The line between roaring success and humiliating disaster is so, so thin in the world of advertising. These companies are trying to grab attention without grabbing the wrong kind of attention, and trying to jump on societal trends without accidentally, say, referencing the 9/11 attacks in a beverage ad.
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In 2005, Snapple decided to expand its product line to include ice pops -- because when developing a whole new product line is a matter of freezing your existing product and jamming a stick in it, why not? Then, in a true masterstroke of marketing prowess, they thought up a grandiose way to introduce their new frozen treat to the world: crush the Guinness Record for the World's Largest Popsicle by erecting a gigantic, 17.5-ton ice pop in the middle of New York City! On the first day of summer, on a sunny day, surrounded by miles of hot asphalt!
Surely there were no kinks in Snapple's well-laid plan, right?
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"Who ordered the Evil Dead II scene?"
Displaying a truly profound misunderstanding of the physics associated with frozen summer treats, Snapple loaded their monstercicle into a freezer trailer and trucked it from Edison, New Jersey, to Manhattan, where a giant crane waited to majestically erect the multi-ton treat to its full upright position. And that's when things got mushy. When the truck was opened, waves upon waves of kiwi-strawberry Snapple came rushing out, covering the streets like someone had just opened that elevator from The Shining right in the middle of Union Square.
Fearing massive slushy-related traffic pileups and mobs of pedestrians juice-glued to the sidewalks, the streets were closed off and firefighters were called in to anticlimactically hose the remains of the once mighty Snapple-pop into the sewers. We're not entirely sure what Snapple had planned for the giant pop had they actually managed to raise it, since its inevitable fate was to melt in the hot sun sooner or later, unless Godzilla came along and ate the thing. Perhaps they were planning to start up a new "Straws for the Homeless" campaign?
"It's running parallel to our new 'fruit flies for all of Manhattan' campaign."
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In the early '90s, Pepsi was lagging behind Coca-Cola in foreign markets. So, in an attempt to make headway in Southeast Asia, Pepsi's Filipino executives put their heads together and came up with an ingenious marketing plan: give away millions of pesos. Their brainchild was dubbed "Number Fever," and Filipinos were encouraged to contract the disease by purchasing shit-tons of Pepsi in hopes of finding a bottle cap with the winning three-digit code. One lucky winner would receive 1 million pesos (about $40,000 U.S.), with countless others winning second prizes, such as free drinks. Certainly it's not the sort of thing that could spark widespread rioting.
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Unless they were rioting over Pepsi's flavor, which is understandable.
And in fact, the campaign was an instant smash: Pepsi's sales shot up nearly 40 percent, and its executives, now drunk with that sweet, sweet marketing power, expanded the number of prizes to over 1,500 and kept the contest rolling for an extra five weeks. Filipinos drank Pepsi "with every meal and snack" and hoarded the possibly precious bottle caps. When the contest was over, it was estimated that more than half of the Philippines' population of 63 million people had participated. Number Fever was an enormous success, and all that was left was for Pepsi to announce the winner.
So how could such a successful marketing campaign backfire, you ask? Well, certain numbers were not to be selected as the winner; specifically, the number 349, seeing as how it happened to be printed on 800,000 bottle caps. But the consulting firm hired to draw the winning number apparently didn't get the memo, and when their computer chose the winning number, it selected ... wait for it ... 349. Unsurprisingly, Pepsi executives quickly went from "wet dreams about next year's bonus check" to "bathing in a tub full of whiskey with a hair dryer nearby" when thousands upon thousands of elated Filipinos came forward to claim their million pesos.
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"We'll take half in motorcycle jumps, and half in liquor waterfalls."
Knowing they had made a huge mistake and for some reason unwilling to pay out the billions of dollars in prize money they technically owed, Pepsi covered its ass by telling the winners that the caps didn't contain the correct security code. Then, amazingly, hordes of almost millionaires politely responded "Oh, that's OK, we understand!" and contentedly went on with their lives. Just kidding -- the Philippines went absolutely apeshit.
Rioters threw bombs and Molotov cocktails at Pepsi bottling plants (while drinking Coke), overturned and set fire to Pepsi delivery trucks (while drinking 7UP), and sent troves of Pepsi executives hightailing it out of the country. Pepsi was slapped with thousands of lawsuits. Amid the chaos, the best solution Pepsi could come up with was to toss a cushy 20 bucks at those with winning caps. That's a good way to calm down a riot, right?
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The money bought them T-shirts to block out the tear gas.
In the end, Pepsi's budgeted $2 million in prize payouts quickly sprouted into over $10 million in restitution and legal fees -- an expensive lesson that Pepsi wouldn't have had to learn if only they'd learned it the first time, when an earlier Number Fever promotion in Chile ended in a similar public outcry after a shitty fax resulted in the wrong winning number being released to the public.
In 1992, Italian car company Fiat tried to put a creative new spin on direct-mail advertising -- otherwise known as the junk mail that most people toss directly into the trash. To market their new Cinquecento hatchbacks, Fiat decided to mail out some love letters. So they typed up a few of them (50,000, to be exact) on pink paper and sent them out to "independent, modern working women" in Spain.
Now, you may be thinking that these "love letters" contained cute anecdotes about similar women "falling in love" with their Fiat hatchbacks because they easily accommodated gaggles of kids for family soccer games and other stereotypical womanly ad copy. But no, Fiat took a different route: These love letters contained realistic romantic musings from an anonymous author admiring the recipient from afar. And when we say "romantic musings," we mean "borderline stalker speak."
The letters used phrases like "We met again on the street yesterday and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction," and asked the befuddled reader to join the author for "a little adventure." You know, because nothing says "buy our cars" like some good ol' creeping.
"I'm almost ready for our 'little adventure' to Chloroformistan."
To make matters worse, each letter was personally addressed, was completely anonymous, and contained no indication whatsoever that it was all just a promotional stunt from Fiat. Unsurprisingly, women freaked out. Spanish newspapers reported instances of women being unwilling to leave their homes alone or cowering behind their locked doors in fear of being attacked by a stalker. In some cases, the love letters even sparked bouts of jealous fighting between couples.
Social advocates and consumer protection groups condemned Fiat's scheme, and the campaign was hastily cut short. Fiat defended themselves, explaining that the love letters were the first installment of a series in which the second would reveal that it was all just a gimmick -- presumably via a postcard reading "JK, no rapes. Buy our cars, K? XOXO, Fiat."
In Europe, all cars look a rich kid's Christmas gift.