Marketing isn't complicated: Use a lot of bright colors, commission a catchy jingle, slap some breasts up there right next to the blandly inoffensive product name and then collect your paycheck and go home to cry in the dark about the ultimate meaninglessness of your career and life in general. It's not rocket science. In fact, as long as your product doesn't share a name with a horrible disease and you don't hand over complete creative control to people who actively hate your company, you should be all set. Unfortunately, sometimes the marketing people just show up to work drunk and do exactly that.
During the 1970s and '80s, Ayds diet candy was riding high: The butterscotch, chocolate and various other flavored diet candies somehow fooled the public into thinking they actually worked, and the owners had enough of that sweet sugar money rolling in to choke a whole squadron of Oompa Loompas. But just as the CEOs mounted a pile of tiny dead orange strippers to proclaim the invincibility of their confectionery empire to the world, the AIDS epidemic hit, and shit stopped being funny in a hurry.
Then, 30 years later, it got kind of funny again:
"How about we change the name to Cancer?"
But despite the product now sharing a name with a modern-day plague, the manufacturer of Ayds decided to stick it out, operating on Michael Bolton of Office Space's principle of "AIDS is the one that sucks, so they're the one that should change." The company so obstinately refused to acknowledge the problem that they didn't even alter their now seriously questionable tagline: "Ayds helps you take off weight and helps you keep it off." And the candy company kept this up as AIDS ravaged the modern world around them, all the while quietly insisting that this whole pandemic thing would blow over and history would only remember the real Ayds. For evidence of how well that plan worked, take a look at this commercial, and count how many blackly hilarious double-entendres you catch in its roughly 30-second run time:
The Ayds candy survived all the way up to the 1980s until eventually, after losing over 50 percent of their profits, the company conceded that a name change was necessary. They needed something cool; something fresh; something that made it sound peppy and healthy and, most importantly, something that separated it from that horrid disease as completely as possible. So Ayds conducted some extensive research, carefully considered all the options, and finally changed its name to ...
"Diet Ayds: Not the disease."
The brand went out of business not long after.
#4. Red Lobster -- Endless Snow Crabs
In the early 2000s, the restaurant chain Red Lobster decided to hold a promotion offering all-you-can-eat snow crab legs. It seemed like a winning idea: Crab is delicious, but there's only so much you can stomach of the stuff at a time before you run out and barf briny white paste in the parking lot. It's like the definition of an "eyes bigger than your stomach" food. After weighing the potential pros and cons carefully (by which we mean throwing all the budget reports in the trash while saying, "Nah, it'll be fine!"), Red Lobster launched the promo in 2003.
And then this happened.
Unfortunately for Red Lobster, they'd never met America before, and foolishly thought that customers would either be full or just completely sick of salty, rubbery, restaurant-chain-quality sea meat after a plate or so. A few scant weeks later, Red Lobster was already seeing a loss in profits. This was compounded by the simple fact that, in 2003, snow crab leg prices were at an all-time high. Meaning that Red Lobster actually lost money on every customer ordering more than a half dozen, which was a problem, seeing as how the average customer ate at least 2 dozen.
Jesus. Why would you even want to eat that much crab? That shifts the Motive Needle officially beyond "hungry" and into "misplaced revenge against the sea for taking my father."
"I want to be there when you cook that motherfucker."
Even worse, the all-you-can-eat promotion meant that people were sitting for hours on end while paying one flat price, thus leaving the other, still-profitable customers who were inexplicably not interested in personally devouring a species to extinction with longer wait times. They often left before being seated. And so for a short time in the early 2000s, Red Lobster abandoned the normal restaurant business altogether to cater exclusively to masochistic gluttons who had a bone to pick with the sea. In doing so, they lost over $3 million in that quarter alone. The president of the company stepped down shortly after, though she vehemently denied that the idiotic $3 million crustacean bet that she put up against America's metabolism was the deciding factor for the resignation.
"They asked me to leave because I was just too good for their tiny little business."
It can be kind of a big deal when a fast-food restaurant launches a new menu item (we're pretty sure the McRib qualifies as a religion now in some parts of the world). So expectations were high when McDonald's released the new McAfrika burger in Norway, one of the world's richest countries. Surely, if anybody had tons of money to spend on something that, factoring in health care costs, was probably actually worth negative dollars, it was those notoriously frivolous Norsemen. It's just too bad that they launched the McAfrika during an actual famine in Africa that left 12 million people starving.
"We were thinking of naming it 'Hahaha! We have food, assholes!'"
In a fine example of the revolting type of doublespeak that only PR reps and children born without souls can muster, McDonald's went on record as agreeing that "to a certain extent this was bad timing."
The hamburger mocking a lethal famine was "bad timing," but only "to a certain extent."
"We didn't even know there was a place called Africa until you people made a big deal out of it."
To combat this moral disaster, McDonald's came to their customers, hat in hand, and humbly agreed to maybe probably consider thinking about donating some of the proceeds to starving people. They may not have shown much enthusiasm for the idea of charitable donation themselves, but in the interim, they did let a few charities put collection boxes in the restaurants -- but only in the ones that still carried the burger.
"Did we offend your country? No? Then here's your meal -- fuck off."