson for everyone concerned with developing artificial intelligence, here at The W1nners’ club we had a sweepstake predicting when Tay’s first appearance on The Jeremy Kyle Show will be.
7. Coca Cola – Adding fuel to the fire of the Crimean crisis
There’s nothing quite like adding a bit of fizz to a geopolitical crisis and Coca Cola did just that when they posted a festive map on social media back in January. The first iteration of the map excluded the annexed Crimean peninsula but the company back tracked after some Russians condemned the move. After republishing the photo to include Crimea, Ukranians then threatened to boycott the company in a wave of consternation on social media; this was all accompanied by the vehemently trending #BanCocaCola hashtag.
Coca Cola ended up abandoning the campaign altogether although in our opinion they should have just printed a map of the whole world to avoid criticism – or would that simply have upset absolutely everybody – including Martians?
6. Goldman Sachs – Powa Valuation
Leading Investment Bank Goldman Sachs put a very large corporate foot in its mouth by stating on record in a presentation that British Fintech Unicorn Powa was on a, ‘clear path,’ to a $50 billion valuation. Goldman valued the tech firm at between $16bn and $18bn in September 2015, five months before its dramatic collapse. Goldman also suggested revenues could hit $5.5bn by the end of 2018.
Powa’s technology allowed consumers to point their mobile phones at adverts or products to then be taken to an online shopping cart and was referred to as the, “tech investment of the decade,” by an over-enthusiastic Goldman.
Here at The W1nners’ Club we think the £50 spent on our Christmas party this year was a heck of a lot of money, let alone the £2.3 million Powa spent on the rent of its offices – but we don’t believe any self-respecting City Analyst would ever describe our Publisher Darcus White being in any way, “visionary,” contrary to what was said about the management team at Powa.
5. Vodafone – £4.6 million fine
One company that appeared to lose its way in 2016 was mobile phone operator Vodafone who received a £4.6 million fine from OFCOM, the telecoms regulator for “serious,” breaches of customer protection rules.
Vodafone had misled more than 10,000 of its pay-as-you-go customers by charging them for top up credit and not supplying any of the paid for services in return. The telecom provider had also broken the rules on the way it handles customer complaints.
The problems were apparently caused by errors linked to the company’s move to a new billing system, but it took the collective loss of £150,000 by customers over a 17 month period before Vodafone was brought to book.
We can only say that we’re nothing short of pleased that Vodafone’s pay-as-you-go customers finally got some redress and we suggest in future, as with anybody that doesn’t pay a bill on time, that Vodafone should now be a pay-as-you-go mobile provider and give pay-as-you-go customers their mobile credit up front until they can prove their credit worthiness.
4. Toblerone – Increasing the gaps between the chocolate segments
In at number 4 for this year’s business howlers was the shameless act committed by Toblerone of increasing the size of the gap between the triangular chunks of its distinctively shaped chocolate bars. Mondelez International, the producers of Toblerone said it had changed the chocolate bar’s design to reduce the weight of what were 400g and 170g bars. As one would expect, consumers took to Toblerone’s Facebook page to express their outrage with many questioning why the company had decided to make the gaps between the triangles bigger, rather than simply reducing the length of the bars.
Mondelez said in a statement that, “like many other companies, we are experiencing higher costs for numerous ingredients,” and added: “We carry these costs for as long as possible, but to ensure Toblerone remains on-shelf, is affordable and retains the triangular shape, we have had to reduce the weight of just two of our bars in the UK, from the wider range of available Toblerone products.”
In our opinion, a bar of Toblerone would never work as a solid block of chocolate anyway so we think Mondelez should have focused on the value customers get from the spaces between the chunks. Their advertising slogan could have been, “empty space is the new chocolate,” which is the very reason why they are a chocolate maker and we sell office gadgets. Point taken – we won’t give up our day job.
3. Sports Direct – Secret recording of MPs
In a year that has seen the beleaguered Sports Retailer experience a decline in profits and a wobble of its share price, the ‘sandwich gate,’ secret recording scandal could not have come at a worse time for Sports Direct.
Six MPs from the Parliamentary Business Select Committee made a surprise visit to Sports Direct’s controversial Shirebrook warehouse facility to follow up on their inquiry into working practices at the company. After a brief tour and discussions with workers at the site, the MPs sat down to have a private conversation in a room by themselves when a lady came in brandishing a tray of sandwiches. It is alleged by the Members of Parliament that hidden in and amongst the sandwiches was a recording device that had been covertly placed there to listen in on their conversations.
The MPs were naturally aghast at such treatment and the whole episode gave further credibility to allegations of Victorian workhouse conditions – including the bullying of staff and aggressive rules at the Shirebrook site.
We can only concur that such behaviour is a disgrace on the part of Sports Direct and can confirm that anybody who visits The W1nners’ Club offices would find a secret recording device hidden in and amongst a few beers as well as a selection of rather unappetising looking sandwiches.
2. Seoul Secrets – ‘Racist,’ skin Whitening advert
Thai cosmetics company Seoul Secrets had its name blackened after an advert for a skin whitening product had to be withdrawn from social media for being racist.
The video advert features Thai actress Cris Horwang attributing her career success to the virtue of having fairer skin.
In the clip she states, “In my world there is tough competition. If I don’t take care of myself, everything I have built, the whiteness I have invested in, could be gone,” at which point her skin turns black, and a young, very white rival appears by her side. She looks down in dismay at her dark complexion and muses “if I was white, I would win”.
The incident ignited a debate into the issue of attitudes towards skin colour in Thailand where darker skin is often associated with manual, outdoor labour, and therefore with being “lower class”.
Here at The W1nners’ club we were shocked to hear of such a backward attitude and as an equal opportunities employer, we can confirm that whatever colour you are, you’ll never get a job anywhere else if you mention on your CV that you’ve spent any part of your career working with us.
- Pfizer – The overpricing of essential drugs to treat Epilepsy
There have been some monumental corporate cock ups on the list, but the number one business blunder for 2016 has to be the 2600% price hike placed on a drug that the NHS relies upon to treat 48,000 epilepsy sufferers.
The NHS spent £2m on the drug in 2012 and this amount soared to £50 million a year later when Pfizer sold the UK rights to distribute the phenytoin sodium capsules to Flynn Pharma, which de-branded the drug. This allowed the firms to charge more for the drug because it was no longer subject to a pricing scheme agreed between the NHS and the drugs industry.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), when issuing £90 million in fines to the two companies in December said, “The companies deliberately exploited the opportunity offered by de-branding to hike up the price for a drug which is relied upon by many thousands of patients. These extraordinary price rises have cost the NHS and the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds.”
We’re convinced that even illegal narcotic barons would be ashamed of selling drugs if it involved such open exploitation of the sick and needy and in our opinion Pfizer are doing nothing more than taking the Pfiss out of epilepsy sufferers.