Advertisers have this problem: Kids today want things that are "dark" and "edgy" and "not retarded," but some products just have nothing to do with any of those things at all. So how in the world do you shape a marketing campaign for cereal or eye liner that somehow makes it badass?
You don't. Or else you wind up with ridiculous campaigns like these.
#9. Sony's Lesson in Desperation
The strategy makes sense, on the surface. Sony was competing with Nintendo's portable handhelds, and Nintendo has a kid-friendly image. What better way to market the Sony PSP than by going "edgy"? So what's the best way to do that...
First, they tried vandalism, by hiring graffiti artists to tag various buildings with images of, well, little kids playing the PSP.
Somehow the hip underground wasn't fooled, often vandalizing the Sony ads by spraying over them and (accurately) labeling it as "advertising directed at your counter culture."
OK, that didn't go over so well. So what else do kids like? Hey, how about racism? Like if we portrayed the introduction of the white PSP as some kind of interracial catfight?
And then, finally, Sony went for the whole "fake viral fan video" thing when they set up a "fan" site called alliwantforxmasisapsp.com with a blog and a "it's hilarious because it's bad" amateur rap video:
After somethingawful.com formally called shenanigans, revealing the whole project not to be the product of an eccentric fan but, in fact, a giant room full of advertising executives, the site was reduced to this half-assed admission of guilt:
Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn't a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony. Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever. From this point forward, we will just stick to making cool products, and use this site to give you nothing but the facts on the PSP. Sony Computer Entertainment America
Meanwhile, some guy in a suit smacks his desk and says, "I knew we should have stuck with the racism thing!"
#8. Reebok Wants You to be Like Fiddy
What makes 50 Cent different from other rappers? If the first thing that came to your mind was, "He's arguably the savviest businessman," you're technically right. But the answer we're looking for is, "He was shot nine times."
Good ol' Fiddy has built his entire career on those bullet wounds. And while he may not seem like the brightest jewel in the pimp chalice, the man knows how to sell himself. So in 2005, possibly after sensing that his routine was getting old in America, he did a Reebok commercial in the UK.
It shows a typical day for 50 Cent: nothing to do but hang around a flooded diner, count to nine (get it?!) and reflect on life. Oh yeah, and he's wearing Reeboks. We almost forgot.
Reebok claimed that the ad was "a positive and empowering celebration of the right of freedom of self-expression, individuality, and authenticity." Meanwhile, a Mothers Against Guns spokeswoman said it "endorsed his type of lifestyle...by implying it was possible to survive being shot nine times".
Well, apparently it is possible, but it's a weird way to sell sneakers. The Advertising Standards Authority banned the commercial and 50 Cent was replaced by someone who doesn't brag about his wounds.
He even covers them up.
#7. Pepsi Max is So Good it Will Make You Commit Suicide
"OK, so the product is Pepsi Max. Think, people. It's a diet cola, it's only got one calorie. One. One lonely calorie. Wait! That's it! The calorie is single, and alone, and so it's depressed! Because it's lonely! So lonely, that it's suicidal! So we do an ad campaign with the Pepsi logo right next to a guy blowing his fucking brains out! Brilliant!"
Oh, yeah, that's real. Pepsi only ran it once in Germany, but millions of people saw it, thanks to the Internet. And whether critics thought it was glorifying suicide rather than simply mocking it, not even the unexpected cuteness of the emo calorie could prevent the outrage that followed.
Pepsi's excuse was that they didn't think anyone outside the Deutschland would see the ad. And everyone knows that Germans have... well, let's just say they have much less delicate sensibilities.
Pepsi's director of social and emerging media apologized and the ad was quickly pulled. It wasn't long before the American Pepsi brand ended its 50-year relationship with the agency that was responsible. European Pepsi still works with them, though, because they are unafraid of the darkness within.
#6. Rimmel Mascara. It's for Hardcore Bikers and Stuff
Many girls (and a few guys) know that the right mascara can make you feel pretty. But only a select group of people know that Rimmel's mascara can not only make you feel like riding a motorcycle, but it gives you the ability to do it without touching the handlebars. One of those few is feminist icon, Kate Moss.
Yes, Rimmel knows that the real problem with mascara is people think it's too "girly." Got to toughen up the image. Maybe have another ad where some dudes get in a knife fight over some stolen mascara. We can't have a situation where your average meth-addicted dude in Harley chaps is afraid to be seen buying the stuff.
Sadly, the most Kate could handle was a ride on a fake bike in front of a green screen with some random guy's help. It kind of comes off like they shot it with one of those little rides outside the supermarket.
The controversy over the ad hilariously had nothing to do with the gross disregard for motorcycle safety, since they probably figured anyone who attempted to imitate the ad deserved to be eliminated from the gene pool. No, the problem came when Rimmel claimed in 2007 that their mascara could make your eyelashes 70 percent longer. To make this seem true, they allegedly gave Kate Moss fake lashes for the ads.
The Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K. later called Rimmel out for not being being able to deliver on their promise of giving you ridiculously huge cartoon lashes. The ads were banned, and huge biker dudes everywhere demanded a refund.
#5. Raging Cow: Milk that WILL KICK YOUR ASS
If there's one thing we hate about milk, it's that it's so goddamn boring. It just sits in the cup or the bottom of the cereal bowl, doing nothing. Not, you know, screaming at us or anything.
Hey, that's what we need! Angry milk! Why didn't anybody think of this before?
Enter Raging Cow. It began in 2003, as the Dr Pepper Snapple Group's (makers of Dr. Pepper and 7 Up) competition to Coca-Cola's less awesomely named Choglit milk. Choglit had the additional disadvantage of only having chocolate flavor, while Raging Cow's flavors included Chocolate Insanity, Chocolate Carmel Craze, Jamocha Frenzy, Berry Mixed Up and Pina Colada Chaos. This milk was X-Treme.
Wow, I wanna take that milk skateboarding!
Raging Cow may have scared children, but not into drinking it. What to do?
Ah, yes, the constant friend of the desperate ad team, the "invent a fake fanbase" technique that has never, ever worked. Along with blogs authored by pissed-off barnyard animals, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group hired teenagers to plug Raging Cow in their blogs.
More like Raging Bull! And more like Raging Bullshit!, right?
As usual, the deeply cynical marketing technique was uncovered and Raging Cow became the target of raging adults who staged a boycott and the milk's website was removed. You likely can't find Raging Cow on the shelves any more where you are, though if you really want milk from a crazy 'roided-up cow, you could go to any supermarket.