YouTube | Kendall and Kylie

12 Marketing Promotions That Totally Backfired

Diply 16 Jul 2017

You can't have good marketing without taking a few risks.

But considering how much cash companies will dump into their campaigns, you'd expect them to put more thought in before taking a risk, don't you think?

1. Coca-Cola MagiCans

The Coca-Cola Company | The Coca-Cola Company

In the summer of 1990, the folks at Coke decided to tackle their largest-ever (to that point) marketing campaign: MagiCans. The idea was to put random amounts of money — from $1 to $500, all in cash — in cans and have it pop up when people opened the right can. How fun!

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MagiCans were a disaster. The cans containing money had to be balanced out with water to feel right, but they leaked.

The Coca-Cola Company | The Coca-Cola Company

So people got soggy, foul-smelling cash, and the press picked up on it. Coke tried to run damage control ads in newspapers, but stopped the promotion early, with only 200,000 of the 750,000 cans distributed.

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2. American Airlines AAirpasses 

Facebook | American Airlines

Back in 1981, the marketing department for American Airlines came up with a fantastic idea to drum up business: offer lifetime passes for all-you-can-fly first-class travel for a hefty, upfront fee of $250,000. And hey, let people take a buddy along for an extra $150,000 too, why not.

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Only 66 people took them up on the offer, but American has been cursing their decision ever since.

Facebook | American Airlines

Some fliers cost the company more than $1 million a year. One flew round-trip, Chicago to London, 16 times in a month. American raised the price to $600,000, then to $1.01 million, before stopping their sale in 1994.

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The AAirpasses cost American so much money, they assigned investigators to look into each AAirpass holder to find any reason at all why they might be legally able to revoke the pass. 

Facebook | American Airlines

As you can imagine, time spent in court has added up, and it all could have been prevented with a little forethought.

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3. Hoover's Free Flights Promotion

Facebook | Nicci Tangora

Speaking of air travel promotions that horribly backfired, let's talk about Hoover. How fitting that a company whose name is synonymous with sucking would make this list, right? In 1992, the British appliance maker's warehouses were overflowing with washing machines and vacuums they were a little too desperate to move. That led to an unbelievably good deal for consumers, and a disaster for Hoover.

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The idea was to give away two round-trip tickets to Europe when anybody spent 100 pounds on Hoover products. Then they opened it up to flights to the U.S., and all hell broke loose.

The Marketingblog | The Marketingblog

Hoover expected to make some of the money back through fine print and upselling extras, but couldn't keep up with the cost or the demand.

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The back stock didn't move because people just bought the cheapest vacuum they could, so the company had to staff more shifts in the factories to make them around the clock. 

Twitter | @Aerolinas365

Thousands of customers ended up taking Hoover to court, although 220,000 people did eventually go on a Hoover holiday. When the dust settled, the company was out around $60 million, and three execs lost their jobs.

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4. Red Lobster's Endless Snow Crab Legs

Facebook | Red Lobster

Never, ever bet against America's appetite. Red Lobster found that out the hard way in 2003, when they introduced their Endless Snow Crab Legs promotion. Turns out that Americans can eat a LOT of crab legs.

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Diners put the endless part to the test. "It wasn't the second helping, it was the third that hurt," said one exec. "And the fourth."

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With crab prices at an all-time high, the company bled cash, losing $3.3 million in just seven weeks. Yeah, Red Lobster's president lost her job over that one.

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5. Starbucks' #RaceTogether 

Starbucks | Starbucks

You want to give Starbucks credit for trying to engage and not stay silent on a major social issue, right? But oh, my, how did they not see what an awful, awful idea their #RaceTogether campaign was?

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With race relations plastered all over the headlines in 2015, Starbucks' CEO, Howard Schultz, encouraged baristas to invite customers to talk about race. 

Starbucks | Starbucks

Okay, I want the world to be a better place and for people to get along, but when I go for coffee, I don't want a deep discussion that's going to stir up passions. I can't imagine the barista who wanted to have that conversation with random customers, either.

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#RaceTogether faced some harsh backlash almost immediately, with Schultz himself attacked relentlessly on social media.

Starbucks | Starbucks

Within days, Starbucks put a merciful end to #RaceTogether. That said, race is still on Starbucks' radar. "We made a tactical mistake. So what?" he told Fast Company. "We’re moving forward."

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6. Skittles America Mix

Reddit | HappyGoblin

How could getting patriotic with your tasty treat go wrong? Well, maybe not realizing that America isn't the only nation with a red, white, and blue flag. Yeah, you could make Old Glory out of Skittles, but you can also make the flags of France, the U.K., Norway, the Czech Republic, and, of course, Russia, which is a bit, um, uncomfortable at the moment.

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And it's not even Skittles' most recent gimmick to run into trouble.  

Facebook | Skittles UK

For Pride Month in 2017, Skittles U.K. ditched their colors, saying, "Only one rainbow matters this weekend... Pride's." Some saw it as a nice gesture, while others pointed out that making them all white wasn't the most diverse message Skittles could send.

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7. Kendall Jenner And Pepsi Save The World

YouTube | Kendall and Kylie

If 2016 was bad for protests, early 2017 was absolutely nuts. Who would have thought it might be a bad idea to capitalize off of all the tear gas clouds using a reality TV star? Clearly, Pepsi thought it was a terrific plan!

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Coke's rival really pepper sprayed themselves with this one, shelling out for a two-plus minute commercial that got five times more dislikes on YouTube than it got likes.

Twitter | @BerniceKing

The words "tone-deaf" came to a lot of people's minds after watching it.

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People despised the idea of Kendall Jenner soothing the angry masses by handing a cop a cold Pepsi, and why wouldn't they? 

Twitter | @JosephKahn

There are complex issues out there, and the protests were driven by genuine anger. A Pepsi? Really?! No wonder the ad was widely scorned, mocked, and photoshopped.

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8. The Arch Deluxe

PCMode | PCMode

Coca-Cola had its New Coke and its MagiCans, and McDonald's had the Arch Deluxe. Trying to keep its menu fresh, McDonald's introduced the Arch Deluxe as the "burger with the grown-up taste" in 1996. They pushed it hard, with the largest-ever fast food promotion to that point, estimated between $150 million and $200 million. It tanked.

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That expensive ad campaign was just bizarre, showing off the "grown-up taste" with kids who hated the burger.  

Strange Kids Club | Strange Kids Club

Important note for future marketers: showing anyone hating your product, even kids, is asking for a disaster. What a shock that the Arch Deluxe didn't stay on the menu!

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9. Mountain Dew's Naming Blunder

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Another important note for future marketers: never, never, never ask the internet to name things. In 2012, Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen came up with a new Mountain Dew flavor and wanted their fans to help name their fresh concoction. Big mistake.

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It didn't take long for internet trolls to hijack the campaign with ridiculous, and often offensive, suggestions. 

Videodrome | Union Video Game Forum

Thankfully, they realized their mistake pretty quickly and pulled the naming contest, having learned an important lesson about the internet.

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10. LifeLock 

Stryker Investigation Services | Stryker Investigation Services

Standing behind your product is a great, classic marketing gimmick, but LifeLock's CEO took that way too far, and it backfired heavily and repeatedly. Trying to show how confident he was in his company, Todd Davis put his real, actual Social Security Number in the company's ads.

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I know what you're thinking: how could that possibly go wrong? In a word, spectacularly.

MFI Miami | MFI Miami

Over the next few years, Todd had his identity stolen not once, not twice, but 13 times. He didn't even find out about most of them until he got his credit report and found multiple collection agencies on his tail.

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All that sounds bad enough, right? Turns out putting that info in an ad was even worse than you'd think.

WatchPoint | WatchPoint

Having Todd's identity stolen so many times opened LifeLock up to a charge of deceptive advertising, and the FTC didn't hesitate, slamming the company with a $12 million fine. Five years later, they were still at it, and the FTC fined them again, this time for a whopping $100 million.

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11. Ghost In The Shell's #IAmMajor Campaign

Twitter | @Nerdizismus

The live-action version of an anime classic should have been a slam-dunk blockbuster. The teaser featured its star, Scarlett Johansson, saying "I am hunted. I am the hunter. I am Major." and directed viewers to a website where they could make their own #IAmMajor memes to share on social media. Folks, do not open that can of worms.

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The big problem, of course, is that Ghost in the Shell already had controversy surrounding ScarJo's casting.

Twitter | @Authoroux

It's not like Paramount's marketing department had any reason to be caught off guard here. People were rightly upset about a white American taking over a classic Japanese role. They weren't shy about hijacking the #IAmMajor promotion to let it be known, either.

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And when the movie bombed with audiences and critics alike, people were quick to use the memes to pile on, too.

Twitter | @ser_arroyo

It takes more than crappy marketing and poor casting choices to make a movie flop as badly as Ghost in the Shell did, but they sure didn't help anything.

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12. Sony's 'White Is Coming' Campaign

Blogger's Block | Blogger's Block

Until 2006, Sony's handheld game system, the PSP, only came in black. Then they decided to give their loyal gamers another option: a white PSP. How could the marketing for a white PSP possibly go wrong? Voila!

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Even though this "horrifically ill-advised" ad — how does even that sound understated? — only showed up in the Netherlands, the reaction in the U.S. thankfully doomed it.

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Sony initially defended it as an image "intended solely to highlight the contrast" between the black and white consoles, but within days the entire campaign was scratched.Which one do you think is the biggest blunder? Let us know in the comments!

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