Stan Honda / AFP / Getty
This is every advertiser's worst nightmare -- coming up with a campaign after a tragedy that either A) inadvertently reminds everyone of the tragedy or, even worse, B) looks like you're making fun of the tragedy. Now, it's one thing if you can look at the ad and see where people are being too sensitive ("How dare you run this ad for pecan sandies so soon after Hurricane Sandy?!?!" ), but it's another when you look at the ad and say, "OK, this is bad ..."
For instance, in the summer of 2002 (less than a year after 9/11), Starbucks released their new ad campaign, which centered on this doozy of a poster:
"Well I don't see what the big d- ohhh."
This seemingly innocuous image soon garnered the attention of customers who thought that something just wasn't quite right about it. And the more they studied the image, the more wrong it seemed -- the two drinks standing side by side (just like the former World Trade Center towers had), towering over the oddly square, building-like blades of grass, the cute little dragonfly angling for a direct collision course with one of the drinks ...
All of that could have been ignored (but seriously, why the firefly?). The real kicker was the tagline: "Collapse into Cool." When the fuck has that phrase ever been uttered by anyone? The whole thing is just so ... weird.
It beat their last tagline, "Seizure into Sublime!"
After complaints came in, Starbucks kicked into full-on backpedal mode, aborting the release of any more of the posters and instructing the 3,000 stores where the posters had already been displayed to "rip that shit down forthwith" (official wording from the internal Starbucks memo). The fiasco taught Starbucks an invaluable lesson about steering well clear of anything that could be even remotely reminiscent of the attacks, and they never again had another 9/11-related controversy. And by "never again," we mean "until about nine years later," when they decided to declare September 11, 2011 Free Coffee Day.
Duffy-Marie Arnoult / WireImage / Tim Graham / Getty
Through a combination of B-list celebrity spokespeople and a points system so ridiculously complicated that it works by causing you to just give up on eating altogether, Weight Watchers has succeeded in becoming nearly synonymous with weight loss. But that's not to say they haven't made some marketing blunders along the way -- perhaps the most notable of which being a gruesome coincidence in 1997 that had to make them feel like they'd been cursed by a vengeful god.
"But we sacrificed so many goats."
That's the year Weight Watchers kicked off a brand new ad campaign featuring the then Princess of the United Kingdom, Sarah, Duchess of York (popularly known as "the Fergie who's not a Black Eyed Pea"). The ad featured a beaming Fergie touting the benefits of Weight Watchers -- namely, its ability to help you watch your weight -- under the bold declaration that losing weight was "harder than outrunning the paparazzi."
Uh-oh. You see where this is headed now, right? If you think back to the top news stories of 1997, you'll remember that cloned sheep and Mars robots and crazy comet cults all played second fiddle to the story of Princess Diana's death in a tragic car crash ... which resulted from being chased through the streets of Paris by paparazzi. And here we had people getting this ad in the mail the next day after the accident. What the hell was Weight Watchers thinking?
Bob Strong / AFP / Getty
People don't think right on an empty stomach.
What they were thinking is that they weren't time-traveling wizards with the ability to foresee the future -- they had the campaign in the works long before, and had just mailed out the fliers bearing the slogan when Di was killed. They were scheduled to do tons of TV and other media the following week, which absolutely would have looked like they were riffing on the princess's gruesome crash.
This of course sent Weight Watchers scrambling to cancel the campaign, but unfortunately thousands of direct mail brochures had already been sent out, and print ads had already gone to press in magazines such as Glamour and Self, creating an immensely embarrassing situation for both the company and their new spokesperson, and confusion for all of the people who presumably thought the news of Diana's death itself was part of some kind of viral marketing stunt.
Tim Boyle / Staff / Getty
Just like Benghazi.
Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.
Sorry, we got a little excited there. Because, you see, it's not every day that fate steps in and writes the dick joke for us.
Getty Images News
Mr. Armey was a rare gift.
In the mid-1990s, well before the YouTube comments section came along to wreck their faith in humanity, people everywhere were still discovering the joy of home computers. Japanese engineers at Panasonic were way ahead of the curve, and in 1996 -- when many people were still adapting to the concept of this "mouse" thingamajig -- they developed a touch screen PC for the home market.
Panasonic needed a way to brand their touchy-feely new PC that would appeal to your average, not-tech-savvy consumer. They wanted to tout their PC's accessibility and ease of use, and they needed a mascot to demonstrate that computers were not arcane devices used only by NASA scientists and the socially awkward. This made their choice of mascot a total no brai- wait, Woody Woodpecker?!
That poor Japanese man is being devoured alive.
Yep, Woody Woodpecker might seem like a relic from the heyday of American cartoons to you, but he was apparently huge in '90s Japan. So after securing the rights to use Mr. Woodpecker and conducting an amount of research so infinitesimal that scientists are still studying it today, Panasonic proudly dubbed their new computer "The Woody." But wait, it gets better -- to truly set their touch screen capability apart from the competition, Panasonic named the feature "Touch Woody." But wait again, it gets even better -- Panasonic was all geared up to launch the PC with an ad campaign featuring the catchy slogan "Touch Woody -- the Internet Pecker."
Panasonic had no clue that anything was wrong with the slogan until the day before the ads were set to launch, when an American staff member informed them of the sexual slang connotations, presumably while spraying them with soda out of his nose.
"No, go with it. Just let me cash out my stock options first."
"Stunned and embarrassed," Japanese Panasonic executives immediately postponed the product launch in order to retool their marketing efforts, and after careful consideration (which we have to assume involved suggestions for alternate slogans such as "Rub Harry, the Internet Ballsack" and "Grope Booby, the Internet Titty"), they decided it was too late to rename the system and instead simply adjusted the name of the touch screen feature from "Touch Woody" to the much more respectable "Woody Touch Screen" ... which still touted an "Internet Pecker" online support function (which we believe was later renamed "Chatroulette").
And that, dear Cracked readers, is how years of research and technological innovation can be completely negated by the power of one accidental boner reference.
Somewhere in Japan, a board room of executives is still baffled.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 6 Reasons Not to Freak Out About the 3D Printer Gun.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see why Walt Disney's rampant porn addiction almost ruined him.
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