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10 Times Promotional Campaigns Went Horribly Wrong

6. In the year 1992, the Hoover Company decided to offer free flight tickets to customers that purchased products of £100 and above. However, the offer cost the company about £50,000,000 since there was a huge response from customers who were much more interested in getting the free flight offer than purchasing the Hoover products.

Hoover free flight
Image credits: Campaignlive

Hoover, the appliance company mostly known for the vacuum cleaners they provide, planned to promote their sales in 1992 by conducting an interesting campaign. Their dream to promote cleaner sales ended even before they could dream of big turnovers. The reason is quite simple. On a minimum purchase of £100, they offered the customers two, free, return-flight tickets to either Europe or America worth £600. Consumers, being smart, went for the minimally priced vacuum cleaners that qualified for the deal to receive the free offer. Consequently, the company had to bear a huge loss of £50,000,000 after they received a huge response from customers since they were more interested in the free flight deal than the product. (source)

7. Coke once ran a hidden “MagiCans” promotional campaign that had spring-loaded cash and coupons instead of cola. The campaign failed when technical glitches inside the cans made the consumers drink chlorinated water accidentally.

Coke had one of its costliest promotional campaigns, “MagiCan,” that began on May 7, 1990, and ended on May 31. These specialized, mechanical cans were used by the Coca Cola Company where they spent $100 million to conduct this campaign. It mentioned that the Coke cans would include cash prizes and coupons worth as much as $500, and not the drink. The cans were loaded with a spring mechanism. When the customers would open the can to have the drink, the prizes would pop up. However, things didn’t turn out as planned.

The initial plan was to distribute around 750,000 MagiCans in 200 million cans in a single circulation. To make these cans have the same feel and weight, and to make it so people could not easily find the prizes, the sealed area of the cans were filled with chlorinated water and ammonium sulfate to prevent consumers from drinking the water. But some cans either had a malfunctioning pop-up mechanism, faulty seals, or jammed. This led the foul-smelling chlorinated water to release itself in the can. It was also reported that a young, 11-year-old boy in Massachusetts mistakenly drank this water instead of coke. The company immediately warned consumers of this due to the fear of product liability lawsuits and bad publicity. They said that only a few number of cans contained the foul-smelling liquid that was harmless which the people weren’t supposed to drink. (source)

8. EA decided to send out brass knuckles to various game journalists as a part of their promotion for promoting the game of Godfather II before they realized that they weren’t legal in most of the states they sent them to which included California where EA is based.

EA-Brass Knuckles
Image credits: EA, Kotaku

EA Redwood Shores developed the game Godfather II and published worldwide across all platforms in April 2009. Earlier in March, EA had launched a Facebook app, The Godfather II: Crime Rings, to promote the game. After a month in early April, the company decided to send out brass knuckles to several journalists. The promotional campaign of the game was conducted in several states of the nation. Little did they know that they weren’t legal in almost all the states they sent the knuckles to. In fact, it was illegal even in California where EA Redwood Shores is based. When the company realized the mistake, they asked the journalists to return the knuckles and apologized. The game, however, received mixed ratings and reviews from different platforms worldwide. (source)

9. KFC once ran a campaign on The Oprah Winfrey Show offering free coupons on meals during which millions of people went ahead and downloaded about 10.5 million coupons. KFC had to give away around $42 million worth of free food and still failed to deliver what it had offered.

Image credits: Charlene Mcbride/Flickr

Among the top influential people in the US, Oprah Winfrey started a show on tv called The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was on this show that KFC had decided to feature a costly promotional campaign. The offer included distribution of free, two pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken along with two sides and one biscuit. Millions of people downloaded about 10.5 million coupons as soon as the campaign was featured. The rush at the KFC counters was unimaginable! There were long queues of people waiting to get their share of the free treat. Due to the overwhelming response, some franchises even ran out of chicken. It was unbelievable that KFC gave away free meals worth approximately $42 million! Moreover, it failed to deliver what they had offered the customers. (source)


10. Red Lobster, a restaurant chain, lost over $3 million once during their “Endless Crab” promotion campaign. This was because an executive couldn’t estimate how much food people could consume.

Red lobster
Image credits: Red Lobster

In 2003, Red Lobster, a seafood chain restaurant, conducted a promotion called “Endless Crab.” Chain President Edna Morris declared that hungry consumers could eat as many crab dishes as they wanted. She wanted to hike profits by offering a $22.99 dinner promotion to each at the restaurant. The company had to bear a loss of over $3 million, and it was a disastrous promotional campaign. Morris miscalculated the number of times people would refill their plates with the pricey crab. She failed to anticipate that crabs are comparatively lighter, and it requires a number of bites to fill one’s tummy. Also, the campaign was launched when there was a price surge among the wholesale price of the crabs. This ultimately led the company to stop the campaign after a few months. (source)

Mistakes tend to happen even when a company has a team of flawless marketers. But then, there are times when things are taken a bit too far and make us wonder what they were thinking before conducting such campaigns. Also, the effects of the mishap among people can have huge consequences that the company would have to bear. We hope these failed promotional campaign tales save you from any such instances in the future!

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