The 5 Biggest Disasters in the History of Marketing (Pt. 4)

Marketing is vital to businesses, but it can be risky. If you misjudge your audience, that million-dollar advertising campaign can wind up costing you a billion after court fees and cleanup from the resulting riots. We've shown you here, here, and here where marketing efforts have gone disastrously wrong, but some companies still haven't gotten the memo ...

#5. Nike Unintentionally Sponsors Murder


At the 2012 Olympics, South African runner Oscar Pistorius inspired the whole world by becoming the first double amputee in Olympic history to compete. Although he didn't medal there, he still won tons of gold medals in the Paralympics, as well as our hearts. Pistorius managed to join the elite few athletes who were good enough to become spokesmen for Nike. A shoe company. Even though, you know, he doesn't wear shoes (on account of having nowhere to put them). But there was a bigger problem Nike failed to take into account -- Pistorius was as crazy as a shithouse rat.

NA/ Images
"Hey, at least we're open about being full of crap."

Pistorius started exhibiting some strange behavior. He nursed a mild stimulant addiction, chugging energy drinks and downing caffeine pills like they were going out of style (which, this being the early 2010s, they were). He began collecting guns, which isn't a problem in itself, so long as you don't go firing them in public areas like cars or restaurants. Which he did. Multiple times. He was called out for domestic violence by two former girlfriends. He also managed to drunkenly crash-beach a boat -- a crime pretty much reserved for crazy people/Miami Vice.

But Nike took a chance on this troubled man and welcomed him with a new flagship advertisement:

"Shit ... This is our OJ 'I am the stab in the knife' ad all over again."

This was riiiiight before Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend in Pretoria, South Africa.

Moving so fast, they surely left little adman-shaped smoke clouds behind, Nike pulled the campaign, lost millions of dollars, and gained a reputation for being more tragically prophetic than a Greek oracle.

#4. Blockbuster "Ends" Late Fees; Begins "Late Fees"

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

By 2004, it became apparent that the future of film viewing was a world of instant streaming, torrents, and depraved pornography. In short: The Internet was here, and it had no use for the video store.

Netflix afforded its customers a few perks over the traditional brick-and-mortar store: more selection (sure, it was mostly obscure '90s direct-to-video action flicks, but there were still technically more of them), instant access, lower prices, and best of all, no late fees! Blockbuster understood the appeal and decided to abolish their long-hated "late fees" for good. This, they hoped, would finally get people excited to visit Blockbuster and its inexplicably sticky carpets again.

Unfortunately for anyone who decided to take Blockbuster up on this offer, they didn't so much "abolish" late fees as "rename" them while "significantly increasing" them. Anyone who kept their movie longer than a week after the due date noticed that costly unauthorized charges were being made to their credit card, because Blockbuster had charged them a "restocking fee," which just happened to be the full cost of the movie.

Universal Studios
So like two bucks, right?

What the company had failed to mention in the ads was that movies over a week late were to be deemed lost, and the cost of their replacement was significantly more than the late fees would ever have been. To be fair, this fee would be cancelled if the customer subsequently returned the movie within a certain window, but at best it was replaced by a $1.25 administrative cost. It almost sounds like some kind of charge, and all for being less than timely in returning the film. If only we had a term for that ...

jtairat/iStock/Getty Images
Not what we had in mind, but that works too.

After a few major lawsuits for misleading advertising, Blockbuster had to cough up around $630,000 to the government, on top of refunding the public all of their "less than timely" charges. They then resumed what they had been doing before this whole mess started, which was digging a small hole in the sand, sticking their heads in there, and humming loud enough to drown out the ever-approaching ax of technological advancement.

#3. Reebok Blows Pretty Much All of the '90s

Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Reebok's first mistakes began with the lead up to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Before the games, a rivalry was brewing between American athletes Dave Johnson and Dan O'Brien (no relation to our own DOB ... or is there? Did somebody need to start a new life after an embarrassing incident?). Both were heavy favorites to win the gold at the games' most grueling event, the decathlon, even before the qualifying competition. Reebok had the bright idea of bringing both of them on board to hock shoes, doubling their odds at calling dibs on the champion. Sounds like a plan, right? So for the next eight months, the company put out "Dan and Dave" ads, culminating in a Super Bowl commercial that cost millions of dollars, knowing that no matter which of them won the event, the real winners would be Reebok (and fashion-conscious ankles everywhere).

Nobody considered what might happen if both Dan and Dave failed to live up to their lofty expectations. Far from ending with the expected epic showdown at the Olympic Games, the plan began to fall apart when Dan failed to even qualify for the American team, while Dave barely made it into the event.

Reebok, in full panic mode, quickly produced some more ads where Dan cheered on Dave, but that proved less than effective when Dave only narrowly got the bronze medal in the competition. It's still a great accomplishment for any athlete, to be sure, but you don't sell a lot of shoes with "Reebok: Barely Make the Podium."

How sad is it when Sinbad isn't the most disappointing thing in your ads?

That wasn't the end of Reebok's '90s blunders. Later they signed on for a massive product placement deal with the movie Jerry Maguire, which obviously went on to become a classic. Score one for Reebok! Almost! See, a significant plot point in Jerry Maguire involved Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character clashing with a shoe company over sponsorship. Reebok wanted to be that company, and part of the deal was that the film would culminate in a full-on commercial produced by Reebok.

The only problem is that, for the first half of the movie, Reebok acted like jerks toward Gooding's character. The commercial at the end of the film was supposed to redeem the company and make them look like the good guys, but when Reebok repeatedly failed to turn in a reel that director Cameron Crowe was happy with, that whole redemption scene was left on the cutting room floor. So now Reebok is the closest thing the film has to a villain: Cuba Gooding Jr. literally yells "Fuck Reebok!" and the end. Reebok lost $1.5 million from the movie alone. Even though they sued TriStar Pictures and won for an undisclosed amount (they were seeking around $110 million), how much does the abstract sense of betrayal truly cost? Oh, only $23 million? Sweet! Net profit.

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