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10 Worst Cases of Ad Campaigns That Backfired Miserably

6. In 1986, an electronics store named Silo made an advertisement that they are offering a stereo system for “299 bananas.” Customers took it literally and came with real bananas costing the store $10,465. 

Silo Stereo for Bananas
Image Source: priceonomics

Silo was an electronics retail store founded in Philadelphia in 1946. During the 1970s and 80s, Silo made incredible progress by purchasing a number of stores, low pricing, carrying a huge selection of products, and hard-hitting advertising. The television jingle “Silo is Having a Sale” was so widespread that there are people from Philadelphia who still hum it and will not believe it hasn’t been on TV for forty years.

One such promotional advertising was the offering of a stereo system for “299 bananas”. When the customers in Seattle and El Paso came to the stores with real bananas, the store decided to honor its offer and traded thirty-two stereos in both cities for bananas. The stores lost $10,465 in these stereos-for-bananas transactions.(source)

7. The #MyNYPD twitter campaign was started for people to post pictures of them having friendly interactions with the police. Instead, people started posting pictures of police brutality and harassment. 

Image Source: huffingtonpost

The New York City Police Department decided to start a twitter campaign and under a photo with a civilian posing with two NYPD officers, all three smiling, asking, “Do you have a photo w/ a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD. It may be featured on our Facebook.” However, the reaction the post received from people was not what the NYPD had hoped for.

Many started posting police engaged in forcefully mishandling people. An image in which an officer is seen pulling the hair of someone was captioned, “The #NYPD will also help you de-tangle your hair.” Another image showing three officers trying to stop a woman or holding her back was accompanied by the caption, “Need a mammogram? #myNYPD has you covered! Forget Obamacare!”(source)


8. In the 1988, Yellow Pages was sued for $10 million because of a typographical error that said “erotic vacations” instead of “exotic vacations” in a travel agency’s advertisement.

Yellow Pages Classifieds
Image Source: allanbonner

According to Gloria Quinan of Banner Travel Services, the simple but significant typo resulted in scaring off many elderly customers and getting calls only from people who wanted erotic vacations. The ad in the phonebook cost the travel agency $230 per month which of course was refunded. The agency also filed a $10 million lawsuit against Yellow Pages.(1, 2)

9. Axe advertising targeting of insecure males was so successful that they had to backpedal because the brand has was being too closely associated with the target group. 

Axe Deo
Image Source: dailymail

For marketing, Unilever divided the potential Axe users into six categories: the “Predator” who takes advantage of drunk girls and lies, “Natural Talent” who is athletic, smart and confident, “Marriage Material” who is humble and respectful, “Always the Friend” who always gets friend-zoned, the “Insecure Novice” who are the awkward geeks and nerds with no clue as to what they are doing, and the “Enthusiastic Novice” who has no clue either but is outgoing and tries everything.

They chose to market to the Insecure Novice because he is the one who needs more help when it comes to women. Then they created ads that would show the target group being irresistible to sexy women. Axe became a highly successful male antiperspirant and deodorant brand, but the problem now is it also became famous as the brand for insecure nerds and geeks.(source)


10. An ID protection firm, LifeLock, ran a promotional in which the CEO, confident about the company’s service, made his Social Security number public. As a result, he became a victim of thirteen identity thefts, and the company was fined $12 million for false advertising. 

LifeLock SSN
Image Source: wired

After the advertisement, LifeLock’s CEO Todd Davis fell victim to a $500 loan fraud in 2007. Not only did his company fail to protect him from the fraud, but he didn’t even realize what happened until the unpaid account went to a collection agency. After the first incident, someone opened an AT&T account using Davis’ SSN in Albany, New York. In 2008, AT&T had to hire a debt collection agency to recover a debt of $2,390.

More trouble cropped up later. These included a Verizon account in New York for $186, a Centerpoint Energy account for $122, a purchase from a gift basket company called Swiss Colony for $312, Credit One Bank for $573, Bay Area Credit for $265, Associated Credit Services for $207 and $213, and Enhanced Recovery Corporation for $250 and $381. Both LifeLock and Davis, however, refused to comment on the identity thefts.(source)

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