These Promotional Campaigns Backfired Big Time

The line between roaring success and humiliating disaster is so, so thin in the world of advertising.

Promotional Campaigns

If anything, Malaysia Airlines badly needs some fresh wind under their wings. Realizing just that, they launched a promotional campaign aiming to boost their business- except that the campaign began by asking people what countries are on their “bucket list” to visit!

Whoa! Backfire!

Needless to say the words ‘bucket list’ and their recent track record do not go well together!

Thankfully they realized the mistake and pulled back the campaign.

Tragic as their choice of words may have been, mistakes such as these are neither new nor rare in the world of advertisement.

Here are just 5 such disastrous campaigns:

Pepsi’s Philippines Fiasco

Promotional Campaigns

In the early 90s, in an attempt to beat Coca Cola in the Southeast Asian market, Pepsi  started a campaign called "Number Fever," in the Philippines. People were encouraged to ‘contract the disease’ by purchasing Pepsi and finding a bottle cap with the winning three-digit code. The lucky winner would receive 1 million pesos (about $40,000 U.S.).

The campaign was a hit so much so that that Pepsi expanded the number of prizes to over 1,500 and extended the contest for an extra five weeks.

Finally, when the contest was over, it was estimated that more than half of the Philippines' population of 63 million people had participated.

An integral part of this plan was that while drawing for the winner, certain numbers like 340 would not be included in the draw. Guess what, someone slipped up and forgot all about it. So when they drew the winner’s number, it was 349- a number that had been printed on no less than 800,000 bottle caps.

Of course, Pepsi could not pay off such a large number of people.  They tried covering up by telling the winners that the caps didn't contain the correct security code. It’s not difficult to guess how the winners reacted  to that.

They went berserk, attacked Pepsi plants, burned their trucks and sued them..

Fiat Turned Stalker In Spain

Promotional Campaigns

In 1992, Italian car company Fiat tried to get cute with their promotional campaign. As part of this, they mailed out love letters to their targeted customers who happened to be independent, single women.

Their big faux pas was that they didn’t sign or monogram those letters or indicated in any way that they were part of a promotional campaign.  So imagine the reaction, when hundreds of women all over Spain got love letters in their mailbox with claims like, "We met again on the street yesterday and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction," and asked them to join the author for "a little adventure."

Did we mention that each letter was personally addressed?

Women freaked out en masse. The campaign backfired in a big way.

We are sure the folks over at Fiat are still wondering why they even initiated such a promotion.

Starbucks’ Dip In The 9/11 Tragedy

Less than one year after the tragic 9/11 incident, Starbucks released their new ad campaign.

Have a look:

Promotional Campaigns

It didn’t take long at all for people to join the invisible dots and read the inevitable resemblance between the two drinks standing side by side not unlike the former World Trade Center towers had and a dragonfly angling for a direct collision course with one of the drinks...

People reacted. End of campaign.

World Wildlife Fund’s 9/11 reference

Promotional Campaigns

If you think the Starsbucks’ 9/11 reference was insensitive, WWF’s was even more cringeworthy.  In their bid to draw attention to the devastation caused by the East Asian Tsunami, they ended up illustrating the size of the disaster by re-imagining 9/11 and showing hundreds of jets flying towards the World Trade Center.

Bad idea, right? Worse, actually because of the timing. This campaign was launched around the time of the tragic event’s 8th anniversary.

Weight Watchers’ Horrible, Horrible Timings

Promotional Campaigns

In 1997 Weight Watchers kicked off a brand new ad campaign featuring the then Princess of the United Kingdom, Sarah, Duchess of York. The ad featured a beaming Fergie as well as the declaration that losing weight was "harder than outrunning the paparazzi."

Well, that happened to be right around Princess Diana’s tragic death. In fact, just a week before the event. They had been working on the campaign for weeks and couldn’t have predicted the events about to take place. Their print work had gone to press the very same week, the direct mail brochures had already been sent out, and print ads had gone to magazines including Glamour and Self.

They managed to contact people, get the printing on hold but the direct mail brochures had already been in people’s hands.  There were some extremely embarrassing explanations to give.

Spirit Airlines’ Spill Slip

Promotional Campaigns

Spirit Airlines learned the hard way that oil spills were nothing to joke about. Not that they had intended any jokes.

All they were culpable of using the tagline, “Check Out The Oil On Our Beaches.”

All they had probably aimed at was to stay topical by referencing the Gulf oil spill in their travel ads.

They did not expect that backlash and had to pull the ads, although Spirit maintained people simply misunderstood their message.

"It is unfortunate that some have misunderstood our intention with today's beach promotion," the airline said. "We are merely addressing the false perception that we have oil on our beaches, and we are encouraging customers to support Florida and our other beach destinations by continuing to travel to these vacation hot spots."

Molson: Promoting underage drinking

Promotional Campaigns

Beer giant Molson launched a Facebook campaign in a bid to win customers through social media. Smart move in this day and age- had it been planned well!

They ran a campaign to find the best party school in Canada asking fans to submit their craziest photos via Facebook, with the winner getting a trip to Cancun.

They were flooded with pictures of students, many of them underage, in drinking binges.

What also poured in along with these photos were angry letters from schools, parents and government officials.

Molson were forced to cancel the promotion but not before they learned a grave lesson in marketing.

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