The 6 Most Insanely Misguided Attempts at Viral Marketing

#3. Wal-Mart Secretly Funds a Blog About How Awesome Wal-Mart Is

In America you're almost required to both hate Wal-Mart, and shop there on a weekly basis. It's kind of an odd relationship. Television commercials can only do so much to combat the company's bad image. No matter how many cute smiley faces Wal-Mart's marketing department throws at us, we're still going to picture their stores as a place where, for customers and employees, dignity goes to die.

As proof, this is the very first GIS result for "walmart greeter."

So when Wal-Mart decided their reputation needed bolstering, they knew they had to come at it from a different angle. They needed to display proof that people loved their stores: real stories about the lives of everyday Americans, all of them made better thanks to the hard working and proud employees of Wal-Mart. But they couldn't find any of those, so they paid a married couple to manufacture some.

The result was a blog called Wal-Marting Across America, which chronicled the journey of the happily married Laura and Jim as they took their new RV around the country and told stories of the people they encountered. At first glance it was kind of cute in a dumb way, sort of like watching your grandma check her e-mail. But you only had to read a few entries before you noticed the excessive praise Wal-Mart and its employees were getting.


Pretty much the entire Internet noticed, actually. Perhaps tipped off by the fact that the blog included pictures of Wal-Mart workers who were happy and claimed to enjoy their job--an obvious red flag--people started to look into the details of the site.

The Backfire

"Jim" was discovered to be James Thresher, a photographer for the Washington Post who apparently hadn't picked up on his employer's history of journalistic integrity.

Oh, James.

The funding for the entire trip (plus payment for every blog post) was revealed to have come from Wal-Mart's PR firm and the end result was huge backlash from both the Internet and the mainstream media.

How badly did it affect Wal-Mart? Well, it came during a year where the company was estimated to have lost up to eight percent of its customers because of negative press. Damn, worst PR firm ever.

#2. Nothing Promotes a Website Better Than Animal Cruelty

Picture the following: You're a top ranking employee at a Swedish ad agency, and they've just launched a new website. Your company is really excited about the change, and you've been put in charge of informing your many clients about how awesome and useful the new site is. How do you approach this task?

If you answered "sending doctored images depicting the gratuitous butchery of a live lamb," then congratulations, you're completely insane! You'll fit in great at clownshit ad agency Cole, Russell & Pryce!

The craziness started with an e-mail to all of their clients featuring a picture of a lamb and a message urging them to visit the new website for the animal's sake. OK, that's a little unorthodox; but whatever, baby animals are cute, we can roll with that.


That e-mail was followed up with a second one, this time featuring a picture of a lamb with its front hoof chopped off.

"Aawww- holy shit!"

But these mad men weren't done. Not content to merely provide Photoshopped butchery, the agency also mailed boxes containing real lamb hoofs to 90 clients. We'd like to emphasize that. A company that people pay to make products look good could think of no better way to advertise their website than to surprise people with the remains of slaughtered lambs.

The Backfire

So this might be a good time to mention that that one of Cole, Russell & Pryce's clients was an animal rights organization. Because we're like 90% sure that should have factored into their thought process at some point.

Also, they probably could have picked a less adorable animal.

Surprisingly, the company managed to keep their clients, but only after giving in to the demand that the founder, part owner and visionary behind this campaign be fired.

#1. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Never Forget

It will go down as either the worst, or best, viral marketing stunt in history. We readily admit that the line is very thin sometimes.

Back in 2007, Aqua Teen Hunger Force had a movie coming out. Since the show is rather obscure and eccentric (as far as mainstream audiences are concerned anyway) it would have been tough to pack the theaters through traditional advertising alone, even if they had the budget for it (they didn't). So, a guerrilla marketing blitz was planned to get the word out.

Dozens of LED placards featuring a character from the show were placed around eight different American cities, presumably to remind people to go see the movie. Or to inspire child like nostalgia for dirty gestures created on childhood toys. We'll never know.

Given the source material, it may be both.

In seven of those cities the campaign went pretty well. In Boston, however, people freaked right the hell out.

The panic began when a transit passenger saw one of the signs and pointed it out to a policeman. You have to imagine it in context; it's this electronic device, with wires and shit coming out of the back, and on the front is a picture of a guy giving you the finger. There is no sane explanation for that object existing. It's actually more reasonable to assume "bomb."

OK, maybe "reasonable" isn't the best word to describe the reaction. The cop called in a fleet of squad cars, fire trucks, ambulances and the bomb squad to investigate. They eventually concluded that the device shared "some characteristics with improvised explosive devices."

The Backfire

So the police shut down the nearby roads and blew the placard up. They then proceeded to shut down a pair of bridges to take down a second sign and the Coast Guard closed off part of the Charles River.

It was at this point that some presumably Irish Catholic Einstein figured out that this was not actually an act of terror, but a newfangled marketing campaign. So they arrested the two guys who had put the placards up on the charge of "placing a hoax device with the intent to panic the public," probably because there's no law in Boston against making the police look like idiots.

And do you realize how hard it is for a guy with hair like that to not look like the idiot?

Turner Broadcasting, the company that owns the show, had to pay one million dollars each to the Boston Police and the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile the incident made headlines around the world, earning the show and movie probably, oh, 10 times that amount in free publicity.

We hope they learned their lesson.

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For more instances of companies blowing it, check out 5 Corporate Promotions That Ended in (Predictable) Disaster and 9 Corporate Attempts At "Edgy" That Failed (Hilariously).

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