Stupid PR Stunts That Backfired Hard

Anyone keeping track (and we are) can see that PR and marketing stunts have a worse record of accidentally being driven off a cliff than our all of our horses in Red Dead 2. And since learning from past mistakes would be very off-brand for these smug PR stooges, here's yet another round of corporate disasters that easily could have been prevented by asking a single other living soul if all this was a terrible idea.

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5
Game Publisher THQ Nordic Hosted An AMA On 8Chan, Grosses Out The Entire Internet

THQ Nordic is a major video game publisher responsible for releasing blockbuster series like Saints Row and Metro. Big enough, then, to hire a smart and competent P.R. manager. Instead, they went with a guy whose idea of community outreach is to let the internet's slimiest collection of pond scum ask his company absolutely anything.

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For those innocents fortunate enough to not know, 8chan is an imageboard that was created because some online ghouls thought 4chan was too politically correct. In 2019, THQ Nordic was approached by the site, which has been blacklisted from Google for "suspected child abuse content" to participate in a friendly AMA. To everyone's amazement (and we assume that includes 8chan's) the publisher agreed, claiming they were "approached in a very friendly and polite manner" by the 8channers.

Instead of their usual way of contacting members of the gaming industry by mailing them a single bullet.8chanInstead of their usual way of contacting members of the gaming industry by mailing them a single bullet.

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The AMA was led by THQ head of PR and marketing Phillip Brock, a man who apparently has never read his job briefing, and went off the rails as quickly as you'd expect. But through it all, Brock kept responding jocularly to all the toxic questions, ignoring the anti-PC coding and straight-up homophobic slurs as if he had developed selective bigot blindness. When one of the site's closeted pedophiles posted a question asking "where the big tiddie lolis at" with an explicit image of two large-breasted children attached, master of spin Brock replied: "you got them already we'd say," probably while thinking how great he was at his job.

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News of the AMA quickly received a torrent of backlash on regular, medium-toxic social media. Before the day was even over, half of THQ C-suite had to go on a public apology tour, including Brock. "I do not condone child pornography, white supremacy, or racism in any shape or form," said the man who had a nice fireside chat with the internet's most notorious harassers, pedo creeps, and white supremacists. He also added that he "agreed to this AMA without doing my proper due diligence to understand the history and the controversy of the site," not realizing that any public relations guy in gaming who openly admits that he doesn't know where the Gamergaters hang out should be fired on the spot.

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4
Mark Zuckerberg Turned A Flooded Puerto Rico Into A VR Advert

Mark Zuckerberg, the first successful AI program to run a Fortune 500 business, isn't known for his empathy. But that's ignoring his great contributions to humanity, like how he donated $1.5 million to Puerto Rico after the deadly Hurricane Maria ravaged the commonwealth. And all that he wanted in return was to turn these terrible scenes of devastation into his digital playground.

Who better to test out your million dollar project on than a bunch of people who don't have food or water?Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Customs and Border ProtectionWho better to test out your million dollar project on than a bunch of people who don't have food or water?

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In 2017, Zuckerberg was champing at the bit to showcase his Spaces, Facebook's new virtual reality platform. So he and VR chief Rachel Franklin fired up the ol' Oculus Rift and took a little publicity tour of his favorite places. Zuckerberg went to his own house, the moon, oh, and the moist ruins of a postapocalyptic Puerto Rico. And as if promoting your new crappy social media feature using the site of human suffering as a 360-degree background, did we mention they all looked like funny cartoons?

Is that the fake version of Zuckerberg? it's hard to tell. FacebookIs that the fake version of Zuckerberg? it's hard to tell.

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During the tour, Virtual Zuckerberg (which is almost redundant) remarked that "it feels like we're really here in Puerto Rico" -- minus the destruction and lack of basic living essentials. He also took the time to brag about all the money he had donated and the Facebook data he had shared with the Red Cross to help, though what aid workers need with a bunch of stolen dick pics and illegal metadata is beyond us. After engineers tweaked some of Zuckerberg's wires, the walking gaffe machine realized he had made a mistake and apologized. "Reading some of the comments," he wrote. "I realize this wasn't clear, and I'm sorry to anyone this offended." So at least his passive-aggressive chip is still working fine.

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3
A Movie Lost Its Entire Box Office On A Stupid Contest

After half a million Marvel movies, everyone is now accustomed to seeing some vaguely enticing post-credit scene that tricks audiences into spreading fan theories and giving Disney free publicity. But in the '80s, that kind of audience manipulation was still being tested. And one movie didn't just overdraw its ambition, but also its bank account.

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Million Dollar Mystery is a trash movie. Literally. Sponsored by Glad Bags, the 1987 movie was a 95-minute glorified commercial where nobody actors searched for treasure hidden in (you guessed it) brand new Glad trash bags. And if you're thinking: "You'd have to pay me to watch that garbage," the movie's infamous producer Dino De Laurentiis saw that coming. So at the end of the flick, one of the characters breaks the fourth wall and informs the viewer that there is still one more garbage bag with $1 million missing and that, if they picked up the clues throughout the movie, they could win all that filthy lucre.

Emphasis on filthy.Wikimedia Commons/TomwsulcerEmphasis on filthy.

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Except that Dino didn't see two things coming. One, that MDM would be such an enormous flop that, aside from four Razzie nominations, it only garnered $980,000 at the box office. That's a few thou short of recouping the contest even, let alone the movie's entire $9.5 million budget. Secondly, that the clues were so laughably easy that hundreds of audience members immediately deduced that the money was hidden in the Statue of Liberty's nose. With the contest winner picked at random, the million dollars was given to a high school sophomore Alesia Lenae Jones who said she was going to use it to buy a pony, braces, and put the rest in a trust fund, proving she'd spend that money more wisely than the terrible makers of Million Dollar Mystery ever would.

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2
IBM Encouraged Women To Get Into Tech By Hacking Their Hair Dryer

Ever since the first caveman published his manifesto on why cavewomen are genetically unfit to make fire, tech has been an awkward boys' club. But over the past decades, the industry has made efforts to better reach out to women and invite them into their male-dominated STEM workplaces. And for IBM, that meant telling them to prove their worth by tearing apart their precious hairdryers.

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IBM is one of the oldest tech companies in the world, and like any oldster, it doesn't always know how to court diversity. In 2015, their marketing team (which had to include zero women) decided to run a campaign encouraging young women to experiment with electronics. And what's the only piece of electronics school girls care about, these PR geniuses reckoned? Their hair dryer, of course, so the company launched its #HackAHairdryer initiative, telling ladies to step out that kitchen for a moment, fiddle around with their hairdryers and send the results over to Daddy IBM.

We know you love talking on the phone too, sweetheart, but those are a bit too complicated for you.Pxhere"We know you love talking on the phone too, sweetheart, but those are a bit too complicated for you."

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And it's not like IBM didn't have the chance to backtrack. The ill-advised campaign was ignored for months before female scientists started stumbling onto the sexist video. After the kind of blowback you can only get from a hacked hairdryer, the company issued a statement on Twitter, apologizing and reminding everyone that asking women to fix hair dryers was merely "part of a larger campaign to promote STEM careers" that we assume involved hacking many more items you can find in a Barbie Dreamhouse.

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1
Fools Keep Flying Low Planes Over New York City

The most convincing argument against government conspiracies is meeting a government official. Do you really think that the people who can't even fix potholes or keep an affair covered up would ever be able to organize and hush up grand hoaxes? And if you think they're too dumb to hush up events, they're not much better at publicizing them.

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In 2009, the White House PR department was having a whale of a time. President Obama was killing it in the polls and their recent campaign of patriotic pictures of Air Force One over the Grand Canyon had been a smash hit. So to keep the good times going, they decided to stick to the winning formula and have a similar photoshoot over another iconic US skyline: New York City. So with the US Air Force, the country's smartest strategists whose only job it is to make the people feel safe from air threats, they approved an Air Force One lookalike to do a low-hanging fly-by of the center of New York City. In the same decade as 9/11. Without warning the public.

Is it a bird? Is it a terrorist threat?Flickr/U.S. Embassy, JakartaIs it a bird? Is it a terrorist threat?

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On April 27th, with the President giving a televised speech on the other side of the country, the people of New York City saw an unscheduled Air Force One and two fighter planes hanging low and barreling toward the center of New York City and Ground Zero. While the government had informed the NYPD of this, it had specifically barred them from warning the people of New York for maximum authenticity. And authentic is exactly how they responded, with screaming and sobbing citizens as far as New Jersey being evacuated from high rise buildings.

The unfortunate fly-by was a political nightmare, with a "furious" NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg claiming he only found out when his phone almost exploded with the angry calls of his constituents. In the aftermath, the director of the White House Military Office had to fall on his decorative saber and the photo-op PR stunt was grounded for life.

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That is, until 2020, when JetBlue tried nearly the exact same stunt to cheer up a city ravaged by the outbreak of COVID-19. Because if there's any way to get New Yorkers' minds off the fact that their city has suffered a 27,000+ virus death toll in a matter of months, it's inadvertently invoking the deadliest terrorist attack in history. (In business school, that's what the experts call "synergy.")

RG Jordan is not big on social media but he is big on working and eating food so you can contact him at RGJordan4 at gmail dot com if you think his words are funny or insightful.

Top Image: Flickr/lyncconf.com

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