From uncomfortably racist ads to a company that buried an entire city in balloons, we count ten marketing campaigns that failed spectacularly! 10 – Woolworths’ ANZAC Centenary Campaign, • Anzac Day is sacred to virtually all Australians, so it’s unsurprising that a recent Woolworths ad campaign attracted criticism for trying to exploit and commercialise the Anzac legacy. • The campaign, created by third-party agency Carrspace, invited users to share war tributes alongside the Woolworths logo and the slogan ‘Fresh in our memories’. Woolworths market themselves as ‘the fresh food people’, so Aussies took this as overt branding.
• The campaign was an immediate disaster, with Australians voicing their outrage on social media, describing it as ‘crass’ and ‘sleazy’. Many used the campaign’s picture generator to mock Woolworths. • Carrspace took no responsibility for the PR disaster, instead deleting its Twitter account and slinking away into the shadows. 9 – Mazda’s The Lorax Tie-In, • This is like when Krustry won Springfield’s respect by sticking it to man, then sold out for a gas-guzzling Canyonero. • 2012’s The Lorax was an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ environmental cautionary tale. Unfortunately, the film’s spectacularly misguided advertising tie-in linked it to … a Mazda SUV. • In the story, the truffula tree is wiped out when the Lorax makes a misguided deal with a greedy entrepreneur, so all you can do is groan when Mazda’s ad gives its CX-5 the ‘truffula tree seal of approval’. Selling cars morally defies everything the story represents, and the Mazda CX-5 isn’t even a particularly eco-friendly car. • Instead of apologising, Mazda dodged the criticism and spouted some evasive bs about the auto industry needing to reduce its carbon footprint.
Their apology even included the line ‘we’re not out to please everybody’, which is PR for ‘Go jump off a bridge’. 8 – Fly Free with American Airlines, • In 1981, American Airlines ran a promotion giving customers unlimited first-class tickets for a one-time fee. For a paltry $250K, the AAirpass gave customers the Sizzler buffet treatment: all the first-class travel they could want for the rest of their lives. And, for an extra one-off $150,000, they could bring a buddy along every time – for free. • American Airlines presumed the pass would be used by high-end companies for business travel. They never predicted that ordinary civilians – albeit those who could cobble together a quarter of a mil – would get in on the promotion and go mad with power.
But, boy, did they. • One guy flew to London sixteen times in the one month, because why not? Another has flown more than thirty-million miles, which is the equivalent of going around the glob more than a thousand times. • The buddy pass also had American Airlines haemorrhaging money. One guy regularly offered his buddy ticket to complete strangers, just so they could try a taste of the good life. Why not? It was free. • It wasn’t free to American Airlines, however. After years of this program, the company realised many individual pass holders were getting a million dollars worth of free flights every year. • Realising their promotion made next to no business sense, the airline ceased issuing new tickets in ’94 and hired a fraud investigator to hassle existing customers, in case there were grounds to revoke their tickets. 7 – Jagermeister Poison Pool Party, • Like many PR disasters, Jagermeister sponsoring a huge pool party event for frat boys probably looked great on paper.
Sunny Mexican location, headache-inducing bass, and free booze for all the bikini babes and shirtless meatheads. • Unfortunately, things turned sour when organisers dumped a whole heap of liquid nitrogen into the pool to give it some lame mist effect, like in a music video. • Apparently, no one had bothered to research the effects of mixing pool chlorine with liquid nitrogen and it created a toxic gas called nitrogen trichloride. The potent knock-out gas caused partygoers to hack, cough and, eventually, pass out. • Eight bros were hospitalised, with one guy falling into an eighteen-day coma. It was one of the Bluth family’s better parties. 6 – Renault: The ‘N’-Word, • In 2007, car manufacturer Renault ran a UK ad that bolded proclaimed they couldn’t use the ‘N’ word for ten days. They meant ‘no’, but the public thought their lame attempt at being provocative stunk of the ‘s’ word – and I don’t mean salmon. • Renault wanted to portray itself as amazingly generous, rather than disturbingly racist, but it seems that cold day in Hell when racist jokes are funny has not arrived. 5 – Absolut Vodka-Sponsored Mexican Invasion, • A few years ago, Absolut Vodka ran ads in Mexico showing a pre-Mexican-American war map of North America.
This was when several south-western U.S. states were still part of Mexico, and Absolut cheekily captioned it ‘In an Absolut World’. • To extremists, Absolut was inciting racial division by suggesting buying their vodka would help Mexico reclaim the United States. • Americans and Mexicans alike found the ad offensive, so Absolut offered a lame passive-aggressive apology, which basically suggested consumers were at fault for misunderstanding their intentions. That excuse probably made sense to them after a few vodkas. 4 – Sony: PSP White, • Speaking of companies needlessly inciting racial division … Sony’s ads for the white edition of their Playstation Portable were hilariously misguided.
The billboard advertisement, which ran in the Netherlands, showed a Caucasian model, dressed in white, aggressively clutching the face of a cowering black model. • Sony claimed the ad made more sense in the context of the wider campaign, but it’s more likely they were trying to be provocative and bit off more than they could chew. • Another failed, risqué campaign for Playstation featured posters at a UK train station platforms. The posters read ‘Take a Running Jump Here’. These were quickly pulled on grounds of bad taste and amid fears they would spark public safety concerns. I s’pose it was notch up from their prototype poster design: ‘Buy a Playstation or kill yourself!’ 3 – New Coke, • In the Eighties, soft drink juggernaut Coca-Cola was losing ground to competitor Pepsi.
Desperate to compete, Coca-Cola introduced a new product called ‘New Coke’, which had a sweeter taste than the original Coke. The public drank that shit up. • However, like a wayward husband having a mid-life crisis, the public soon started missing ‘old Coke’. Many chose to stock up on the original version, fearing it would become permanently unavailable, and Coca-Cola’s colossal fuck-up became an accidental marketing masterstroke. • Three months later, old Coke was re-introduced as Coca-Cola ‘Classic’ where it again reigned supreme as the king of soft drink mountain. The failure New Coke was re-branded ‘Coke II’, but endured low sales before returning to its home planet. 2 – Burger King Has No Idea, • Although this ad only ran in Singapore, it annoyed women the world over. It’s pretty subtle, so in case you don’t get it the sandwich represents a penis. Ha…ha..haaauhgh. • This isn’t the first misfire from Burger King. The company’s had more than its share of disastrous ad campaigns. • For instance, in the 1970s, Burger King created a demented mascot called the Burger King, who looked outrageously creepy and liked sneaking into people’s bedrooms.
The mad monarch was eventually retired, presumably because he had a handful of arrest warrants to his name. • Burger King also ran a highly sexualised ad to promote SpongeBob Square Pants. The ad had the Burger King, pre-arrest, measuring women’s waists to the tune of ‘Baby Got Back’. • Another ad featured a naked woman singing in the shower, while others caused offence to Mexicans and Hindis because of caricaturised representations. 1 – Virgin Mobile US, • In 2012, Virgin Mobile US ran an ultra offensive online ad that was thought to trivialise rape. • The ad depicted a middle-aged man standing behind a woman, covering her eyes with one hand and clutching a wrapped gift in the other. So far so Fifties sitcom … until you read the accompanying tagline: ‘The gift of Christmas surprise. Necklace? Or chloroform?’ • Not sure what kind of juvenile asshole conceived the ad, but Twitter users wasted no time expressing their outrage. • Even founder of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, who no longer owns Virgin Mobile US, condemned the ad, calling it ‘ill-judged’.