In a world where it feels like we're all brainwashed by corporate marketing campaigns, it's nice to see them fall flat on their faces now and then. And trust us, when big promotional stunts go wrong, that shit can get ugly.
#5. Jagermeister Sponsors a Pool Party, Turns the Water into Poison
Like most disastrous plans, this one looked pretty sweet on paper. "We're the prime party beverage for frat boys who are already too drunk to know what they're ingesting, so let's throw them a big, sexy pool party! It'll be sexy ladies in bathing suits and hunky dudes all partying in sunny Mexico, with plenty of Jagermeister to go around!"
"It'll be like magic! And it'll taste like magic markers!"
Sounds great! "Oh, and you know what would be really cool? If the swimming pool had this cool mist coming off of it, like in a music video or some shit. Let's dump a bunch of liquid nitrogen into the water! Shit, I wonder why nobody has tried this before!?!"
Here's a tip that's applicable both to corporate events and backyard pool parties: Do a quick Google search beforehand to make sure that nothing you're dumping into your pool has the potential to react and create a fucking chemical warfare agent. If the party organizers had done this, they'd have realized what happens when pool chlorine and liquid nitrogen combine. The result is nitrogen trichloride, a toxic gas that will break up just about any party:
As you can see, nitrogen trichloride creates a horrific knock-out gas more effective at dispersing a crowd than anything the riot cops normally use to break up Jagermeister parties. People began hacking and coughing almost immediately, then passing out -- all together, eight people were hospitalized, and one guy even ended up in a goddamn coma (he wound up spending 18 days in the hospital). All of this while bangin' rave music blared in the background, because block-rockin' beats are the official soundtrack to any summer tragedy in the making.
At least four complaints were filed with the government, and Jagermeister was quick to issue a statement reminding everyone that they are normally all about promoting safe drinking activities, like swimming while drunk.
#4. United Way Drops 1.5 Million Balloons All Over Cleveland
Cleveland is one of those places that constantly needs good PR to distract people from the reality that it's Cleveland, and to help everyone forget about the debacle that was 10-cent beer night. So on September 27, 1986, the United Way set up a promotion with a safe, family-friendly angle. They decided on balloons. Shitloads and shitloads of balloons. In an attempt to break the world record set just a year before by the city of Anaheim, California, the United Way scheduled Balloon Fest, featuring the simultaneous release of 1.5 million of the things. Sure enough, it looked cool as hell:
Like a giant, agile cat, springing upward and bursting into pixels.
What could go wrong with that? Everybody loves balloons. After the release, it was assumed they would do what balloons naturally do -- fly further upwards until they pop.
However, the people in charge clearly tuned out after Willard Scott wished a bunch of centenarians a happy birthday and didn't stick around for the local forecast. If they had, they would've known it was going to rain hard that day. The rain pushed the balloons back down -- until downtown Cleveland was buried under a layer of balloons, as if the city had been the victim of the world's lamest Batman villain.
"The Jackson Pollocker strikes again!"
Over the following weeks, it became clear just how damaging a million-plus balloons can be. A runway at Burke Lakefront Airport had to shut down because running over thousands of exploding helium balls isn't the best way to speed up pre-flight. A woman's prize horses panicked at the sight of thousands of balloons and injured themselves, resulting in a $100,000 settlement.
But then it got much, much worse. Thousands of balloons descended upon Lake Erie during a search and rescue mission for two missing boaters ...
... exactly as the lame Batman villain had planned ...
... and it became impossible to find two bobbing heads when there were suddenly countless objects that looked like heads. By the time the Coast Guard finally found the boaters, they had long since drowned. Holy shit, this story got dark all of a sudden.
The United Way ended up facing a $3.2 million lawsuit from the widow of one of the boaters. She later settled for an undisclosed sum, and fortunately nothing bad ever happened in Cleveland ever again.
All right, we promise nobody dies in this next one ...
#3. Guns N' Roses Calls Dr Pepper's Bluff
In 1994, Guns N' Roses announced their album Chinese Democracy. By 2008, we were still waiting for it, and it'd become almost to easy to mock Axl Rose for sitting on his ever-widening ass and watching Family Feud all day instead of finishing the damn album.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Slash, meanwhile, released four albums and founded two bands.
Dr Pepper decided to capitalize on Rose's bullshit. In March of 2008, they announced that they would give a free can of Dr Pepper to every American should the album come out before the end of the year. It seemed like a win-win for the company -- not only were they offering free stuff that they'd never actually have to follow through on, they painted themselves as a bunch of cool-ass music lovers, simply out to give Rose that one final bit of motivation to release the album (after all, unless his non-recording activities included "renounce America," he would get a free can too). It was the perfect plan ... unless, of course, Rose actually released the damn thing.
Which, naturally, he totally did. Less than eight months after Dr Pepper announced the campaign, Guns N' Roses dropped Chinese Democracy at long last, and the Pepper people were screwed. Not only were they not prepared to give away hundreds of millions of cans of their product, they didn't actually have a way for people to claim their can. They hastily set up a website, which crashed under the weight of millions and millions of simultaneous clicks.
Healthcare.gov, Stefan Robkopf
Speaking of too-easy jokes: Dr Pepper's next web venture.
Ultimately, very few people (if any) got a free can. To make matters worse, Rose sued the company for lying to the people. Because if there's anybody who abhors dishonesty and empty promises, it's Axl fucking Rose.
Speaking of disastrous corporate giveaways ...