10 Promotional Stunts That Horribly Backfired
Monday, August 3, 2009
Cartoon Network Bomb Scare
To promote the Aqua Teen Hunger Force animated film, Cartoon Network hired ad reps Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky. The 2 men decided to hang electronic LED displays in several cities, each boasting a "Lite-Brite" depiction of one of the film's characters.
Citizens of Boston mistook the devices as explosives which caused the city to shut down major roads and bridges. Matters weren't helped any when — during a post-arrest press conference — the 2 men opted to discuss wacky 70s haircuts instead of the controversy.
McDonald's Tainted MP3 Players
In Japan — where even virtual pets have their own MP3 players — McDonald's ran a contest in which customers were eligible to win their very own MP3 device. After roughly 10,000 gadgets were handed out, customers discovered that each came bundled with 10 free songs and its very own QQPass trojan malware, capable of communicating user logins and passwords.
A software patch was dispersed and a recall was instituted — thereby ending McDonald's worst campaign since the Arch Deluxe.
SanDisk Attempts to Be Hipper Than Apple
With the release of its iPod line, Apple performed a rare feat in the corporate world: The company became hip. In May 2006 — facing Apple's overwhelmingly dominant market presence — SanDisk launched the "iDont" campaign, which portrayed iPod users as mindless sheep, donkeys, and chimps.
Besides the fact that the ads nowhere referenced the company's own Sansa MP3 line, SanDisk failed to realize that customers are rarely won over by insults. Though it continues to live in the iPod's shadow, it still outsells Microsoft's Zune. Naturally.
Icy Response to Snapple
With the Snapple Lady on permanent hiatus, Snapple strove for the quirky gold medal once again with an attempt to overtake the Guinness World Record for the largest ice pop — made with the company's tasty kiwi-strawberry drink.
The problem: The stunt took place mid-June. Immediately upon unloading, the melted juice poured from the truck, creating a syrupy tidal wave down Union Square and a massive headache for cleanup crews. The worst part — aside from the few minor injuries: The 25-foot-tall ice pop needed to be free-standing to be declared a record.
LifeLock CEO Tempts Fate
The personal fraud protection company LifeLock guarantees the security of your identity under their employ. So much so that, in a nationwide ad, CEO Todd Davis posts his personal social security number on the side of a van — daring identity thieves to give it a shot.
Turns out, they did. No fewer than 25 motivated thieves stole Davis' social security number — with one successfully receiving a $500 loan. LifeLock maintains its diligence, claiming that for a nationwide ad, only one case of stolen identity isn't too bad. It doesn't advise posting your mom's maiden name on your car, however.
Sony's Sacrifice to God
When a company is said to emerge from a scandal "red-faced," rarely is it due to the errant splatter from a goat's decapitated head. Celebrating the PlayStation 2 release of the game God of War II, Sony threw a gala event in Athens, Greece.
In honor of the barbaric revelry found in the game, a goat carcass was brought in and attendees were invited to feast on fake entrails. Those who weren't privy to the unusual event were treated to a graphic photo of the centerpiece in the official Sony magazine. The company recalled the issues but garnered some pretty bad press in return.
General Motors Inspires Amateur Filmmaking
Three years before declaring Chapter 11, General Motors influenced a new wave of modern film auteurs. Tapping into that YouTube craze the young kids had been talking about, GM launched a website allowing users to create their own commercial about the Chevy Tahoe SUV and upload it for public view.
Apparently, GM hadn't realized that it bore an already unfavorable connotation, and the contest gave way to short films about global warming, the war in Iraq, or negative attacks against the auto's quality. Worse yet, almost a month went by before GM caught on.
KFC and Pepsi Underestimate Fan Frenzy
The allure of the free giveaway is usually proportional to the popularity of the product. So who wasn't expecting a slew of people clamoring for free KFC or Pepsi-sponsored Yankees tickets? Surprisingly, KFC and Pepsi.
After Oprah announced a KFC giveaway on her much-watched program, the food chain couldn't keep up with the lines of customers — which led to sit-ins and riots. And when Pepsi didn't deliver the full amount of promised tickets to Yankee fans, crowds quietly understood and politely left. Just kidding. A riot ensured and Pepsi was poured into the streets in protest.
Thwarted Zombie Invasion Credited to Dr. Pepper
It's hard to dislike a treasure hunt, unless the X lies somewhere atop a historical landmark. An international campaign from Dr. Pepper's then-owner Cadbury Schweppes hid coins within 23 American cities to promote the soft drink's "23 flavors."
But the agency in charge of Boston's location selected the Granary Burying Ground — current home to John Hancock, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. Before a flood of shovels swept through the cherished site, Cadbury Schweppes ended the contest, but the contest forced owners to shutter the graveyard to prevent a zombie outbreak.
Dos Equis Angers Interesting Men
This giant corporate goodwill effort was the latest extension of the beer company's "Most Interesting Man" ad campaign featuring DJ Z-Trip. Attendees, who were promised a shuttle service that made the 100-mile round trip to and from Waterloo Park, were expecting a veritable cornucopia of rocking activities, such as "karate black belt demonstrations, participatory drum circles, an exotic reptile collection, sleight of hand tricks, international mohawk coiffeurists, bungee lessons, aqua slides, culinary entomologists, medieval weaponry, and a world-class car collection."
Most of the Dos Equis faithful ended up thoroughly screwed, however, since too many tickets were given out for too few spots, shuttles never turned up, and many were forced to loiter in the parking lot outside. At the end of the evening, the 800 lucky people who got in had a rollicking time — but they were largely drowned out by the seething gang of thousands who were turned away.