5 Famous Ad Campaigns That Actually Hurt Sales

Jared has sold a shitload of Subway sandwiches. Ronald McDonald has become one of the most recognizable characters in the history of human civilization. They are what ad executives dream about: campaigns that become media sensations and make the company billions. But then there are the ad campaigns that only do the first part; everybody can quote them, but they didn't actually make people buy the product. Like ...

#5. The Taco Bell Chihuahua


Created in 1997, the Taco Bell Chihuahua was the fast-food chain's big attempt to establish a mascot for their brand. Common logic must have been the driving force here, as Taco Bell is a fake Mexican restaurant, and the Chihuahua is a fake Mexican dog.

David Shankbone
A Chihuahua in its natural state: filled with rage.

The dog itself (first played by a dog named Binky, then quickly replaced by one named Gidget, presumably over a bitter contract dispute) and its catchphrase "Yo quiero Taco Bell" skyrocketed in mainstream popularity, as irritating things have a habit of doing.

Chihuahua-mania swept America, and Taco Bell's future never looked better.

So What Went Wrong?

When the Chihuahua was abruptly yanked off Taco Bell ads in 2000, people became suspicious. Many believed that the dog had died and was now being served in gordita form to its adoring fanbase. In reality, the ads were cut because their presence led directly to a 6 percent drop in Taco Bell sales. These results were so bad that the president of Taco Bell, Peter Waller, was swiftly replaced by a former executive for Wendy's.

Because you don't sell a product with talking dogs. You sell it with sex.

As for why exactly the ad didn't make people want to buy actual Taco Bell food, we're going to guess that there's a big difference between saying that, for instance, a cartoon rabbit loves Trix cereal and saying that a real dog likes Taco Bell. Real dogs eat garbage and cat shit. For a chain whose biggest problem is convincing customers that their beef is graded for human consumption, it's bizarre that it thought the best selling point was, "Don't worry, this tiny dog loves it!"

We'd rather eat Alpo than this.

Things went from bad to worse in 2003 when a long-fought legal battle ended between Taco Bell and two men who claimed the company had stolen their idea of a Spanish-speaking Chihuahua, an idea so uniquely brilliant that no one else in the history of the world could have ever thought of it. The two men claimed the Taco Bell executives had signed a contract with them only to back out of the deal and steal the idea for themselves. A jury agreed with them, and awarded them $42 million in damages. Essentially Taco Bell stole a terrible idea and got screwed by it twice.

We consider it payback for the hundreds of productive hours lost on the toilet after Taco Bell burritos.

#4. The Energizer Bunny


For those of you not alive in the mid-'90s, the Energizer bunny was a marketing mascot created by Energizer to one-up the already firmly established Duracell bunny in the highly lucrative rabbit/battery market.

The '90s: When advertisers completely ran out of ideas.

The Duracell version was created in 1973 to showcase their batteries' ability to hold a charge significantly longer than other, inferior battery brands. The ads featured a group of pink toy bunnies all playing the drums simultaneously. Each would quit, one by one, as their batteries died. But a specific bunny, powered by Duracell, would keep going, on and on.

This is somehow related to batteries.

That's why in 1989, Energizer released their own ad mocking the famous Duracell campaign. It started with the familiar scene, but then after the Duracell bunny was left alone, the Energizer's much cooler bunny (he had sunglasses!) would roll into the scene, showing that he could play the drums so long it made all other toy bunnies look like a pile of shit.

The response to the Energizer ad was enormous. Fans saw the new Energizer bunny as cool, exciting and badass, because to be perfectly honest there wasn't much else going on in 1989 (it was becoming clear that a nuclear war wasn't going to happen, and that was a pretty big letdown). The Energizer bunny, originally intended as a one-time parody of the pre-existing Duracell bunny, soon took off and became a pop-culture icon. Over the next 20 years, 115 Energizer bunny ads were created that included other pop-culture figures.

So What Went Wrong?

Quick: What brand of batteries do you have in your TV remote right now?

"... black ones?"

We're betting you don't have any goddamned idea. Let's face it, it's not like one brand of battery is radically different from another. This isn't Mac vs PC here. You don't even see them -- they stay hidden away in the battery compartment of the gadget. It's hard to even get a sense of which one lasts longer, unless you keep a running calendar of the battery-change dates on everything you own. And in that case, you probably also keep jars of your own fingernail clippings.

So here we had products that are already difficult to distinguish from one another. And already Duracell had established that theirs was the one with the bunny that played a drum. The Energizer bunny was a ... well ....

But he has sunglasses, see? He's dangerous.

So even after seeing the ads thousands of times, consumers had no idea which brand was which. In 1990, near the peak of the Energizer bunny's popularity, Duracell claimed that 40 percent of its customers thought the campaign was promoting Duracell, not Energizer. Consumers were connecting "battery" and "bunny," but at no point were they connecting "bunny" and "Energizer." Despite the immense popularity of the ad campaign, Duracell extended its lead over Energizer and held that spot into the late '90s.

It seems like if you really wanted to make a battery that stands out from the crowd, you'd make the battery itself some gaudy color and, we don't know, make the brand name a racial slur or something. At least give people something to remember when they go shopping.

"Try the Golliwogg brand! They're charged with the power of hate."

#3. California Raisins


The California Raisin Board created some ads in the '80s that featured Claymation raisins singing and dancing to soul music. It was kind of like Gumby, if two racists pictured Gumby in their minds before headbutting each other at the speed of light.

Of all the examples in this article, none hit the mainstream harder than the California Raisins. In a short four-year period, the Raisins produced four albums, a lucrative merchandising deal, a prime-time mockumentary about their formation, a Nintendo game and an Emmy-winning Christmas special.

To recap, the California Raisins have won an Emmy. Jason Alexander has not. Let that sink in.

By 1990, the California Raisins had made over $200 million in media deals and secondary products (dolls, shirts, suppositories).

So What Went Wrong?

They had successfully created a pop-culture fad, but all fads end. Things all came toppling down in 1990 when people just stopped responding to the Raisins' charms. Merchandise and record sales both tanked, and the campaign ended as quickly as it had begun.

And thus, America was saved.

While raisin sales went up a small amount during the craze, after the ads were pulled, raisin sales fell lower than they had been before the campaign started.

When you look back at the ad campaign, you see the problem: At no point did they actually make raisins seem like something you'd want to eat. It was a great campaign for reminding everyone how awesome Marvin Gaye was, but raisins? They portrayed raisins as ugly sunglasses-wearing Claymation monstrosities. They seemed to be trying the beer ad technique of associating their product with cool music and fun, but beer companies do it because people actually do drink beer when having fun and listening to music (bars, concerts, parties). It makes no sense to try to make that association with raisins. If you show up at a party and all they have are huge bowls full of raisins, congratulations -- you've probably just joined a cult.

"We find raisins hide the taste of cyanide nicely."

Where this story gets sad is when we discuss who really got screwed through all of this. While lots of media and advertising moguls filled their pockets on the Raisins' success, actual raisin farmers themselves never got anything. This is because it was the Raisin Board's policy to reinvest any and all profits right back into the advertising. When the board folded in late 1990, the profits vanished as well.

For some reason, animated raisins are indistinguishable from animated poop.

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