5 Stupid Product Myths That Had Real-World Consequences
They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but companies like Theranos, whoever did Fyre Fest, and countless others would beg to differ. They might have deserved what they got, but sometimes the bad publicity in question is both false and so outlandish that the company's PR team can only address it with long-suffering sighs. As these stories attest, such incidents can take years of work and lots of self-medicating to undo.
The "Pop Rocks And Coke" Rumor Killed The Candy (For A While)
You're no doubt aware of the urban legend that little Mikey of Life cereal commercial fame died from consuming a combination of Pop Rocks and Coke, and if you're not, you haven't been watching enough late '90s horror movies. Mikey, whose real name is John Gilchrist, was alive and well when the rumor began in the late '70s, and remains so to this day, but there was no Google back then, so parents started refusing to buy the trendy new candy to save their children from their a terribly carbonated demise. Though the brand is back today, it completely tanked at the time.
But at least kids were safe from the horrible fate of a larger-than-average burp.
General Foods, the company that owned Pop Rocks, was in crisis mode. They did everything from taking out nationwide newspaper ads to cold-calling random elementary school principals and begging them to tell their students that exploding sugar wasn't bad for them. This shockingly failed, so they brought in the big guns: Mikey himself. Well, they tried. Gilchrist was still under contract with Life, so he wasn't legally available to star in commercials for the candy, and his parents weren't super thrilled about him going on TV to announce that he wasn't dead either. Thus began the long and bloody Candy-Breakfast War that probably only exists in our heads.
Warehouses piled up with so much unsellable Pop Rocks that eventually they just had to bury it. Rudely, they didn't specify where. Hey, free dirt candy!
KFC Went To Court Over Rumors Of Mutant Chickens
Ah, 1999. It was an innocent time, when we still thought Dawson and Joey might make it work and chain emails were kind of charming. One of those chain emails was an impressive display of logical gymnastics that ended with the somewhat less impressive conclusion that KFC used mutant chickens. They had recently changed their name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to the snappier acronym, and the email asserted that only possible reason for this was that the government had forbid them from using the word "chicken" because the eldritch horrors that populated their farms weren't legally chickens. It didn't gain much traction at the time, because it was, obviously and for a number of reasons, the dumbest thing.
Fast-forward to 2015. After fears of genetically modified food spread among the scientifically illiterate, the rumor came back, and this time, it was personal. For no known reason, a handful of Chinese tech firms started pushing the "mutant chicken" agenda, now complete with doctored photos of six-winged, eight-legged chickens that, be honest, you would totally eat.
We guess the 11 herbs and spices mostly consist of genetic resequencers.
Still, the viral messages damaged KFC's brand in China enough that they took these shadowy string-pullers to court over it, winning handily. The real winners, however, are us -- the people who get to live in a world with headlines like "'Spider Chickens Are Not Real,' Says KFC.'" Ain't the future grand?
Snapple's Jewish Founders Had To Renounce The KKK
The idea that Snapple and its line of refreshing drinks could be affiliated with the KKK and other hate groups isn't totally outrageous on its face. They wouldn't be the first American corporation with such ties. The baffling part of this rumor is the reasoning behind it. It stems from the artwork on Snapple's labels.
Look fairly innocent to you? Good job, you're sane! If you were also paying attention in history class or just asked to come up with a reason a company that sells tea would use this image, you might (correctly) conclude that this is an image of the Boston Tea Party. You showoff.
But some people apparently decided it was a slave ship, and further purported that the circled K on the label was a symbol of the KKK. Leonard Marsh, the company's president who happens to be Jewish, had to explain in a $100,000 ad campaign that the symbol actually signifies that a product is kosher. Which makes sense, because of, you know. The Jewish thing. He went on to clarify that a business begun by "three Jewish boys from New York" would be the last to support the KKK, and the whole country came together in awkward silence.
A Dumb Rumor About Spider Eggs Almost Tanked Bubble Yum
It probably doesn't seem like anything special now, but when Lifesavers Inc. released Bubble Yum in the '70s, it was the closest thing we had to a gum revolution. It was both softer than other bubble gums and held its flavor longer. Kids who had previously only chewed the stiff, short-lasting junk didn't know how to handle this voodoo magic, so they did what kids do and invented wildly fanciful conspiracy theories on the playground. The one that caught on was that the key to Bubble Yum's consistency was a heaping helping of spider eggs, because kids have zero frame of reference for anything to do with the words "research and development."
We can actually trace the rumor pretty far -- almost to one specific snot-nosed jerk. It seems to have started on a playground somewhere it New York City, spreading from there to New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Southern Connecticut. We know that because the rumor became a nightmare for Lifesavers president William Mack Morris. He pretty much went to bed one night the king of the bubble business, and woke up to plummeting sales and endless calls from retailers and reporters. So he hired a private investigator to try to figure out where the rumor came from.
If Morris had been a different sort of man, this could very well have ended up the sort of ruthless businessman vs. scrappy ragamuffin story that would have starred Macaulay Culkin in the '90s. But a People portrait of Morris paints him as a pitiful figure, moping in his office and sadly failing to blow bubbles. "'I don't care about bubbles,' he finally said. 'I care about the gum.'"
In the end, Bubble Yum came out on top, but it cost them. They eventually resorted to taking out ads in dozens of newspapers assuring consumers that their gum did not contain spider eggs. Honestly, the most shocking part of this story is that it worked. If Hershey started running YouTube prerolls touting their completely semen-free chocolate bars, you can bet we'd have some questions.
Tommy Hilfiger Got To Meet Oprah Because Of A Weird Racist Rumor
Tommy Hilfiger is the idol of middle-class white dads who shop at Macy's, but for a period in the late '90s, his designs were favored by a decidedly younger, hipper crowd, counting Lenny Kravitz and Aaliyah as brand ambassadors. That all changed after a rumor that Hilfiger made an appearance on Oprah and said that if he knew so many black people would buy his clothes, he wouldn't have made them.
It was demonstrably false. For one thing, he'd never even been on the show. Even if he had, not even the frothiest Grand Wizard would dare to say that to her face. Still, the rumor took off, and people from just about every ethnic group came to believe he'd said it about them. Hilfiger remembers seeing it in Filipino tabloids, and one of his Jewish executives informed him that it had made its way to the Jewish community. Finally, in her beatific grace, Oprah invited Hilfiger on her show to address the rumors.
While it took a personal toll, this story is unique in that the Hilfiger brand actually suffered no financial loss due to the rumor. In fact, according to Hilfiger, their sales doubled when people thought he was a racist jerk. Let's aggressively not think about that.
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