When Ad Campaigns Go Horribly Wrong…

On today’s Yahoo News items, they had an article entitled “10 Promotional Stunts That Horribly Backfired“, which told of a number of major consumer advertising campaigns that didn’t end up the way the client or the agency had hoped. They named some top brands like Sony, Pepsi, KFC and McDonald’s, all of which paid BIG dollars for those creative minds, not to mention the media spend and other expenses.

My favorite of their stories was the Snapple soft drinks company attempt at a Guinness World Record for the largest ice pop, and in this case they went with the tasty “kiwi-strawberry drink.” The problem: The stunt took place mid-June. Immediately upon unloading, the melted juice poured from the truck, creating a syrupy tidal wave down Union Square and a massive headache for cleanup crews. The worst part — aside from the few minor injuries: The 25-foot-tall ice pop needed to be free-standing to be declared a record.

This reminded me of a hot summer day many years ago, when my then client a well known chip manufacturer was holding its 25th birthday party and circus event in their company parking lot. Simple task for us, organize rides, games, give-a-ways and a 25 foot long birthday cake. The problem: 108 degrees outside in what was a record-breaking heat wave for San Jose, and a 25 foot birthday cake that was melting faster than we could clean up the mess. Add to it, no one knew there was a Bee Keeper with over 1000 hives just a few blocks from the campus. Yep, you get the picture! I can laugh about it now, but then OMG, bees everywhere, people running, kids screaming and our client in a complete melt-down. Oh the horror! LOL.

My other memory of things that have gone wrong, was with a client we had just lost to another agency. The now defunct Valco Mall in Cupertino, California had selected an agency in San Francisco to handle their upcoming holiday campaign. Frankly, I was a bit miffed about losing the account, especially after having been with them for a number of years, but when a new marketing manager comes in, sometimes out goes the old vendors and in with the new.

The problem: The new agency decided to do a number of fashion ads, which featured the local San Jose Sheriff. The Sheriff by the way was running for re-election, so it was a smart move for him to get all that free publicity. Or not. In this case, the ads featured the Sheriff hand-cuffing young scantily-clad girls, and unfortunately for the Sheriff, the pictures almost looked X-rated. Women libbers from all around the Bay Area protested, wrote letters, and demonstrated at the Mall.

I can still remember the agency owner saying on TV when interviewed, “Even bad PR is good PR.” Not so good for the agency and the new marketing director, they got fired. As for the Sheriff, you guessed it, he lost the election. Ok, I feel a little bad about what happened…LOL. Glad it wasn’t me.

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August 2009

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