The 5 Worst Marketing Ideas Ever Put into Action
Marketing isn't complicated: Use a lot of bright colors, commission a catchy jingle, slap some breasts up there right next to the blandly inoffensive product name and then collect your paycheck and go home to cry in the dark about the ultimate meaninglessness of your career and life in general. It's not rocket science. In fact, as long as your product doesn't share a name with a horrible disease and you don't hand over complete creative control to people who actively hate your company, you should be all set. Unfortunately, sometimes the marketing people just show up to work drunk and do exactly that.
During the 1970s and '80s, Ayds diet candy was riding high: The butterscotch, chocolate and various other flavored diet candies somehow fooled the public into thinking they actually worked, and the owners had enough of that sweet sugar money rolling in to choke a whole squadron of Oompa Loompas. But just as the CEOs mounted a pile of tiny dead orange strippers to proclaim the invincibility of their confectionery empire to the world, the AIDS epidemic hit, and shit stopped being funny in a hurry.
Then, 30 years later, it got kind of funny again:
"How about we change the name to Cancer?"
But despite the product now sharing a name with a modern-day plague, the manufacturer of Ayds decided to stick it out, operating on Michael Bolton of Office Space's principle of "AIDS is the one that sucks, so they're the one that should change." The company so obstinately refused to acknowledge the problem that they didn't even alter their now seriously questionable tagline: "Ayds helps you take off weight and helps you keep it off." And the candy company kept this up as AIDS ravaged the modern world around them, all the while quietly insisting that this whole pandemic thing would blow over and history would only remember the real Ayds. For evidence of how well that plan worked, take a look at this commercial, and count how many blackly hilarious double-entendres you catch in its roughly 30-second run time:
The Ayds candy survived all the way up to the 1980s until eventually, after losing over 50 percent of their profits, the company conceded that a name change was necessary. They needed something cool; something fresh; something that made it sound peppy and healthy and, most importantly, something that separated it from that horrid disease as completely as possible. So Ayds conducted some extensive research, carefully considered all the options, and finally changed its name to ...
"Diet Ayds: Not the disease."
The brand went out of business not long after.
Red Lobster -- Endless Snow Crabs
In the early 2000s, the restaurant chain Red Lobster decided to hold a promotion offering all-you-can-eat snow crab legs. It seemed like a winning idea: Crab is delicious, but there's only so much you can stomach of the stuff at a time before you run out and barf briny white paste in the parking lot. It's like the definition of an "eyes bigger than your stomach" food. After weighing the potential pros and cons carefully (by which we mean throwing all the budget reports in the trash while saying, "Nah, it'll be fine!"), Red Lobster launched the promo in 2003.
And then this happened.
Unfortunately for Red Lobster, they'd never met America before, and foolishly thought that customers would either be full or just completely sick of salty, rubbery, restaurant-chain-quality sea meat after a plate or so. A few scant weeks later, Red Lobster was already seeing a loss in profits. This was compounded by the simple fact that, in 2003, snow crab leg prices were at an all-time high. Meaning that Red Lobster actually lost money on every customer ordering more than a half dozen, which was a problem, seeing as how the average customer ate at least 2 dozen.
Jesus. Why would you even want to eat that much crab? That shifts the Motive Needle officially beyond "hungry" and into "misplaced revenge against the sea for taking my father."
"I want to be there when you cook that motherfucker."
Even worse, the all-you-can-eat promotion meant that people were sitting for hours on end while paying one flat price, thus leaving the other, still-profitable customers who were inexplicably not interested in personally devouring a species to extinction with longer wait times. They often left before being seated. And so for a short time in the early 2000s, Red Lobster abandoned the normal restaurant business altogether to cater exclusively to masochistic gluttons who had a bone to pick with the sea. In doing so, they lost over $3 million in that quarter alone. The president of the company stepped down shortly after, though she vehemently denied that the idiotic $3 million crustacean bet that she put up against America's metabolism was the deciding factor for the resignation.
"They asked me to leave because I was just too good for their tiny little business."
It can be kind of a big deal when a fast-food restaurant launches a new menu item (we're pretty sure the McRib qualifies as a religion now in some parts of the world). So expectations were high when McDonald's released the new McAfrika burger in Norway, one of the world's richest countries. Surely, if anybody had tons of money to spend on something that, factoring in health care costs, was probably actually worth negative dollars, it was those notoriously frivolous Norsemen. It's just too bad that they launched the McAfrika during an actual famine in Africa that left 12 million people starving.
"We were thinking of naming it 'Hahaha! We have food, assholes!'"
In a fine example of the revolting type of doublespeak that only PR reps and children born without souls can muster, McDonald's went on record as agreeing that "to a certain extent this was bad timing."
The hamburger mocking a lethal famine was "bad timing," but only "to a certain extent."
"We didn't even know there was a place called Africa until you people made a big deal out of it."
To combat this moral disaster, McDonald's came to their customers, hat in hand, and humbly agreed to maybe probably consider thinking about donating some of the proceeds to starving people. They may not have shown much enthusiasm for the idea of charitable donation themselves, but in the interim, they did let a few charities put collection boxes in the restaurants -- but only in the ones that still carried the burger.
"Did we offend your country? No? Then here's your meal -- fuck off."
The Great Coke Blowjob
In the early '90s, the South Pacific Coke Region wanted young soda pop drinkers to really feel the joy of a salty-sweet Coke in their mouths. Hoping to recapture some of the magic their parents felt holding that long, hard, curved bottle of yesteryear, Coke launched a classic, retro-style container aimed at younger customers, with the slogan "Feel the Curves." They contracted with a small graphic design firm in order to best milk the creative shaft of the cultural zeitgei-
All right, look, we're running out of subtle dick puns here, people. Coke put a blowjob on the poster, OK?
"I don't see- Oh. Oooooooooh."
It wasn't a fluke or some kind of phallus-based Rorschach test: One of the graphic designers intentionally inserted a surreptitious silhouette of a girl about to mouth-fight the fleshy Odin into the picture's foreground. Unfortunately, all of the posters were shipped out and displayed before the ice cube blowjob was discovered, and were, in fact, only spotted after the ads had been blown up to their fullest and erected on the sides of delivery trucks. All told, Coke blew huge loads of money (OK, so we lied about running out of dick puns earlier) on the recall process, marking the first and last time anybody ever dropped a ton of cash on stopping a blowjob.
But it really went with their slogan, "This bottle doubles as an awesome dildo."
Chevy: Make Your Own Commercial
It's rarely ever a good thing when a company decides to "tap into viral marketing." At best, you get an Old Spice ad or two; at worst, you get yet another rapping grandma video.
Or at least that's what we used to think the worst possible fallout for a viral marketing attempt could be, until Chevy's "Make Your Own Tahoe Commercial" campaign. Basically, the campaign gave massive commercial resources and dedicated space on their official website to anybody who wanted it -- even (as it turned out, especially) to people who actively hated the company. General Motors had just revamped the Tahoe and bought a full episode of The Apprentice (that's the show where celebrities compete to see who has the biggest ego, but the winner is always Donald Trump) to market the car.
"You buy this fucking Tahoe, you stupid cunts!"
For those of you who've seen the Internet before, you know where this is going. (And for those of you who haven't: Welcome! Don't waste any more time here; there's porn literally everywhere. Go, frolic!)
Chevy provided users with a selection of clips of the Tahoe doing generic SUV stuff like climbing mountains and not using its turn signal, then let them choose what clips to play, the order that they'd appear and the dramatic score, and let them add their own custom text to deliver a message. Here was the kind of thing they came up with:
They should feel lucky at the surprising lack of dicks in the photo.
Although GM assumed that the Tahoe's legions of loyal fans would cover the Web with upbeat messages, as anyone who's even glanced sidelong at the Internet while racing by a burning computer lab could probably guess, this was not the case. A few of the submissions were positive, yes, but the ones that went viral were decidedly not.
"Wow, the Internet really showed some class by holding back their racist urges, didn't they?"
Some of the parody ads focused on how SUVs are destroying the environment, some of them called the Tahoe out for being a horrible overall vehicle and others simply encouraged drivers to murder their families. And thanks to the tools Chevy gave the Internet, all of these messages were tacitly endorsed by the company and prominently displayed on Chevy's own website for several days.
On the plus side, Captain Planet villains with low vehicular standards and histories of domestic violence apparently really loved the car.
Chris likes to write music, tweet and check email at email@example.com. Eric Yosomono writes for GaijinAss.com and you should LIKE them on the GaijinAss Facebook page, all the cool kids are doing it!
For more clearly not-good ideas that were executed anyway, check out 5 Corporate Promotions That Ended in (Predictable) Disaster and The 5 Biggest Disasters in the History of Marketing Ideas.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Most Screwed Over Man in the History of Movies.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happened when we handed out metal bats to 100 people who wanted them.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!