9 Poorly Conceived Marketing Campaigns

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9 Poorly Conceived Marketing Campaigns

The world of marketing is a tricky thing. Most companies need to get the word out about their new product or service, but finding the best way to do it is often easier said than done when you want to be memorable, informative and entertaining all at the same time. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Lose so very badly.

Here are nine examples of poorly conceived marketing campaigns that left the companies behind them with pie on their face.

The Campaign: Panasonic Woody

Panasonic Woody
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The Plan: Market a new touch screen PC with Woody Woodpecker as a spokesman

The Story: Back in the 90’s, Panasonic was all about making the Japanese home PC the awesomest thing it could be. User friendly, cool and down with the modern age. So naturally they got Woody Woodpecker to be the spokesman because 200 year old American cartoons really speak to Japanese consumers. With their Civil War era cartoon tie-in secured, the marketing team took the next logical step by naming the computer “The Woody.” The Woody, as you might expect, was superior to other computers because of its touch screen capabilities, which were naturally called “Touch Woody.” When an American finally explained why this made so many foreigners laugh like children, Panasonic managed to drop the “Touch Woody” name and shift focus to some of the PC’s other features including its support system, the much more maturely named “Internet Pecker.”

The Campaign: Wang Computers

Wang Computer
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The Plan: Think up a clever, memorable slogan to advertise Wang Computers

The Story: Wang was founded by someone named A. Wang and thus never really had a chance of not being the butt of numerous jokes from the minds of 12 year olds, or just people who think like 12 year olds. Not putting much effort into bettering its image or thinking too hard on how to make the word Wang not sound like a joke, they released the slogan “Wang Cares” on a snickering United Kingdom. While it’s nice to imagine yourself as a having some manner of corporate accountability, Wang Cares sounds a hell of a lot like wankers which just means masturbators and isn’t really the most effective way to sell a computer.

The Campaign: Renault 14

Renault 14
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The Plan: Market the Renault by drawing on its similarities to pears, since they’re kind of the same shape

The Story: Deciding that likening an ugly car to an ugly fruit was a good idea, French automaker Renault tried to launch a campaign that compared the Renault 14 to a pear. The fact that “poire,” in French, can mean both pear and gullible was apparently lost completely on the manufacturers, as was the fact that no one really wants a car that looks like a pear, basically meaning it’s a short, fat ass automobile and is the vehicular equivalent of taking a ride on that little psychic lady from the Poltergeist movies. On top of this, the car had an issue with body corrosion, leading people to start calling it “the rotten pear,” as “worthless crap” was not entirely media friendly and didn’t really include a pun.

The Campaign: Calvin Klein Scary Porno Ads

Calvin Klein Scary Porno Ads
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The Plan: Since sex sells, make some gritty, realistic commercials featuring young people in various states of undress

The Story: In the mid 1990’s, Calvin Klein, already pretty damn successful at what they did, decided it might be fun to make every human on earth who is not required by law to tell people when they move into the neighborhood uncomfortable by launching a series of ads featuring teenagers in a basement. Oh, and also they were mostly naked and being filmed by an unseen lecherous cameraman who asked inappropriate questions and told teenage boys they looked like they worked out. The campaign managed to get the FBI to investigate to see if anything illegal had occurred and Calvin Klein pulled the ads and issued an apology, because who knew insinuations of pedophilic porno wouldn’t capture the hearts of America?

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The Campaign: Sony PSP

Sony PSP
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The Plan: Tap into the online youth market by trying to create a viral, amateur-feel campaign

The Story: Sony, generally considered by many to be pretty reliable and cutting edge when it comes to cool home electronics, decided to put the marketing of their PSP system in the hands of complete and total assholes. Treading into the dangerous waters of viral marketing, the ad agency Zipatoni made a terrible, terrible video of some dude rapping about how he wanted a PSP for Christmas and posted it on Youtube along with links to a website. That alone might not have killed Sony, but they added fake comments on Youtube and other sites, including hip slang filled conversations like this one put them over the edge:

here’s the deal::: i (charlie) have a psp. my friend jeremy does not. but he wants one this year for xmas.

so we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j’s parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift. we created this site to spread the luv to those like j who want a psp!

Wow, look at all that bad grammar, this must be legit and awesome. Let’s all get PSPs. Never once was it mentioned that Sony was behind this at all and everything was presented as being strictly fan made. The campaign was torn apart viciously and exposed over at Somethingawful.com, and managed to create near unheard of hatred amongst Sony’s target audience. Sony responded with what may be an apology but mostly comes off as the sad attempt of a clueless parent to speak the language of the kids with gems like this “As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn’t a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony” in it. The videos were taken down and the site now redirects to Haagen-Dazs.com.

The Campaign: Anti-Drug Campaign

Anti-Drug Campaign
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The Plan: Alert the public to some of the unknown dangers associated with illegal drugs in an effort to further curb drug use

The Story: It’s not just corporate America that can screw up royally when it comes to trying to sell a line of garbage to the general public. The Office of National Drug Control Policy managed to spend nearly one billion dollars on an anti-drug campaign, including $10 million on commercials that suggested if you use drugs you support terrorism. A five year evaluation of the campaign showed absolutely nothing. No evidence whatsoever that drug use was being curbed in the slightest as a result of the commercials and advertising, which is stunning considering how those “this is your brain” egg commercials from the 80’s managed to completely eliminate heroin and crack.

Making things worse for the anti-drug campaign was some emerging studies that showed children were more inclined to be curious about trying illegal drugs after see anti-drug ads than if they had seen no ads at all, meaning the government had been spending about $1 billion to make kids wonder if horse tranquilizers were a delicious alternative to pixie stix.

The Campaign: McDonald’s “I’d Hit it”

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The Plan: Appeal to the hip, younger crowd by using slang terms they’re familiar with in advertisements

The Story: Realistically McDonald’s probably doesn’t even need to advertise anymore. They’re located on pretty much every other block in every town on the face of the Earth. If you don’t know about McDonald’s at this point, odds are you will never know and likely don’t want to know.

Nonetheless, McDonald’s strives to continually think up new slogans and campaigns on a regular basis to keep themselves at the forefront of Mcminds all around the world. And back in 2005, they figured they’d be hip and trendy if they co-opted some of that hip slang the kids love so much. Unfortunately, no one on staff in McDonalds marketing has apparently ever spoken to anyone under the age of 30 in person and thus had no idea what they were talking about. The result was the “I’d hit it” campaign for their dollar menu, featuring the image of a young man staring longingly at a burger with the words “I’d Hit It” separating the two of them. This would have been fine if we live din a world where no one has a problem with someone basically saying they want to have sex with a hamburger, but we don’t. And that’s what “I’d hit it” means.

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We can only guess at what marketing execs assumed it meant, but you know what happens when you make assumptions.

The Campaign: Molson Hunts for College Drunks

Molson Hunts for College Drunks
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The Plan: Use social media to run a contest in an effort to gain cheap, easy publicity and extend the brand to target markets

The Story: Molson, one of the biggest brewers in Canada, has a pretty firm market share in the beer drinking world. But lord knows you never want to slip when it comes to advertising booze as your customer base is made up entirely of people prone to black out and forget things, so you need to keep your name on their slurry lips at all times.

Because 19-24 year olds are such a key demographic for selling just about everything, Molson launched a campaign to target university students. While legal drinking age in the US may be 21, in many Canadian provinces it’s or 19. The campaign, launched on Facebook, asked students to send in their craziest party pics in an effort to track down the top party school in the country with the winner getting a trip to Cancun where presumably they would drink tea and learn about Mexican culture. This translates into “how drunk can you get on camera?” The problem, of course, is the number of 17 and 18 year old university students as well as most schools’ desire not to be known nationally as “that drunk school.”

Universities immediately called out Molson for promoting irresponsible drinking and many parents took the time to register complaints as apparently mom and dad don’t like the idea of paying for their child’s education then having that same child’s drunken shenanigans at school used in beer promotions. Who knew? Molson ended the promotion early claiming they had only been interested in promoting school spirit and not excessive drinking, which seems like a plausible motivation for the country’s 3rd largest brewery.

The Campaign: GM Can’t Do Viral Marketing

GM Can’t Do Viral Marketing
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The Plan: Use viral marketing tactics and the element of user interactivity to allow people to create their own ads

The Story: General Motors had the brilliant idea of letting the public tinker with interactive software to make their very own ads online. Anyone who’s ever seen what happens to an unlocked marquee outside of a business should know right away why this is a bad idea, as letting anyone have carte blanche to say whatever they want about your product is not a good idea. In fact, it’s hard to imagine why GM thought this would turn out any better than it did.

Nonetheless, GM rolled out their campaign which let users pick video clips, soundtracks their own text-based messages to overlay on the finished product. Predictably, negative ads were produced by the boatload. People accused GM of contributing to global warming, of making poor quality vehicles or protested the war in Iraq. And those were the “good” ones. Other people chose the more “internet prankster” tack of simply lacing their commercials with obscenities.

GM’s bizarre response was to point out how the campaign was technically a success as they’d received millions of hits and most of the responses were in fact positive, while blindly ignoring the fact they’d received so many hits due to the sharing of the negative ads and no one was watching any of the so-called positive ones.

Leave a response
  • Breeee Bree
    February 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Just say no, Epic Fail

  • bobreaze
    February 18, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Drug campaign failed because it just raised kids sucpicions about marijuana then they did some research tried it and realized the governemtn just hates us.

  • Timmer
    February 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Well done. This was a great read.

  • Ian
    February 18, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    You are forgetting the Quizno’s subs commercials with those hamsters running all over the screen. That was the worst ad campaign ever.

  • February 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Very entertaining article….some ads were funny and I wonder if the person who approved some of these ads are still working for the company?? I did find Calvin Klein’s ad very disturbing.

  • February 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    These are great examples of “Marketing Gone Bad.”

    I particularly like that General Motors campaign imploded, because it is similar to what Doritos and Ford are doing; letting the fans take over the marketing (for free) by spending their own money to create videos pushing the product. I don’t have a problem with the ads being created; my problem is with the fact that these people are being coerced into doing it for free.

  • Javi Valca
    February 19, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I don’t think the McDonald’s one was poorly conceived at all and the people behind the campaign know exactly what it means. I actually found it fun and that was the point.

  • Gary
    February 26, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    The Wang computer tagline I heard referred to another computer company called A. B. Dick (they may have been a copier company). It went: “Pull out your A. B. Dick and put in a Wang.” Urban myth or not?

  • March 4, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Great article. Mix a little cross-cultural ignorance with corporate growth, add some short-sighted goals and mix with a pile of advertising arrogance, and they really shouldn’t be surprised with the results.

    I think a great number “10” for this list of 9 worst could be almost any ad from big pharma. So many of them are irresponsible in the way they add a large dose of fear to their ads.

  • September 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Really funny – companies pay big bucks to make big mistakes.
    Another good one from a long time ago is when Chevy tried to ship its popular car “Nova” to Latin American countries, problem… “No va” means “it doesn’t go (run)” in Spanish :)

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