US Data Corporation Direct Marketing Blog

15 Worst Marketing Blunders of All-Time7:00 am

By Guest Blogger

Every company has a marketing budget that they use to pay the best and brightest in ad campaign creation, to create terrific new branding initiatives, slogans, and commercials. The goal: motivate you, John Q. Buyer, to part with your hard-earned dollars. While it often works out, sometimes these companies fall flat on their faces. Some setbacks are easy to recover from, while others can lead to the downfall of an entire brand.

Following are 15 of the Worst Marketing Blunders of All-Time. While none of these campaigns accomplished their missions, they did leave a lasting impression that’s hard to forget years after they were unleashed on the public.

1. New Coke

New Coke tampered with a century old formula that, despite falling market shares, still resonated soundly with the public. What made New Coke such a bad marketing idea is that it essentially celebrated 100 years of a popular product by throwing out the formula people had grown to love and replacing it with something unproven. Its creation was an inadvertent admission that its primary competitor Pepsi had won the “cola wars,” something the Choice of a New Generation quickly took advantage of when doing battle with the soda pop originator. Coca-Cola executives soon learned from the mistake however, and brought back the old formula.


2. Ford Edsel

The Ford Edsel cost Ford Motor Company a $400 million investment before crashing and burning inside of three years. One of the biggest problems with the Edsel was that it was competing against itself, matching retail value on many of the cars in Ford’s established Mercury line without bringing anything new to the table. Another problem was the economic recession of 1957. And still another was the fact that it was a jumble of both Ford and Mercury parts with zero quality control since there was no separate Edsel manufacturing facility. This lead to a number of mechanical issues that killed demand!


3. Honda Asimo

Honda Asimo might not actually be that bad of an idea if Honda could ever get the kinks worked out. The approximately 4-foot tall, 119-pound astronaut child is capable of a wide range of movements, all but endangering the butler profession if not for one tiny little setback: the thing is very clumsy. Youtube and a variety of other video streaming websites proudly display the very public screw-ups of the Asimo in all their glory. A better use of Honda’s marketing efforts would be to take Asimo on the road as part of a new robotic slapstick comedy tour.


4. Circuit City DIVX

DIVX, or Digital Video Express, was the would be combatant with DVD when the home video movement advanced from VHS in the late 90’s. Circuit City-you know, the failed electronics big box?-lost more than $114 million in the venture. They went out of business in 2009. The DIVX format was not unlike DVD, except you had to buy the disc for around four bucks. It would be playable for 48 hours after the first watch. From there, you had to purchase additional play time. And the machine itself tied up your phone line, which, at the time, was the only way you had of logging on the Internet. Viewers found the machines entirely too complicated to understand and opted instead to support DVD, a format that would allow you to simply buy the title and watch it (a much better idea in our estimations).


5. Ayds Diet Candy

After a strong sales showing in the appetite suppressant market during the 70’s, the Ayds brand had the unfortunate circumstance of trying to find an audience right around the time AIDS was scaring the hell out of people across the world. Considering that AIDS was, at the time, a disease that withered its victims away to nothing, the fact that Ayds was sold as a weight loss product created a sort of double whammy for the marketing campaign. Sometimes marketing disasters are man-made. For this one, Fate seemed to play a significant role.


6. Casa Sanchez Tattoos

Marketing experts agree that the San Francisco eatery Casa Sanchez would have lost millions of dollars had they not capped off the craziness surrounding their 1999 tattoos promotion. According to the campaign, if a customer got a tattoo of the Casa Sanchez logo, they could eat there for free for the rest of their lives. Co-owner Martha Sanchez didn’t expect there to be a huge response, but in an April 1, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, she revealed that they quickly had to cap the number at 50. The promotion was recently revamped by Casa Sanchez, though wisely, with new restrictions. The tattoo must be a certain size. The meal is only one per day. And prospects must be interviewed by Ms. Sanchez herself to make sure they are a good fit.


7. Calvin Klein’s Sex Sells Campaign (to Minors)

Sometimes a marketing failure doesn’t exactly equate with a financial failure. Calvin Klein proved this twice through his unofficially titled “sex sells” campaign. The first occurrence was in 1995 when Klein placed teenage boys and girls in sleazy recreational rooms and photographed them in suggestive poses wearing next to nothing. Parents and parents groups hated it, but kids loved it. (Of course, they did.) Klein went back to the well in 1999 with an even younger group. Seriously, some of these kids didn’t even look like they were in grade school. Somehow the fashion magnate thought it would be a good idea to stick them in underwear and apply the sexy black and white lens of his usual ads. People HATED it, and the ads were pulled in 24 hours.


8. The Beatles Yesterday and Today “Butcher” Album

The Beatles 1966 “Yesterday and Today” album-we’re talking the original cover-thrust the world’s favorite band into a sick and twisted light that even member George Harrison hated. The idea, known as “the Butcher Cover,” features a dismembered baby doll with meat cuts strewn all over the place. It was the Beatles’ worst selling album, even after the cover was reissued shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, check your closets, these babies are rare and a “sealed” copy of the album can sell for as much as $30,000.


9. O.M.G.I.G.P. Vomit Girl from Microsoft

Dean Cain starred in the 2009 Microsoft ad campaign, known as the “Oh my God, I’m gonna puke” commercial (see video here), that announced the arrival of Internet Explorer 8. While we do have to give the company some props for humor, that is negated by the fact they lost sight of their target audience: virtually every computer user in the world. The ad features a wife asking to use her husband’s laptop when he’s through. What she sees launches her into a vomiting frenzy.


10. Farewell to the King…Burger King That Is

The folks at BK tried to make a star out of the Burger King for years starting in 2003, and all they ever got was that same consensus reaction: creepy. Of course, they didn’t set a good precedent with the King on their initial commercial. Who wants to wake up in bed next to a guy with a head the size of the Elephant Man’s? First quarter 2011 sales for BK were down 6%, and while we don’t think it’s fair to lay it all at his throne, the King certainly hasn’t been helping matters. The campaign was officially ended in August, 2011.


11. Above the Influence: Puppet on a String

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign may support a noble cause with its Above the Influence campaign launched in June 2010, but one of their least powerful commercials is counterproductive to the group’s overall message. Instead of
showing the true horrors that occur as repercussions to drug use, they instead use the “Puppet on a String” advertisement to show party goers pulling a harmful and, quite frankly, funny joke on a girl, who has passed out from drug use (watch the video here). Choosing such a harmless dramatization decreases the importance of their anti-drug campaign and when compared to other more powerful spots, proves the old adage, “You win some, you lose some.” Loss.


12. Get Some Nuts: Mr. T Hates Speed Walkers

A marketing effort ceases to be effective when it displays an underlying message that is so blatantly overpowering, you lose sight of the product. Such is the case with the 2007 Mr. T “Get Some Nuts” promotion from Snickers (check out the video here). In the spot, Mr. T terrorizes a speed walker with effeminate tendencies by shooting Snickers bars at him through a Gatling gun. In the process, he “pities the fool” and criticizes him for his choice of exercise. Not surprisingly, LGBT support groups decried the message Snickers was sending to people about how it’s okay to discriminate against someone based on mannerisms.


13. Tom Ford Vaginal Fragrance Ad

Taking a page from Calvin Klein’s book, the fragrance line from Tom Ford decided to screw subtlety and launch a 2007 campaign that consisted solely of a woman with her legs spread wide, the only thing separating you from her special place being a bottle of their scent. Not sure what the message is, but the first thing that occurs to us is, “This fragrance smells exactly like what it is covering up.” We’re assuming that isn’t something that’s going to appeal to the masses.


14. Skittles Kill People: Touch the Rainbow Campaign

Skittles took a page out of the King Midas playbook with their 2008 ad campaign about a guy, who turns everything he touches in to Skittles. This somewhat clever ploy takes a dark turn, however, when the man in question bemoans the curse that his Skittles Touch truly is, stating that he can’t hold his newborn grandson in his arms and that he accidentally killed a man on the bus that he met earlier in the day (watch the video here). “He’ll never see his family again.”


15. Life Call: I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

Life Call’s product was designed to help senior citizens, and we suppose it did. But with the horribly acted 1989 commercials-you remember “I’m having chest pains!” and “I’ve fallen. And I CAN’T GET UP!”-the company turned situations that were meant to be serious into fodder for just about every bad sitcom and stand-up comedian of the late 80’s, early 90’s.


In summary, this list of the 15 Worst Marketing Blunders of All-Time has a little nostalgic trip down memory lane for everyone, young and old. But as with most lists, I’m sure we’ve missed some great marketing fails by other companies, large and small. What should have made the list? Sound off below. We want to hear your comments!



Sign up for our free mailing list to receive our newsletter, special promotions, and more!

Follow Us

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ RSS Feed

Like Us on Facebook

Learn More About...

Email Marketing

Marketing Strategy

Direct Mail Marketing

Data Cards

Fun Marketing Facts

Mobile Marketing

Social Media

Happy Client Highlight

Work Tips

Recent Posts

5 Tips for Convincing Clients to Try New Marketing Strategies

Is Direct Mail Marketing Still Effective with Millennials?

Email Marketing Relevancy Is More Important Than Ever

5 Black Friday and Cyber Monday Email Marketing Guidelines

Marketing 101: What is Direct Marketing?


April 2017

January 2017

November 2016

October 2016

September 2016

August 2016

July 2016

June 2016

May 2016

April 2016

March 2016

February 2016

January 2016

December 2015

November 2015

October 2015

September 2015

August 2015

July 2015

June 2015

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015

February 2015

January 2015

December 2014

November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

November 2013

October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012

June 2012

May 2012

April 2012

March 2012

February 2012

January 2012

December 2011

November 2011

October 2011

September 2011

August 2011

July 2011

June 2011