Online Brands

Three Marketing Tools To Avoid The Willy Moon Branding Blunder

The X Factor was never really the most politically correct TV show. Dozens upon dozens of performers enter to have their dreams realised only to be met by judges who are paid to play rough. Audience members all laugh together as Simon Cowell compares one singer’s mouth to a cave and another singer’s voice to a train being derailed. That was until two judges in little New Zealand made a massive marketing blunder. Enter stage right Willy Moon and Natalia Kills.

If you haven’t heard what’s been happening, here’s the trending video:

Ouch. This video picked up such traction that major media from around the world broadcasted it. Even Simon Cowell had his say by calling the comments hateful. This could all have been easily fixed if we sat Willy Moon and Natalia Kills down in any Marketing101 class. Here’s how this blunder could have been prevented with a little marketing magic:

1. Know Thyself (Brand awareness)

One thing Willy Moon and Natalia Kills thought they had going for them was a keen sense of brand awareness. In their minds they were music gods, gatekeepers and governors. Natalia Wills even seemed to believe Willy Moon was the first singer to ever wear a suit. This led to someone jokingly updating Moon’s Wikipedia page to enforce this:


Their heightened sense of brand awareness led to them living in a fantasy where their branding ideals existed. This led to a bit of a shock for them when they discovered the general population exists in this nasty place called reality. Sure Joe Irvine was wearing a suit and had a fairly run of the mill haircut. He wasn’t exactly demonstrating creative integrity. He wasn’t wearing a one-of-a-kind alligator skin top hat with a zebra print tux. But neither was Willy Moon. If they acknowledged that the contestants suit (alongside a lot of pop music) is run-of-the-mill and not imposing their personal branding, this whole ordeal could have been avoided. 

2. Love Thy Neighbour (Ethical Brand Competition)

Brand don’t exist in isolation – they need to compete and unfortunately they don’t always do so ethically. That’s why there are guidelines and even some regulations to ensure brands do so without going in for the kill. But just as her name foreshadows, Natalia Kills ignored this and went straight for the kill.

If you take a step back, there are a lot of similarities to the relationship between competing brands and X Factor judges and contestants. To a certain extent, brands want other brands to exist to keep the economy moving. But they don’t want other brands to surpass them. Perhaps Natalia Kills saw such potential in Irvine and likeness to her husband that she became illogical. Maybe it occurred to her that this contestant could be the new ‘Willy Moon’ – not that Moon was ever very well-known. In her power-tripped mind, she saw this new brand as a threat. And so she put him in his place.

When bigger brands unethically try swamp smaller brands, it causes a media frenzy. This is no exception. If Kills acknowledged this contestants potential her brand wouldn’t be so tarnished.

3. Seek Forgiveness (Issue Management)

Brands make big mistakes. However it’s often not the mistake that gets their name in the branding blunder hall of shame. Rather it’s how they handled the mistake. Take for example the BP oil spill where BP’s only reaction was to say oops then carry on with business as usual. Moon and Kills reactions were almost as alarming. 

TVNZ firstly issued an apology on their behalf. As expected, this didn’t cut it for most people. Here were their attempts at damage control:



These apologies got a fair amount of slack. The most noticeable mistake is the attempt to shift blame. Then of course you quickly notice there is no apology hidden within these statements. If you dig into it you can assume they might be more or less sorry for what happened. Customers aren’t interested in what’s happening around your organisation or what caused the mistake. They want to hear they were right and that the organisation is making changes. See how Whittakers handles negative publicity and health scares. Kills and Moon, please take notes.