U Gotta Have This – WIF Consumer Corner

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Marketing Campaigns

That Went

Horribly Wrong

Marketing is definitely not a science. They can teach it in school, people can claim to be experts in it, but sometimes even the most successful businesses and brands drop the ball in absolutely stunning ways. A good campaign is a rare thing, and it inspires consumers to go out and consume your products. Most campaigns are perhaps effective but forgettable at the same time. And then a select few are bungled so badly that they’ll be talked about for years to come and used as examples of what you should never, ever do. Like these:

10. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Bomb Scare

It’s a good rule of thumb that if your advertising campaign immediately invokes a police response because people think you placed improvised explosive devices around the city you’ve done something wrong. This was the case in 2007 with a guerrilla marketing campaign for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie in Boston. Turner Broadcasting took responsibility for a series of LED light displays that were placed on buildings depicting the Mooninites characters. For whatever reason, when people saw these with their hastily wired and powered frames, complete with some electrical tape and exposed wiring, they determined it must have been a terror attack in the making.

Word is that it took the intervention of a staffer at the Boston mayor’s office before law enforcement officials even realized what was going on. Because everyone who had fallen under the impression that these were explosives was too old to know what Aqua Teen Hunger Force was, only this young staffer was able to point out that this was a cartoon character everyone was getting so worked up about. The whole debacle was labelled a bomb hoax even though no one was implying there were any bombs anywhere and while it did garner some attention, it was probably not what the producers of the show were hoping for.

9. Miracle Mattress’s 9/11 Nightmare

Every year in September we remember the events of 9/11, and often businesses will do something to commemorate the somber occasion. In 2016, Miracle Mattress in Texas decided that their best method of memorializing the events of September 11th would be to have a twin tower mattress sale, complete with a commercial in which two employees fall backwards into twin towers of mattresses, knocking them over. It was arguably one of the most tone-deaf advertising campaigns in the history of advertising. If there’s one rule that most companies will go by, it’s not to make comedy out of tragic loss of human life, especially for the sake of making a few dollars off of a mattress.

The backlash was fairly severe. The owner of the company issued a statement apologizing for what happened, claiming that the commercial had been done by one single location without his approval. The woman featured in the commercial made a tearful apology video but the damage was clearly done at that point.

8. The McAfrika Mistake

A fresh, tasty pita topped with seasoned beef, cheese, and tomatoes sure does sound tasty, and that’s what McDonald’s thought in the year 2002 when they released it in Norway as the McAfrika. That proved to be a very bad move.

While Norway no doubt had consumers eager to eat the tasty snack, the fact that a terrible famine gripped Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and many other African nations at that very same moment made it a case of utterly abysmal timing.

Despite widespread criticism for being insensitive, McDonald’s did not stop selling the burger and kept it on sale for as long as they’d intended. Their concession was to allow charities to collect for African famine aid at McDonald’s locations at the same time. Proving that McDonald’s was really adamant about digging their heels in, they even re-released the McAfrika six years later to support the Olympics and got the same negative feedback a second time.

7. Toyota Stalker

A good sign that your marketing campaign has gone off the rails is when a court allows a person to proceed with a $10 million lawsuit against your company for cyberstalking. That’s exactly what happened to Toyota with their guerilla “stalking” campaign.

It started when Amber Duick got a random email from a guy named Sebastian Bowler. Amber lived in LA and it seemed that Sebastian was from the UK. He emailed letting her know he was coming to visit. Amber had no idea who he was and just ignored it as spam. The next day he emailed her again, dropping her home address in the email, saying that he was coming to lay low. He was also bringing his pitbull, who had a problem with vomiting.

Sebastian continued sending daily emails to Amber, each one from a location slightly closer to her home. The emails detailed how he was trying to avoid the police as he road-tripped across America (in a Toyota Matrix, of course) to her home. Once she even got an email from a motel where Sebastian had apparently stayed, giving her a bill for a room the man had trashed. As it turns out, it was all a “prank” orchestrated by Toyota.

Toyota claimed Duick had agreed to be a part of an “experience” while she claimed she had no idea this was going to happen to her and suffered serious emotional distress. How did it end? Settled out of court.

6. Spotify’s Murder Doll

You can make a solid argument that this Spotify commercial is actually a really good commercial, but it still got banned in the UK. The commercial features the Camila Cabello song “Havana” and a creepy little doll that apparently murders people whenever the song comes on. It’s filmed in much the same style as a horror movie, with quick flashes of the scary doll and people screaming as it stalks them through a house.

The problem with the ad was that it was deemed to be too scary, which you could argue is a compliment, but it still makes it a fail at the same time. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that while they understood it was a parody of the horror genre, it was still likely to cause undue stress to children who saw it, and so the ad had to be removed.

5. Pepsi’s Harrier Jet

Humor is a tricky thing, and what one person finds funny another person will find offensive. What one person thinks is a joke another may take very seriously. Pepsi learned this the hard way back in 1996.

In 1996, Pepsi ran a campaign where customers could collect Pepsi Points and exchange them for swag like t-shirts or hats. The more Pepsi Points you collected, the better swag you could get. And in their commercial they tossed in a joke about how if you collected seven million Pepsi Points they would hook you up with a Harrier jet. John Leonard thought that sounded like a great deal. The fine print on the contest said that you could buy Pepsi Points for just $0.10 a piece without any purchase required of Pepsi products. That meant a Harrier jet was only going to set you back $700,000.

While Pepsi obviously meant this as a joke, assuming no one would ever actually collect seven million Pepsi Points, Leonard figured this was a sound investment because the Harrier jet normally came with a price tag of about $23 million at the time. So the 21-year-old found five investors to front him $700,000 and he sent it off to Pepsi to await his jet. Obviously this didn’t work out and a lawsuit came of it, which Pepsi ended up winning after a judge decided that no reasonable person could have believed Pepsi was going to hand over a multimillion-dollar machine of war in exchange for buying soft drinks. Still, they learned their lesson and when they ran the campaign later on they changed it from seven million points to 700 million points.

4. IKEA’s Pee Coupon

Everyone likes a coupon, and it’s hard to think of new ways to innovate getting those to customers. Leave it to IKEA to be ahead of the pack. In 2018, the Swedish company rolled out an ad featuring a picture of a crib. The text read “peeing on this ad could change your life.” So right away they clearly did something a little odd here.

The idea behind this was that if you were pregnant, you could get 50% off the crib. How could you prove you were pregnant? The ad doubles as a home pregnancy test, so that if a woman did in fact urinate on it and it proved she was pregnant, then the coupon for the crib would appear. On the one hand, it is very innovative, and on the other hand you have to urinate on it and then bring it to a store and give it to someone. While the ad campaign actually was praised for being so creative, the fact remains that it was literally asking you to bring a urine-soaked advertisement from your home to a store to give to some hapless cashier who would then have to perhaps file it away somewhere.

3. Vitamin Water Gets Offensive

Snapple really pioneered the idea of having cute little phrases inside their bottle caps. Unfortunately, not every company is able to replicate that same idea. Vitamin Water in Canada tried a similar marketing gimmick by printing messages inside of their bottles. In Canada there are two official languages and that means messages would have to be printed in English and in French. This worked out poorly when a customer popped open one of their bottles and found the message “you retard” inside.

The Edmonton woman who opened that particular bottle has a sister with cerebral palsy, which made the insulting message all the worse. She assumed it was some kind of prank, but it turned out to just be a very poorly managed linguistic contest. Coca-Cola, which owns Vitamin Water, had been printing one English word and one French word inside the bottles caps. In French the word “retard” translates as “late.” But when an English-speaking person is getting that message, paired with the English word “you,” there’s no particularly satisfying explanation for why it happens.

2. LifeLock’s Social Security Bungle

Few things are more embarrassing than smugly proclaiming you can do something better than anyone else and immediately learning how wrong you are. The CEO of LifeLock learned this in the hardest and worst way ever.

In 2006, in an effort to show off just how great their personal identity theft security system was, the CEO of LifeLock published his social security number in advertisements. The idea was to show off how utterly secure their system could make you. It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that since then his identity has been stolen at least 13 different times. Adding insult to injury, the company was also slapped with a $12 million lawsuit for false advertising since all that identity theft proved their system did not do what they said it could do.

1. Heineken Gets Called Out for Racism

In 2018 Chance the Rapper took to Twitter to call out a commercial from Heineken that he felt was being explicitly racist. The commercial, which uses the slogan “sometimes lighter is better,” featured a bartender sliding a bottle of Heineken to a woman who looks like she really needs a drink. So far, so good. The problem was when you combine the “sometimes lighter is better” slogan with the visuals in the commercial.

The bartender was light-skinned, the woman who receives the beer is light-skinned, and everyone else is not. The beer slides down the bar past no less than three visibly dark-skinned people before it gets to the woman who drinks it. Now maybe it was only Heineken’s intention to be discussing the shade of the beer, but their casting choices made race become a prominent issue.


U Gotta Have This

WIF Consumer Corner

Banned Television Commercials – WIF Hilarious TV

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Hilarious Banned Commercials

from contributor Robert Grimminck

Ultimately, the goal of advertising agencies is to sell product. At times, how they do that comes down to how creative they want to be. In some cases, the advertisers choose to be outrageous just to get people’s attention, and now and then some advertisers go too far, and their commercial is banned outright. Or, if they did air, they only played in certain areas of the world, because what would be considered cheeky on one continent may be too risqué in another. These are 10 banned and controversial commercials that are also pretty freaking funny.

10. Nissan

Actress Kim Cattrall has almost 90 acting credits to her name, but she is most famous for playing the sexually assertive Samantha Jones in Sex in the City. So when she did a Nissan ad to be aired in New Zealand, her use of vague innuendos was very much in line with the persona she had carved out for herself in the show. Even though Cattrall doesn’t say anything particularly dirty and only used double-entendres, the national advertising board in New Zealand received a number of complaints and the ad was pulled.

9. For Goodness Shakes

UK-based protein drink maker For Goodness Shakes made this ad in 2013 to show the awkward situation of shaking your own drink in public. Along with just trying to sell a healthy drink that you don’t have to shake, it also works as a public service announcement about being mindful of your facial expressions when performing actions that could easily be misconstrued. But not everyone was a fan of the commercial. An advertising watchdog group received just one complaint about the commercial and after watching it, they said that it is possible that it could be offensive to a large group of people, so the ads were pulled. For Goodness Shakes didn’t…ahem…yank it themselves.

8. Six Nations Rugby Championship

When it comes to sports rivalries, it’s nice when your team wins, but it’s almost better when your rival loses. That sentiment was expressed thoroughly in the promotional video for the 2012 Six Nations Championship rugby tournament. Rugby fans from Ireland, Wales, and Scotland were asked who they wanted to lose in the tournament. Without a doubt in their mind, they all said England. The clip was pulled by the BBC because they thought it might come across as anti-English. A re-cut version was later aired where with English fans discussing who they hoped would lose, but it lacked the punch of the original.

7. Hyundai

This 1999 commercial from Sweden ran mostly in Europe. It didn’t air much outside of the continent, simply because it would have been too taboo in more conservative markets, even though it is rather tame by today’s standards. The ad features a woman trying to hide an affair from her husband, only to find out he has a shocking secret of his own.

So while it only aired in Europe, it was quite popular in the gay community. In 2001, it was voted the “Gayest Commercial of All-Time” by the users of Gay.com and Planetout.com.

6. Soesman Language Training

Have you ever been in a group of people who are speaking a language you can’t? At times, it can make you paranoid. Are they openly making fun of you? Are they laughing at you because of your ignorance of their language? If you’ve never thought that before, you might after seeing this 1999 advertisement from the Netherlands for Soesman Language Training. Since the language in the video is about on par with an HBO show, it clearly would never air in any country where English is the first language. Which is too bad, because that song is quite catchy.

5. Zazoo Condoms

Parents will tell you that children are absolute miracles, but they will also admit that, at times, their children can be downright demonic.

Of course, when people are “lost in the moment,” and about to have some fun, they don’t consider the possibility that those few minutes could lead to a bratty kid eight years down the road. Taking advantage of that short-sightedness, this banned Belgian commercial for Zazoo Condoms vividly connects those dots. Because after all, if catching a deadly, or life changing, disease wasn’t scary enough, then how scary is creating the life of a monstrous kid? It gives a whole new meaning to the term “life sentence.”

4. Smart Beep

Why is it that you always have to fart when you’re on a first date? The one upside to the problem is the amazing feeling of relief you get when you have a few seconds to yourself so that you can “steam press” your Levi’s. The woman in this ad from 1999 has that split second of heaven and is quickly horrified when she realizes she isn’t alone in the car.

Apparently this ad was a bit too crude to air during the Super Bowl, which was being broadcast on Fox that year. And yes, Fox is home to shows like Family Guy, The Simpsons, and the mother of all crude (modern) sitcoms, Married…with Children, yet they didn’t think a fart joke was appropriate to play during breaks in a football game.

3. Ikea

Ikea created a series of five darkly humorous ads directed at messy and disorganized people. They mostly played across Europe, but not much outside of it. Some of the ads include a woman losing her baby amongst her clutter, a young man killing his date because a fork was hidden in the couch, and a young child playing with a poorly hidden sex toy. While fairly dark, the ads are actually kind of possible, and even realistic, if you know a person that lives in complete and utter disarray.

2. Snickers

This ad from 2007 featuring two men accidentally sharing an intimate moment over a Snickers bar aired during the Super Bowl XLI, but it was pulled after Snickers got complaints about it. The complaints weren’t actually over two men kissing during the Super Bowl. Instead, gay rights groups had a problem with the ending where the guys have to do something “manly.” In the TV ads they rip out their chest hair, and on the website, they had an ad where they attack each other. The gay rights groups said that the ad promoted anti-gay bullying and it wasted a funny and progressive premise in a matter of seconds. Perhaps the people making the ad didn’t have a Snickers bar around, and the ending was suggested by a hungry guy that was acting like Archie Bunker.

1. Rolling Rock

This 2003 commercial for Rolling Rock beer has an action movie sequel attitude when it comes to depicting men getting hit in the crotch – more is better. And unlike a lot of action sequels, this commercial succeeds with its ambitious scope. The ad is about a baseball that breaks the laws of physics and seeks out men’s junk like a heat seeking missile. The ad was made to air during the Super Bowl, but it was banned. Supposedly, it wasn’t banned because of the excessive nut shots, it was banned because the imagery at the end looked a bit too phallic for the censors. Because, you know, people certainly weren’t thinking about penises before the end of the commercial.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website.

Banned Television Commercials

– WIF Hilarious TV