Advertising campaigns are one of the most important strategies for a company that wants to attract potential customers and sell its products to them. Though most companies follow fairly standard ideas for promoting their products, some go to extra lengths to elbow their competition out of the way. Sometimes, these efforts give entirely unexpected results. There are also some companies that unwittingly fall prey to ad campaign failures because the promoters haven’t done enough research on their target market or went for too strong a shock message in order to grab their prospective customers’ attention. We’ve found ten such cases of ad campaigns backfiring which we are sure you would enjoy reading about below.
1. In 2004, Coca-Cola marketed their Dasani brand of water in the U.K. by referring to it as “bottled spunk” with the tagline “Can’t live without spunk,” oblivious to the fact that the word spunk is slang for semen there.
On February 10, 2004, Coca-Cola did a product launch in the U.K. market that ended up being a PR catastrophe owing to their use of the word “spunk”. Their bottled water, Dasani, was also neck deep in controversies for claiming the water to be “pure”, in spite of the fact that, according to an article in The Grocer trade magazine, it was treated tap water from Sidcup, a suburban district near London. The U.K. authorities have also found bromate, a suspected carcinogen, in the water. Subsequently, they recalled half-a-million bottles and pulled the brand from U.K. market.(source)
2. When Mountain Dew started an online poll to name its new soft drink, the top suggestions received were “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong”, “Gushing Granny”, and “Frapple”.
The “Dub the Dew” campaign, probably in an attempt to tap into the ideas of customers loyal to the brand, created a poll for naming their new green apple-infused soft drink. However, the results of the poll were so offensive and irrelevant that they closed it down. The top ranking among these names was “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong”, the second was “Gushing Granny”, and third was “Frapple”. These were followed by several other variations of “Gushing Granny”.
To add to that, someone hacked the page and put up a banner that read “Mtn Dew salutes the Israeli Mossad for demolishing 3 towers on 9/11!”. Later, Mountain Dew released a statement saying, “‘Dub the Dew,’ a local market promotional campaign that was created by one of our customers, not Mountain Dew, was compromised.”(source)
3. A division of The Hoover Company offered free airline tickets to people who bought their washing machines and vacuum cleaners. What they didn’t anticipate was that people would flock to buy their products for the tickets instead. Subsequently, it cost the company £50 million and they had to sell that branch.
The British division of The Hoover Company had an excess of washing machines and vacuum cleaners that they wanted to sell to clear up their warehouses. So, they began a marketing promotion in 1992 offering airline tickets to those who purchase more than £100 worth of these products. They initially offered roundtrip tickets within Europe, but later expanded the destinations to U.S. The promotion was a huge success, but what they didn’t realize was that people bought their products for the tickets which cost many times more than £100 and not because they wanted the actual appliance.
Until 1998, the company was mired in court cases and media attention citing the promotion fiasco. Many of the company’s executives, including its managing director and president, vice-president of marketing, and director of marketing services were fired for their involvement. The disaster cost the company £50 million and the British division was sold to an Italian manufacturer.(source)
4. Proactiv’s attempt to cash in on shock advertising with the line “Got acne? Just ask your boyfriend what to do. Oh, that’s right, you don’t have a boyfriend.” Needless to say, it shocked people in an entirely different way.
Cosmetic companies often depend on the insecurities people face because of their appearance to market their products. Proactiv is no exception and this ad campaign, though seen only by a handful of people at malls, managed to even inspire a petition against it on change.org. There reportedly is a male version of it as well that that says, “Oh, that’s right, you don’t have a girlfriend.”(source)
5. A San Antonio news station had to call in a bomb squad after receiving a chocolate cake wired to what seemed to be an explosive device with a note signed by “The Joker”. It was actually a marketing campaign which didn’t go as planned by a theater chain in Texas for The Dark Knight movie.
The cake was the result of a campaign by the Santikos Theater chain from Texas meant for buzz-building aimed at local media. It started with a classified ad posted in local papers by “The Joker” for recruiting clowns on June 26, 2008, with an email ID firstname.lastname@example.org. Two dozen people who emailed to that address received an invite to the movie’s premiere. It was followed by a fake news report asking, “What will the clowns do next?”, and a video of people drawing Batman graffiti on the theater. Then another fake news report came that the NBA San Antonio Spurs’ coyote mascot was kidnapped while trying to remove the graffiti.
The campaign backfired when, one of the news stations, KENS 5 TV, had a scare and called the bomb squad after they received The Joker’s cake. The chocolate cake was wired and had the message “If you want to see coyote again be at the Palladium [theater] at 8 p.m.” The phone number written on the cake, when called, rang a phone inside the cake which contained press badges to the premiere. The theater chain apologized to the news station for the scare and said that was not their intention.(source)