5 Corporate Promotions That Ended in (Predictable) Disaster
So you need to create some instant excitement for your company, or product. You need to shake things up. You need to create buzz.
And really, what creates "buzz" better than some kind of riot, or stampede? Or people running screaming away from fires? That's the lesson we've learned from these fine examples:
Oprah Gives Away Free Chicken
KFC (now having officially dropped its slave name "Kentucky Fried Chicken") decided in May of 2009 to promote its new grilled chicken by giving it away for free. Wanting to keep their promotion subtle and discreet, they did the announcement on the show of a little-known entertainer named Oprah Winfrey.
What Went Wrong
With a hilariously tragic lack of foresight, KFC underestimated both the all-encompassing influence of Oprah and the subtle racism of using a black spokeswoman to sell chicken. They apparently didn't realize the Mighty O reigns over the kind of media empire previously only seen under the thumb of Richard Dawson in The Running Man, so when she told viewers they could print out a voucher for free lunch at KFC on the May 5th episode of her talk show, America shit a rainbow so large it could be seen from space.
Approximately 16 million people printed out the Winfrey-approved coupon and showed up at KFCs nationwide to pry their free chicken from Colonel Sanders's cold dead fingers. The fast food chain was overwhelmingly unprepared and ran out of product before lunchtime (evidently their market research suggested that the average citizen doesn't like chicken and hates not having to pay for things).
Angry customers in New York, outraged that their demands to complain to Sanders directly were dismissed as both "impossible" and "moronic," responded by starting mini-riots and sit-ins. Managers at some locations maneuvered around the debacle by telling customers they couldn't accept any coupons ending with the serial numbers "1234," which incidentally consisted of every PDF copy of the coupon in existence.
KFC also hilariously included the arbitrary restriction that the coupons couldn't be used on Mother's Day, which makes us think their CEO is in some kind of wacky Major League situation where somehow he makes a fortune only if he ruins the franchise.
Rival chain, El Pollo Loco, officially turned KFC's grilled chicken clusterfuck into tender-roasted lovemaking when they announced that they'd accept all six million rejected KFC coupons that coming Sunday (which just happened to be Mother's Day).
Coma bolas, hombre sexos pollos!
KFC President Roger Eaton tried to wipe some of the egg off his face (pun completely intended because we're talking about chicken) by issuing a public statement, but the damage had been done--his company sunk a fuck ton of money into Oprah only to have their customers scooped up by a rival chicken shack. Generally, this is not part of a good business model.
Ten Cent Beer Night
Before the aforementioned Major League movies, the only claim to fame the Cleveland Indians had was a racist mascot. But on June 4, 1974, Ohio's weaker baseball franchise decided to try and fill their stands by offering all-you-could-drink beer for the lip-flappingly insane price of ten cents a cup.
Where It Went Wrong
Bottomless beer cups at a dime a piece will bring people back from the grave. They might as well have offered buried pirate treasure to everyone that bought a ticket. 25,134 rowdy friends showed up to Cleveland Municipal Stadium that night and, unsurprisingly, proceeded to behave like drunken retards. Pot and firecrackers were being lit before the first at-bat was over, and by the fourth inning two people had run naked onto the field.
The visiting Texas Rangers were pelted with everything from batteries to wine jugs, but things didn't really get out of hand until a fan landed in the outfield and attempted to steal the cap of Ranger Jeff Burroughs. Texas Manager Billy Martin picked up a bat and exited the dugout to protect his player in a display of steel-balled awesomeness. Both team's benches followed Martin, and what ensued was one of baseball's most dangerous and drunken riots.
The game officially ended when a hunting knife pierced the ground next to an umpire. He called a forfeit in favor of the Rangers and then rushed into the locker room to shake the terror-poop out of his pants. Future beer nights at Cleveland Municipal were changed from unlimited amounts to four cups per customer, which research indicates is the precise amount of alcohol required to actually enjoy three hours of baseball.
Every year, fast food monolith McDonald's slaps game pieces from the popular/boring board game Monopoly onto their drink cups, giving customers a chance to win valuable cash prizes to cover the cost of the gastric bypass surgery they'll need later.
What Went Wrong
You win--but at what price?
In the mid 90s, Mickey D's hired a subcontractor called Simon Marketing to organize and promote their Monopoly sweepstakes. Simon's Chief of Security, Jerome P. Jacobson, quickly discovered a flaw in the gaming system and found he had no choice but to steal the game pieces with the highest cash value.
Between 1995 and 2001, Jacobson passed out winning pieces to his friends and family and formed a covert prize network that netted over $24 million. This scam could have gone on for decades were it not for a guilty insider who dimed Jacobson out like Fredo Corleone.
I know it was you, Grimace. You broke my heart.
McDonald's ended up looking pretty stupid in this one, seeing as how their own subcontractors were hamburgling all their money. In the Golden Arches' defense, they started a new, legitimate cash giveaway almost immediately after the Simon Marketing folks were arrested.
Sadly, Ronald and his pals were clowned (GET IT? HE'S A FUCKING CLOWN) when their breach of contract suit was thrown out of court for lack of evidence and they were ordered to pay a $16.6 million settlement to the very guy who screwed them. In the world of fast food disasters, that ranks just above getting a mummified penis in your Happy Meal.
$1,000 Cash Grab
Detroit farm team the West Michigan Whitecaps invited a helicopter to drop $1,000 cash in small bills over their ballpark in an effort to lure people to their crappy Class A baseball match-up.
Hell, what could go wrong with that?What Went Wrong
People will push a nun down an elevator shaft for a handful of free money. Example: Jim Carrey only made a measly $350,000 for his role in Ace Ventura: Watch Me Make My Ass Talk To Tone Loc, so imagine what a non-famous populace will do for a fistful of cabbage.
When the helicopter opened up its belly and rained down cash, two seven-year-old children ended up getting trampled in the melee, including one Tino Rodriquez, who had to be rushed to the hospital.The Backlash
While the injury of two minors did dampen spirits at the home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the organization was able to avoid any legal action because all Cash Grab participants were forced to sign waivers before congregating under the helicopter.
It was technically YOUR FAULT!
Tito's grandfather blamed the rowdy 12-year-olds who were allowed to participate in the Cash Grab, noting, "It's like playing football. You can't put a 12-year-old versus a seven-year-old."
Uh, given the fact that free money was involved, Tino is lucky no one brought a shotgun, let alone 12-year-old ringers.
Disco Demolition Night
The Chicago White Sox, another MLB franchise that never really lit a fire under anyone's ass, needed some kind of hook to put butts in the seats at Comiskey Park. So Mike Veeck, son of Sox owner Bill Veeck, conjured up a promo event to play on America's sudden rebellion against disco. He invited folks to bring their unwanted ABBA/Gloria Gaynor records to a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers in exchange for cheaper admission and the chance to see said records exploded on the field between games. Evidently nothing brings people to baseball games quite like gross criminal negligence.
What Went Wrong
Baseball fans are like puppies and teenagers; get over 75,000 of them (the official head count for Disco Demolition Night) worked up and something's going to get broken or pissed on. So many people showed up for the White Sox's "Fuck Disco" rally that the off-ramps of the nearby Dan Ryan Expressway had to be shut down to keep anyone else from attempting to come to the stadium.
When local rock DJ Steve Dahl finally detonated the unholy records, fans immediately poured onto the field, tearing down batting cages and starting fires while insisting the disco albums they contributed to the destruction were gifts and had not been intentionally purchased. Sox announcer Harry Caray tried desperately to convince fans to leave the field, but like most events in the Chicago area this one wasn't over until the cops showed up.
Chicago ended up having to forfeit the second game of their doubleheader that night to Detroit. Adding hilarious insult to that injury was the fact the Sox had to play the rest of the season on Comiskey Park's nearly destroyed field (evidently their maintenance staff were huge disco fans and staged a walk-out). As for Mike Veeck, he was blacklisted from the sport and never again detonated so much as a fart anywhere near a baseball stadium.
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Check out more corporate buffoonery in The 7 Most Idiotic Corporate Temper Tantrums and 9 Corporate Attempts At 'Edgy' That Failed (Hilariously).
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