5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes

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Advertising is one of the most powerful hidden forces in our lives. It's the reason we never question why we bought a new pair of athletic shoes when the closest thing we do to exercise is pump the brakes in our exclusively city-driven SUV while heading to the store to pick up a few bottles of limited edition Sprite with LeBron James' name on them.

However, as we've pointed out once or twice in the past, the brainwashing overlords in charge of telling us what to buy sometimes go wildly off the rails, and it's always fun to sit back and soak in their failure.

Apple Sinks Over $100 Million Into A Free U2 Album That Nobody Wanted

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Hey, remember that time Apple thought people still gave a single steaming urinal biscuit about new U2 music in 2014?

Even if you weren't one of the scads of irate people who were threatening to yank Steve Jobs back from the spiritual plane for an ethereal punch to the solar plexus, waking up to find a U2 album stealthily downloaded onto your phone without preamble probably struck you as being exactly as generous as someone breaking into your house to leave you a new pet that you didn't ask for. ("Enjoy your new howler monkey!")

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Or worse, "Enjoy your new Bonobo!"

On the surface, teaming up with U2 to gratuitously distribute Songs Of Innocence -- the band's first new album in over five years -- appeared to be a great way for Apple to generate buzz for their iTunes service. After all, everyone loves free stuff! And U2 would get the benefit of introducing millions of people to their new music, resulting in a huge uptick in sales of the band's back catalog.

The thing is, people only love free stuff if the free stuff is something they at least halfway want. That's why so many mix tapes remain in the backpacks of their creators, as opposed to being eagerly accepted by people on their way into Jamba Juice. An embarrassingly tiny fraction of the 500 million users who received Songs Of Innocence gave a hammered grizzly shit about U2. That's a whole lot of wasted, animosity-generating megabytes. The even bigger problem was that for Apple, the album wasn't free at all; they had shelled out $100 million for marketing alone, plus an undisclosed amount to U2 that will no doubt have Bono swimming in douchebag sunglasses until the planet implodes.

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Maybe if we get him rich enough, he'll stop recording for good.

And as for Apple's plan to send a new generation of U2 fans clamoring to purchase the band's back catalog on iTunes? Well, when the dust settled, fewer than 7,000 copies of U2's other albums had been sold as a result of the stunt. It's almost as if Apple should've picked a musical artist with more universal relevance, like Weird Al Yankovic. Nobody would've complained about a free Weird Al album.

BMW Pays To Sponsor A Deadly Weather Event

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
Kena Betancur/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Sponsorships are a tried and true way to sneakily insert your brand into the minds of countless consumers. Want to make sure Americans keep on guzzling your brand of light beer? Slap its logo on the side of a race car. Want to make sure you're the service provider that comes to mind the next time droves of sports fans need a new cell phone? Squeeze your name onto a stadium.

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
G Fiume/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

"The Verizon Center! Where teams will suffer the same disappointment as our customers!"

Well, the "sponsoring random stuff" game knows no bounds in Europe. In 2012, BMW was looking for a new way to promote their Mini Cooper. Fortunately, like a gift from Mother Nature herself, an unnamed cold front was approaching. Since, oddly enough, the German weather service sells naming rights to weather events, BMW quickly snapped up the advertising rights to the high-pressure system. Soon, Europe was bracing itself for the "Cooper cold front," with forecasters everywhere being forced to refer to it by that dumbass name. It was a bold, brilliant marketing maneuver ... right up until the Cooper cold front started killing people, which is generally not something you want associated with your sensible compact car.

Temperatures approaching 30 degrees below zero proceeded to freeze Eastern Europe's collective tits off. By the time the Cooper cold front had finished sweeping across the continent, it had left 113 frozen corpses in its wake. Suddenly, all those newscasters referring to the cold front by name either sounded like they were describing some kind of Mr. Freeze serial killer who was taking revenge on the world, or that the car from The Italian Job was lethally plowing its way through the United Kingdom like a frozen juggernaut.

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Sion Touhig/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Once again, a cold eastern front spells doom for Germany.

BMW argued that they had no way of knowing that the front would turn deadly when they chose to sponsor it, but thanks to the slogan they had regrettably launched in relation to the sponsorship -- "Mini makes the weather" -- there are probably entire villages in Poland which will be burning BMWs in effigy for generations to come.

A Clothing Company Creates Ads Using Convicted Murderers As Models

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Fashion companies using edgy and/or sexy ads to drum up hype for their products is nothing out of the ordinary, but Italian clothing company Benetton is known for taking "edgy" to places so weird it'd give David Lynch squirming, sweat-filled night terrors. Take, for example, their ad featuring President Obama locking a wrinkle-lipped kiss on former Venezuelan president Hugo "totally not a dictator" Chavez, or the time they tried to lessen the taboo of interracial relationships by showing two horses banging it out in negative space.

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes

Pictured: racial sensitivity.

But the Benetton ad campaign that really takes the last meal is from 2001, when they decided to promote their wearable wares to the tune of a $20 million campaign featuring death row inmates.

According to Benetton, the campaign was meant to draw attention to the brutality of the death penalty. So naturally, you would assume that they must have searched far and wide to find people who were either wrongly convicted or excessively punished, right? Haha! No, research is not something you have time for when you've got goddamn sweatshops to run. Benetton just found random death row inmates who fit whatever visual algorithm was behind this insane decision, and slapped their haunted faces all over a series of ads.


Good luck scrubbing the staring burn marks out of your brain meat.

One subject featured in the ads shot a convenience store cashier before murdering a random bystander. Another murdered three teenagers in Oregon. Another kidnapped, raped, and murdered a black teenager in a racially-motivated crime. And yet another killed a cop during a routine traffic stop. Of course, Benetton didn't know any of that, because they didn't bother to check. They simply took pictures of a bunch of murderers to help peddle their overpriced clothing.

The families of the victims were rightfully disgusted, and the ensuing backlash forced Sears to pull out of a major contract to sell the Benetton brand in their stores -- which came as a shock to many people who didn't realize Sears still existed. The state of Missouri sued the shit out of Benetton for having "made false claims to state officials in gaining access to the prison and misrepresented the purpose of the interview," dealing another $50,000 blow to their marketing department's already slap-sore asses. And to top it all off, Benetton's go-to photographer, Olivero Toscani, left the company following the controversy. Considering Toscani was a man who had no problem taking pictures of both bloody newborns and amorous horses for designer clothing ads, this probably came as a bit of a surprise.

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes

A Tobacco Company Creates A Safer Cigarette, Can't Market It Without Pointing Out That Cigarettes Are Dangerous

RJ Reynolds

In 1988, tobacco company RJ Reynolds developed a smokeless cigarette to combat all the negative "smoking kills the shit out of people" publicity the industry had been receiving. Dubbed "Premier," Reynolds's less-lethal alternative looked like a normal cigarette, but contained an aluminum capsule that heated the tobacco rather than burning it, thus reducing the amount of toxic shit that jumped down your throat and cancer-booted the screaming Jesus out of your life force.

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WGBH Educational Foundation

E-cigs in the age of hair metal? How did Earth not collapse upon itself in a massive douche horizon?

Unfortunately, the product suffered from a few design deficiencies, the most notable being that it required a goddamned instruction booklet to use and tasted like burning plastic. You could easily get away with both problems today by telling consumers that they're enjoying a new Twizzlers-flavored e-cigarette, but they were major hurdles for smokers in the 1980s. However, many agree that Reynolds had in fact created a viable safer cigarette, and had they more time to fine-tune the product, it might have caught on. Horrifying sales killed the product before that could happen, though. So what went wrong?

Well, while they may very well have made a safer cigarette, RJ Reynolds couldn't actually come out and say so without admitting that regular cigarettes were full-on fucking terrible for you, because old-fashioned cigarettes were still signing everyone's paycheck. So RJ Reynolds's marketing campaign had to dance around any iteration of the word "safe" by using vague, non-committal phrases like "cleaner smoke."

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
RJ Reynolds

"Premier: The cigarette that kills you less!"

Furthermore, this newfangled cigarette didn't burn down and didn't require you to flick off the ash, and the milquetoast ad campaign launching Premier wasn't enough to overcome the fact that smokers are creatures of habit (which somehow came as a shock to a goddamn tobacco company). Most people who gave Premier a chance tried one cigarette, made a face like an airline pilot accidentally slamming his dick in the cockpit door, and tossed the rest of RJ Reynold's billion-dollar investment straight into the nearest garbage can.

LG Ties Free Phone Vouchers To Balloons, Causes Violent Riots As People Try To Pop Them

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
Channel IT

In 2013, LG dreamed up an ingenious promotion to launch their new flagship smartphone in South Korea. They would go to a public park in Seoul, tie vouchers redeemable for free phones to 100 helium balloons, and release them into the wind for excited consumers to hunt down and redeem. It would have been a flawless plan, had LG not failed to take into account the human mind's predilection towards violent, insane greed.

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Korea Times

Clearly, LG missed the TRUE meaning of Up.

Word got out that free phones worth 950,000 Korean won -- about $850 American -- would be floating along for anyone to grab. So on launch day, hordes of people showed up to snatch the valuable balloons out of the sky using BB guns and knives tied to sticks. That's right -- they made balloon spears. While this is unquestionably extreme, we can't help but wonder how the hell else LG thought people were going to get those vouchers. Wait around for the balloons to slowly deflate?

Inexplicably deciding that no accidents could possibly result from a crowd of knifestick-wielding consumers fighting over a limited number of extremely valuable phones, LG decided to proceed with the event. They released the balloons, and what followed was not dissimilar from Braveheart and/or The Warriors, had those movies featured angry clowns killing each other over valuable communication technology. One local news anchor dubbed the chaos "World War G," although we'd prefer it go down in history as "The Great $850 LG Cellphone Knifestick Balloon Melee." Once the dust settled, 20 people lay injured in the grass, seven seriously enough to be rushed to the hospital.

5 Huge Marketing Campaigns That Were Complete Catastrophes
Channel IT

That one spearwoman in green slew four, probably.

In a moment of clarity that can only come from being forced to pay out huge liability settlements, LG apologized and immediately canceled similar events that they had planned for several other major cities nationwide. We can only imagine their backup event plan involved shooting the phones out of a cannon.

Evan V. Symon is on the Personal Experience team at Cracked. If you've had an awesome job/experience, hit us up at tips@cracked.com. Looking for a new party game to make your friends laugh? Download Cheer Up! for free.

Did you know that Popsicles melt? Apparently, Snapple didn't. See what we mean in The 6 Most Baffling Marketing Disasters by Famous Companies. Or check out 6 Ill-Advised Marketing Campaigns That Backfired Hilariously, and learn about Abercrombie & Fitch's unapologetic racism.

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