Top 20 Worst Marketing Fails



Top 20 Worst Marketing Fails

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp & Michael Wynands
Not every marketing campaign is going to be a success, but these were downright horrible! For this list, we'll be looking at advertising campaigns or statements from major corporations that backfired horribly, resulting in tons of negative press. Our countdown includes Pepsi, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc., The Coca-Cola Company, Fiat, Ford Motor Company, and more!

Top 20 Marketing Fails

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 marketing fails.

For this list, we’ll be looking at advertising campaigns or statements from major corporations that backfired horribly, resulting in tons of negative press.

Can you think of any other marketing blunders? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!

#20: Live for Now

Titled “Live for Now”, this short film/commercial sees Kendall Jenner parting a protest like some kind of miraculous savior. By giving a can of Pepsi to a police officer, she unites them all using the power of soft drinks. The ad generated immediate criticism and was pulled just one day after its debut. Many critics argued that it insensitively borrowed elements from the Black Lives Matter movement, trivializing the protests and very real issues in the process. Others claimed that Pepsi was utilizing social justice causes for their own commercial benefit. Even Bernice King got in on the bashing, saying, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”

#19: An Illegal Weapon as a Giveaway

Electronic Arts
Producers of violent video games are always having to defend themselves from parent groups that claim that such entertainment makes impressionable young minds similarly violent. When EA sent out a pair of commemorative, but functional, brass knuckles along with early press copies of Godfather II… they really gave the naysayers an easy argument. Worse than being bad for PR, this stunt was actually illegal, given that brass knuckles are banned outright in many states. You can appreciate that EA was getting into the spirit of their property, but the distribution of contraband weaponry via mail isn’t something a company wants on their rap sheet. They quickly asked that the knuckles all be returned.


It can often be embarrassing when corporations try to relate to young people. In December of 2006, the website appeared. It was said to be a fan blog following the adventures of Charlie, who was attempting to get his friend Jeremy a PSP for Christmas. The blog featured your stereotypical hipster tweens, complete with deliberate misspellings like “beatz.” You know, to relate to all the cool kids! Visitors to the site immediately smelled something fishy and left some nasty comments, resulting in Charlie asking “yo where all u hatas com from...” The site’s URL was quickly tracked to an ad agency and Sony was forced to admit their ploy, asking “maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh?”.

#17: The ‘Endless Crab’ Fiasco

Red Lobster
Don’t offer up an all you can eat special on a popular and typically pricey item unless you’ve triple checked your calculations. Restaurants typically advertise doorbuster specials knowing that whatever the giveaway is, they’ll turn a profit on the complementary products they move. In the case of this 2003 Red Lobster promotion however, someone grossly underestimated American appetites for crustaceans. Crab-lovers took their seats and proceeded to order plate after plate of the stuff. By the third serving, the restaurant was in the red, by the fourth, significantly so. By the end of a promotion lasting several months, Red Lobster had lost roughly $3.3 million, tanking the parent company’s stock value. President Edna Morris stepped down.

#16: New Look

Holiday Inn
In 1997, Holiday Inn was spending a collective $1 billion to upgrade its numerous facilities. The best way to get that information across to the public? According to someone in marketing, by comparing it to a post-op trans woman! This Super Bowl commercial depicts men ogling an attractive woman at a class reunion. The narrator lists off the prices for the woman’s surgical work before a man realizes that he’s talking to an old male classmate. The narrator concludes: [broll: “Imagine what Holiday Inns will look like when we spend a billion.”] The ad received backlash and the company was forced to pull it from the air, saying, “We understand that the ad has offended some people. That was never our intention.”

#15: #myNYPD Photo Campaign

The relationship between police and the public in the United States remains fraught, with instances of police brutality coming under increasing scrutiny. In 2014, the NYPD decided to address the bad PR by asking people to tweet images of their interactions with police, using the hashtag #myNYPD. Unsurprisingly, this was an absolute disaster of epic proportions. Within hours, users flooded Twitter with photos of police brutality, including many taken during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Frankly, you have to wonder how they didn’t see this coming. The hashtag went viral, in all the worst ways possible.

#14: The World's Largest Popsicle… Melts

Cleanup on aisle three! And by that we mean Manhattan’s Union Square. In 2005, Snapple decided to go big in the promotional stunt department for their new icy treats - 25 feet tall and 171.5 tons big to be precise. Aiming to set a world record, they constructed a monolithic popsicle, and then attempted to unveil it before the public in downtown New York. But first, it had to be transported from Edison, New Jersey on a hot summer’s day. And sure enough, as anyone who’s ever eaten a popsicle could’ve predicted - it melted. The grand unveiling was more a torrent of sticky juice, one that firefighters had to be called in to wash away.

#13: Making the CEO’s Social Security Number Public

It’s one thing to put your money where your mouth is… but your identity and personal security? That’s too much to gamble in any situation. Nevertheless, in a well-intentioned but wildly inadvisable PR stunt, Todd Davis, the CEO of Lifelock, which offers protection against Identity Theft, put his social security number on the company website, claiming that thanks to his company’s products, it didn’t matter. In the only possible outcome… Davis was promptly defrauded by criminals who were only too willing to prove the man wrong. Not once… but a reported 13 times. This spectacular failure naturally undermined people’s faith in the company, which was fined millions for deceptive advertising.

#12: #susanalbumparty

Susan Boyle
Remember when Susan Boyle took the world by storm with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream?” Well, that eventually led to a contract and multiple studio albums, including 2012’s Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs from the Stage. In a joke straight out of “Arrested Development”, Boyle’s PR team decided to plug the album with the hashtag #susanalbumparty. It was an unfortunate choice of phrasing, as many people on social media hilariously read it as “Su’s anal bum party.” The hashtag trended on Twitter, with many people playing along and providing jokes or their own. Now let that be a lesson to PR teams everywhere.

#11: The Windows 98 Demo

Microsoft Corporation
Before you show off a fancy new toy, you should make sure it actually, you know, works. Unfortunately, Bill Gates and Microsoft product manager Chris Caposella were left scrambling on stage when the operating system decided to tap out during a presentation. While demonstrating Windows 98 at Comdex, Caposella plugged a scanner into the PC, resulting in the widely-feared blue screen of death. The audience laughed, clapped, and cheered in good humor while Caposella and Gates awkwardly smiled along, not really knowing what to do or how to react. They played it off well, with Gates even providing a cheeky little joke.

#10: The ‘Touch Woody’ PC & Its Equally Laughable Advertising

Back in the 1990s when personal computing was still finding its footing, Panasonic managed to come up with possibly the worst name and marketing possible. In an attempt to emphasize the user-friendly nature of this new Japanese computer, they licensed the Woody Woodpecker character to be used as not only the mascot, but the computer’s namesake as well. Meet “The Woody”! But wait… it gets worse. Because it boasted a touch screen, the Japanese company put out early promotional materials, with the tagline "Touch Woody - The Internet Pecker." Seriously… we couldn’t make this stuff up. Once they realized their mistake, they made some last minute changes, but “"Woody Touch Screen" isn’t much better.

#9: Free Flights

Though it’s hard to fathom in hindsight, back in the early ‘90s, someone at Hoover thought that it would be a good deal to offer free flights to British customers who bought 100 British pounds (somewhere around $175 USD in 1992) worth of their products. At first, the flights were limited to within Europe, but in a move that resulted in things really getting out of hand, the company eventually added U.S. destinations. The money people had to spend was the fraction of a normal ticket price, and so, people bought vacuums just for the trip. Utterly overwhelmed by the results, Hoover backed out of its promise, fired executives and lost tens of millions of dollars.

#8: Ayds

The Carlay Company
For decades, this product enjoyed healthy sales, its popularity peaking in the ‘70s to early ‘80s. Coming in a wide variety of sweet flavors, Ayds was widely touted and marketed as an appetite-suppressant. The manufacturer couldn’t have predicted the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, but the connections were immediately made. It also didn’t help the product’s case that significant weight loss is a symptom of the disease. And it’s really unfortunate that the company had actors and models claiming “The Ayds diet plan really works!” By the late ‘80s, sales of Ayds had dropped 50%, and the candy was eventually taken off the market.

#7: KKK Wednesday

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc.
Sometimes, an idea is just so baffling and obviously problematic that it’s a wonder no one caught it earlier. This is one of those cases. To cash in on children being out of school, a Krispy Kreme franchise in Hull, England created a promotion titled KKK Wednesday. It was meant to stand for “Krispy Kreme Klub Wednesday,” but people obviously connected it to the Ku Klux Klan. Krispy Kreme was quick to apologize, delete the promotion off Facebook, and launch an internal investigation into the major slip-up. Someone definitely got fired over this one.

#6: #UpForWhatever

As part of their #UpforWhatever campaign in 2015, Bud Lite featured various slogans on their bottles. One unfortunately read: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpforWhatever.” According to Vice President of Bud Light Alexander Lambrecht, it was meant to suggest a sense of adventure. However, many people thought it sounded like Bud Light was undermining the concept of consent and promoting sexual assault. In response, Lambrecht admitted that the message had missed the mark, and vowed to cease production of that particular label.

#5: “Total Crap”

Ratners Group
In 1991, Gerald Ratner was serving as chairman and CEO of Ratners Group, a jewelry retailer. The company was incredibly popular in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. That is, until 1991, when Ratner made a speech addressing the Institute of Directors. He called the company’s cheap sherry decanter “total crap” and criticized their gold earrings. While those in attendance laughed at Ratner’s jokes, the company’s value instantly deflated. Ratner’s comments got him fired, nearly bankrupted the company, and forced them to change their name to Signet Group. Today, the phrase “doing a Ratner,” is still used whenever a corporate gaff tarnishes a brand’s reputation.

#4: Anonymous Love Letters

When you’re looking to buy a new car, you’re expecting a simple and professional exchange. In the early ‘90s however, Fiat broke with that time-honored dynamic and decided to mail anonymous love letters to the demographic of women in Spain they were targeting with their new Cinquecento hatchbacks. These letters were personally addressed, bore no Fiat branding and adopted the voice and perspective of the car. Characterized as an admirer, the car wrote stuff like "we met again on the street yesterday and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction." Except, again, there was NO context… just a letter, so naturally, some 50,000 recipients thought they had a stalker.

#3: Number Fever

As an attempt to increase sales in the Philippines, Pepsi held what seemed like a pretty standard numbered bottle cap giveaway, but with a big prize of 1 million pesos (or $40,000 USD). The promotion worked wonders and Pepsi experienced an astronomical rise in sales. Certain popular numbers, such as 349, were supposed to be eliminated from the grand prize draw, but somewhere the wires got crossed, and 349 was wrongly picked and announced as the winning number. The result? Hundreds of thousands of winners expecting a $40,000 payout. Pepsi backed out of the promise, and riots ensued. Pepsi faced lawsuits, trucks were burned and people were actually killed.

#2: Edsel

Ford Motor Company
Ford has made some great vehicles throughout the years. The Edsel was not one of them. A ton of advertising went into the Ford Edsel, as it was the first new Ford brand since the Mercury. Founded in 1956, Edsel looked to compete in the mid-budget market alongside the Chrysler Dodge and the GM Pontiac. As it had been twenty years since the Mercury, expectations were high, and Ford pumped upwards of $250 million into production, market research, and advertising. In 2020, that would equate to roughly $2.3 billion. However, Edsel was a massive failure owing to a wide range of circumstances (including a recession and the cars being overhyped and poorly made). It was discontinued just three years after its debut.

#1: New Coke

The Coca-Cola Company
Coca-Cola is the most popular soft drink in the world and it’s been around since 1886. They’re clearly doing something right. Yet in the mid ‘80s, they decided to go against the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and released New Coke to a largely unresponsive public. At the time, popularity of Coke was waning owing to increased competition. They changed the formula to boost sales, but the result was the exact opposite. Everyone hated it, sales slumped, and Pepsi gloated, even taking out a full page ad in The New York Times to declare themselves the winner of the Cola Wars. New Coke lasted just 79 days before the company announced it would be returning to the classic formula.