Everyone can get it wrong sometimes. But there's failing and then there's epic failing. Presented here are some of the worst marketing #fails of all time and the lessons we can learn. No, I'm not including 'New Coke' as that's been done enough, plus I'm still not sure if it was such a fail after all. They got a LOT of coverage during that. Cringe or laugh your way through some of these and tell me some of your favorite fails!
1. The Jagermeister Pool Party
Jagermeister, the shot of choice for Germans and pissheads of assorted nationalities, decided it was would be a great idea to throw a pool party. The idea of mixing high strength liquor, college students and swimming pools already sounds like an accident waiting to happen, but the brand found a way to make it even more awesome. What if the pool had liquid nitrogen in it, to create cool misting effects?!
What they didn't realize was that when you mix liquid nitrogen with chlorine, you create a military grade chemical warfare agent: nitrogen trichloride. That'll break up even the best pool party in Vegas in a hurry. Partygoers began coughing and passing out almost immediately and one ended up in a COMA for 18 days. Imagine a scene from a World War I trench during a mustard gas attack, but with techno music and bikinis.
Ultimately, the result was a waste of money, bad PR and the potential for lawsuits (though as far as I can tell surprisingly no damages were awarded). Jagermeister really dodged a bullet on this one.
Marketing Lesson: Don't cut corners, especially with experiential activations. DO YOUR RESEARCH and work with reputable events planning companies.
2. 'Pepsi Stuff'='Pepsi Bluff'
Back in 1995, Pepsi came up with a new way to encourage consumers to buy their sugar filled cans of diabetes. 'Pepsi Stuff' rewarded consumers with items like sunglasses and leather jackets (XXL only judging by the TV ad) in exchange for them collecting ring pulls. Here's the amazingly 90s TV spot showcasing one of copywriting's weaker moments: "Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff". Well, comprehension should be high I guess.
Cute right, the harrier jump jet at the end? That plane was valued at around $50M back in 1995. It's obviously a little joke right? Not a funny joke, but a joke nonetheless. The problem was, hidden in the terms and conditions, consumers could buy Pepsi points for 10 cents a piece. So 7 million Pepsi points could be bought in cash for just $700,000. That's exactly what a 21 year old John Leonard, a business studies student who had studied flawed promotions, did. He raised $700K and sent a letter to Pepsi asking when to expect delivery of his Harrier.
Pepsi refused and 3 years later in federal court a judge ruled in their favour, concluding "no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier jet". But I'm not so sure....let off for Pepsi I reckon.
Marketing Lesson: Check your terms and conditions carefully and try to hack your own contests. Are there any loopholes? Don't sign off on any creative which makes any claim or offer you can't fulfil - even in jest.
3. Idiotic Client Tries To Save Money With 'Guerilla Marketing' - Loses $2M
In 2007 the Cartoon Network hired a PR firm to promote their upcoming full length movie based on the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Whether the brief asked for 'guerilla' tactics or the agency went in that direction of their own accord is anyone's guess. Well, it was 2007. Around that time I was asked to pay students to put stickers on toilet doors in student unions. I was working on a national multi million dollar brand. One of the most idiotic suggestions I've ever heard, and I have heard some zingers.
Anyway, problem was the creative they used and the fact they decided to stick these things to prominent buildings and public structures in a post-9/11 world, without consulting police or authorities. Cue a full on city-wide bomb scare in Boston, resulting in a fine of $2M for Cartoon Network not only for their initial idiocy, but also the fact even after the bomb scare was in full swing they didn't notify authorities
Marketing Lesson: Don't try and do 'cool' campaigns which are 'free' because you're cheap. If it was that easy to market stuff for free everyone would be doing it. If you insist on doing 'guerilla' type nonsense, always, always get permissions and licenses from local authorities first.
4. 'Just for feet' go nuclear fail
Of all the fails featured here, this one is probably my favourite. A monumental fuck up on so many fronts: taste, ad planning, creative logic, legal nous, it's all in here. Shoe superstore Just For Feet were doing so well in the 1990s that they decided it was time to go big. Superbowl big. Their $7M promotion would feature a 30 second TV spot during the 3rd quarter of Superbowl XXXIII in which viewers were invited to call a hotline for a chance to win a Hummer. Pretty standard, if uninspiring, stuff. Here's the first logic fail. Why did they want people to call in? Of what benefit is that to a shoe superstore? Why didn't the ad encourage them to go buy a pair of shoes within 3 days to win the Hummer? Anyway, that was the least of their worries.
Ever seen the Jean Claude Van Damme film, Hard Target? Well, the creatives on this brief at Saatchi & Saatchi had. In the movie, rich psychopaths pay to hunt human beings - like, properly hunt them with rifles, as if they were wild game.
Yes indeed, they created an ad with some guys in a Hummer hunting a man running across an African plain. White guys. Hunting a barefoot African man running away from them. (This is the taste fail part, btw).
Well, these guys didn't have rifles at least, but they did poison the runner's water. This is the logic fail part I. Who is handing out cups of water in the African Savannah? Why? If the guys in the Hummer know they've poisoned his water, why are they chasing the runner at top speed? Who is this Kenyan man who can outrun a Hummer if only his water wasn't spiked? Just..... Dafuq?
Incredibly, it gets stranger. The Just For Feet hunters, it turns out, actually only wanted to equip him with some running shoes and then 'release' him back into the wild. He awakes, to discover his new shoes and screams "Noooooooooooo!". Much like a horse which is forcibly shoed and then trots away trying to shake off the horse shoes until it gets used to them. Really. The ad closes with the Kenyan runner trying to 'shake off' the running shoes. So, a guy would rather run barefoot than in your shoes? Logic fail part II. Taste fail part II.
It gets worse. The ad aired in the 4th quarter, not the third as planned.Viewers were asked to call in and answer how many times 'Just For Feet' was shown on screen during the 3rd quarter. The correct answer was zero. But the contest didn't allow zero as an answer, so entrants were left feeling like it was a scam. Ad planning fail.
Yet, it got worse. Just For Feet attempted to sue Saatchi & Saatchi for malpractice, claiming that they were 'forced to run' the spot. In turn, S&S and Zenith sued Just For Feet for the unpaid $3M media bill.
You may not be surprised to hear Just For Feet are no longer in business.
Marketing Lesson: Good God, where to start. I mean just don't be a total clown in every aspect of campaign management would be the main lesson.
5. Pepsi GETs POLITICAL, PUBLIc OPENS CAN OF WHOOP ASS INSTEAD
It's often said that brands should stay out of politics. On average, taking a political stance will endear you to 50% of the audience, and piss off the other 50%. Unless you target demographic is actually people with one persuasion or the other. Pepsi however pulled off and amazing feat by alienating both sides of the aisle and 100% of people. In their shameless attempt to virtue signal and jump on the 'zeitgeist' of demonstrations and protests, they made a spot in which sharing a can of Pepsi heals the world's ills. Insensitive, poorly timed, virtue signalling crap.
They pissed off people who support the protests because they trivialized some very real issues and tried to use real social unrest to flog cans of liquid diabetes. Many of these people dislike capitalism and Pepsi's response seems to be "We're one of you, we hate 'the man' too! Now STFU and buy a can of Pepsi will you".
They pissed off people who don't support the protests because they made all the protestors seem like young, attractive, friendly fun lovers just out to protest for peace. Who doesn't want peace? If you don't support the protests WTF is wrong with you? It's just light hearted fun! Even though many of these protests have actually featured some pretty choice violence and chants. Really, a drastic over simplification.
And really I suppose the heart of it is, everything they are showing in the ad has ZERO to do with Pepsi and Pepsi has ZERO authority to be making any kind of social comment.
Lastly they chose to use Kendall Jenner in it. Nuff said. The ad was roundly slammed and pulled off air almost immediately. The only thing mildly amusing about the ad is that in the full length version the song appears to be saying 'fail' over and over. The online backlash featured some hilarious zingers.
Marketing Lesson: Brands, stay the fuck away from politics, please. It's a needless, kamikaze risk. If you're going to go there, go there like Heineken. DO NOT venture your own opinion. A brand is not a person and has no right to do so.