LifeLock’s Marketing Stunt Went Terribly, Laughably Wrong
What not to do in marketing
Lifelock CEO Todd Davis was a loud, strutting leader. He was on every TV show boasting about how ironclad their product was.
The basic premise of LifeLock is that it protects you from having your identity stolen. If something weird happens, it also promises to quickly notify you.
This is a noble and good purpose. Millions have their identity stolen each year. Protection is certainly not guaranteed by banks.
A basic tension has always existed between consumers and advertisers:
Does this product actually do what they say it will do?
We approach companies with caution. We know they lie.
As LifeLock was in its early stages, Todd was eager to prove their claims were true. His strategy, however, would stray into the realm of hubris. He would pay a steep cost for his ambition.
He proposed a bold campaign idea that would put him and his own privacy front and center. His subordinates advised against it, saying it was too risky. But Todd does what Todd intends to do.
Read the below ad. I’ve edited out the part that is of importance to this article.
Todd’s decision to blast his social security number across the multiverse was an open challenge to hackers and frauds alike.
Here is mah face.
Here is mah social security.
Watchu gonna do, hombre?
Unfortunately for Todd, a few hackers accepted that challenge.
Todd’s account was hacked 13 times, including a loan being taken out illegally in his name. It became public. Hackers took a victory lap. All the newspapers were running the story. It was quite an embarrassment.
But embarrassment wasn’t the end of this saga.
This public-pie-in-face of a campaign invited a lot of unwanted attention to LifeLock. The FTC filed a lawsuit accusing the company of false advertising. Then, 35 state attorneys followed suit, specifically calling out Lifelock's claim that they virtually guaranteed protection to their customers.
Lifelock also got dinged for their failed notification system. Per the FTC’s own words: “Lifelock falsely claimed it protected consumers’ identity 24/7/365 by providing alerts ‘as soon as’ it received any indication there was a problem.”
Making the optics worse, it was later revealed that LifeLock’s 1 million dollar guarantees were barnacled with caveats. There was endless fine print. Getting payment required an act of Congress.
After the FTC hit LifeLock with multi-million dollar fines, it would take years to fully recover. The saga doesn’t end here either.
LifeLock’s story reads like an action movie because “just when you couldn’t think it could get worse” — it did. They’d been given restrictions and guidelines following their settlement for false advertising. The basic gist was that Lifelock had a few years to get their product up to an acceptable standard.
The government may have actually left LifeLock alone after that. However, LifeLock failed to pay their initial fine to the government. In turn, the FTC reopened an investigation and went on the warpath.
They determined that LifeLock failed to meet their product performance guidelines. In turn, Lifelock paid a $100 million dollar fine (the largest ever of its kind to the FTC).
Amidst the firestorm, the Lifelock CEO, Todd Davis, resigned his position as CEO, though he did walk away with millions in his pocket, as seems usual.
There was a time when you saw Mr. Davis’ face all over TV and magazines.
That time has surely passed.
Today, his story has been recorded in the annals of bad marketing.
Todd was bold in his strategy, which is commendable. But in practice, it’s rarely a good idea to dangle your social security number in front of the masses as a challenge. There are a lot of smart, capable troublemakers in this world.