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

#2. Coca-Cola Sells "Magical" Poison

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At the turn of the 1990s, Coca-Cola needed a new way to get people excited about the non-exciting disambiguation of the term "Coke." The mad scientists in charge of Coke created the MagiCan.

MagiCans were ordinary-looking Coke cans that had a mechanism inside that popped out a gift certificate or cold hard cash to the drinkee. What could go wrong with that? Short of filling the damn things with poison, the promotion was a guaranteed success. Too bad Coke pretty much filled the damn things with poison.

Nobody died or got seriously ill from drinking it or anything, but the water that Coca-Cola put inside the fake cans to make it feel like a normal beverage before opening was found to taste foul, like chlorine, and this tipped off health officials nationwide. Coke went into damage-control mode and started putting out full-page ads warning people not to drink the foul-smelling substance that accompanied their prize cans. "Don't drink our smelly canned beverages, they are poison!" isn't exactly a compelling argument for your canned beverage business. On the one hand, you can see what Coke was thinking: You just won a pretty hefty prize! Who cares about the Coke, go buy yourself another -- maybe you'll win again! On the other hand, you can see what the customer was thinking: Prize-winning is a thirsty business, and you already have a Coke in your hand. Why not just drink that?

punsayaporn/iStock/Getty Images
"Eh, it's still better than New Coke."

It boils down to a simple question: Coca-Cola and chlorinated poison water weigh the same goddamn amount, why not just put Coke in there? If the answer was "It will dissolve the prize and/or mechanism," then holy shit, we have bigger issues to talk about, Coca-Cola.

Needless to say, the Coca-Cola Corporation ended up with whole warehouses full of their magic "automatic lawsuit" potions, so they had no choice but to abort the giant $100 million promotion weeks early.

#1. Environmental Campaign Promises Swift and Brutal Retribution


Unless you're Lex Luthor, you generally don't promote your company or cause by directly threatening your target audience and their children with a violent and bloody death. And even LexCorp is usually a bit more subtle -- their body-explosions are, at best, heavily implied and not outright stated. Not so with the eco-activists behind the 10:10 campaign. Here's the flagship commercial:

The short film opens with a teacher discussing helpful ways for her students to reduce their carbon emissions by 10 percent. After asking how many of her kids are on board, she sees that two of them don't raise their hands. With an understanding smile, she reaches down and presses a button that brutally murders those children. This would be a fucked-up commercial for a digestible-explosives company, much less a peaceful environmental movement. You generally do not want terrible murderers as your mascot; we know Smokey was a bear, but that wasn't so he could viciously maul the careless campers.

The film continues to show us various scenarios where all who oppose the movement, even in the slightest, are gruesomely detonated by grinning sociopaths. The message they intended was clear: "Join us or die." The message the film purveys is more like "Join us or we will kill you." There is a slight difference.

Decades of therapy for viewers, for one.

A predictable public backlash followed (who could have known people were so sensitive about the lives of children?), and although the group behind 10:10 insisted that people just didn't get it, several of their sponsors and even fellow environmentalist groups began withdrawing support. The video was officially taken offline, and went down as the most disastrously out-of-touch charity video campaign in history ... until Kony came along.

When he isn't trying to find potentially damaging ads to companies, Evan V. Symon can be found on Facebook. Be his friend to fill his desperate need to be liked by everyone.

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Related Reading: Prefer your marketing campaigns to be absolutely shameless? Watch CGI Bruce Lee try to sell you booze. And that doesn't even compare to the mountain of shame that was the live Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rock show. Of course, no discussion of disastrous marketing would be complete without the time Avon called all Japanese women whores.

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