In Marketing, Is There Such a Thing as Bad Exposure?

by | Oct 16, 2018

One of the biggest crime waves in the early and mid-2000s was identity theft. Criminals worked their way ahead of law enforcement, pioneering a completely new style of crime in the process. In fact, they were so far ahead that the FBI had to create their Cyber Division in 2002.

close up of african american man finger printing on white background

During this time, you couldn’t tune into media outlets without hearing about identity theft. Cybersecurity company LifeLock used this exposure to their advantage. That is until their superhero marketing backfired in a spectacular way.

‘You Miss 100 Percent of the Shots You Don’t Take’   

take the shot

In 2006, just a year after their inception, LifeLock launched their most famous — and eventually infamous — marketing campaign. CEO Todd Davis plastered his Social Security number on the front page of the company’s website in big bold numbers and showcased it on billboards across the United States.

You may remember the commercial where Davis points to a mobile billboard and confirms that it’s his real Social Security number, saying, “No, I’m not crazy.”

‘It’s Alive!’

social security

From a marketing standpoint, this campaign is nothing short of genius. It’s eye-catching, it’s risky, and it demands your attention. We’ve been taught from birth to protect our Social Security number, and at that time in history, broadcasting it was nothing short of brazen. But sometimes being brazen is exactly what’s required to jump-start sales, and using a live demonstration on a topical issue proved to be exceptional marketing.

Although, can you imagine the head of marketing at the time having to come in and pitch that campaign to the CEO?

Head of marketing: “So, we want you to publish your Social Security number on billboards and in print ads.”

Davis: “Are you crazy?”

I can only imagine the head of marketing hearing that and being inspired to use the line “And no, I’m not crazy” in the campaign.

You have to believe that, at some point, Davis must have asked, “Are you sure our product works?” Well, he was about to find out.

The Good News

The good news is that the marketing campaign was a huge success. LifeLock went from $100,000 in sales in 2006 to $131 million in 2009. This growth was largely attributed to the bold advertising campaign perpetrated on a national stage.

I clearly remember these ads. They were everywhere, and I wasn’t surprised to see the huge growth in sales in such a short period of time.

Despite the massive success of the campaign from a marketing standpoint, the product proved to be a huge failure. Davis has been a victim of identity theft 13 times and counting.

Since every theft occurred after the launch of the original campaign, maybe he was crazy after all!

Was It a Failure or a Success?

failure or success

From a product standpoint, this campaign was a failure because of the company’s inability to deliver on their promises. In fact, if you still have a LifeLock membership, you may want to cancel it. (Personally, I use Zander Insurance, which covers the whole family for $120 per year.)

The FTC reiterated this notion. When the government started asking questions about the product’s viability, LifeLock was quick to settle for $12 million. Unfortunately, they forgot to read the settlement agreement, and ultimately, LifeLock paid another $100 million in fines to the government to settle its claims against the company.

Eight months later, Davis resigned as CEO.

Amidst the failures of the product, from a marketing standpoint, this campaign was a massive success. It launched LifeLock as a company, allowing it to go public under the symbol LOCK until it was recently acquired by Symantec for $2.3 billion in late 2016.

Davis may have had to deal with some identity theft, but, in the end, he became a very rich man. I guess that after getting his identity stolen 13 times, he did some research and found a product that actually works to protect his identity.

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