3 Terrible Marketing Campaigns

Marketing-Campaign-FailureAdvertising has been a staple of marketing in human civilization since the advent of written language. Ancient Romans plastered public walls with posters glorifying the brutality of the gladiatorial battles just as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas puts up five story tall pictures of Floyd Mayweather. Advertising is here to stay, but there are a few examples that were such epic failures that they deserve to be enshrined as the worst marketing campaigns of all time.

3. HD-DVDs

Just like the fabled format wars of VHS and Betamax, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray battled it out for the future of multimedia supremacy, only this time enough people remembered it for it to be worth mentioning. Sony, along with most of the film industry, backed the Blu-Ray format while Microsoft and a few hold-outs opted for the HD-DVD. HD-DVD actually was more cost-effective than Blu-Ray, but the differences were ultimately insignificant and the real deciding factor was Sony’s bundling of a Blu-Ray player with the PS3 gaming console and an agreement to use the Blu-Ray format by several leading film studios. The marketing failure in this instance is that at one point, Microsoft held the advantage and failed to capitalize when they made the HD-DVD player a separate unit from the Xbox 360 console and failed to gain any real advantage on the competition. More information on the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray format wars, visit this contemporary analysis of the issue.

2. New Coke

The only reason why we’re not listing this as the number one terrible marketing campaign is that while it was seen as a total train wreck of an advertising campaign, it actually ended up increasing Coke’s market share. For those not blessed with being alive in the 1980s, Coca-Cola released “New Coke” in 1985 as a result of Pepsi’s surging popularity and Coke’s sales stagnation. The new variation of the popular soft drink was sweeter, like Pepsi, and tried desperately to appeal to a younger generation, spawning the atrocious yet memorable spokesperson Max Headroom. As history now tells it, New Coke actually bred resentment in a population that was previously lukewarm to the Coca-Cola brand and created an unheard of level of demand for the original recipe of Coke. New Coke famously lasted just 77 days before the Coca-Cola executives in Atlanta decided to switch back to original Coke, and they saw profits jump to record levels and outpaced Pepsi’s sales at a two-to-one proportion. Some try and claim that it was secretly a genius marketing ploy, but the millions of dollars lost on bad advertising tends to hint otherwise. For Time’s take on New Coke click here.

1. Adult Swim Viral Bomb Threat

It’s not every day that your marketing campaign causes city-wide hysteria, but in February 2007, Adult Swim did exactly that. In a “viral marketing” move, Adult Swim employees went about major metropolitan areas and put up neon signs in hard-to-reach areas to promote the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. What seemed like a cool and innovative idea turned drastically wrong as authorities in Boston were not kept in the loop and feared that the flashing lights located under bridges and freeways were explosive devices. What is even more entertaining is that the neon sign that prompted the panic was a “middle-finger-waving moon man” (CNN). The fiasco resulted in two arrests and a highly publicized apology from Cartoon Network parent Turner Broadcasting. CNN did an excellent job capturing the absurdity of the situation here.

Not everyone is cut out for the marketing business and the examples above show that with increasing clarity. Just a note for the future: a bomb scare is not good publicity.