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Hilarious Marketing Campaign Failures

April 5th, 2021

By: Priyal Maheshwari

We have all heard of the famous Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Can Smell Like” Campaign, or Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke.” We have talked about how good and effective these advertisements were, but let’s keep them aside for today. Not all marketing campaigns are successful or help gain revenue, does anyone remember Pepsi’s Refresh Campaign? Probably not. Every year we have some amazing campaigns and some not-so-good and some are just absurd. So, today I want to focus on three of my favorite (and old) horribly failed marketing campaigns and what they taught us.

1. Fiat’s Creepy Love Letters in Spain:

Photographed by Arthur Elgort, Vogue, December 1994

Yes, you read that right. Fiat, the car company in 1994 decided to anonymously send 50,000 unsuspecting women personalized love letters. The message in the letter was as follows,

“Yesterday we saw each other again. We met on the street and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction. I only need to be with you for a couple of minutes, and even if it doesn’t work out, I promise you won’t forget our little experience together.” (Source)

Their purpose was to advertise their new Fiat model to females by sending them this letter, and after four to six days, revealing the anonymous admirer to be Fiat Cinquecento. Since no traditional form of advertisement was done to give a hint of this campaign, there was understandable unrest from the women who received this letter. Because let’s be honest, this is a creepy letter. Women suspected they had stalkers and felt threatened by the letter; it even caused marital problems in a few consumers’ lives. Fiat had to stop the campaign short, publicly apologize, and was sued for 155,000 pesetas (~ 1,100 USD). The major takeaway of the Fiat failed love letters is that if you campaign “unique” there might be a reason why no one has ever done that.

2. Panasonic’s Woody the Woodpecker:

In 1996, in its home market, Japan, Panasonic released a then-new touch-screen PC, and Panasonic wanted to promote its new product with the help of a mascot. They thought their mascot should symbolize user-friendliness, reliability, and cuteness. Therefore, Panasonic got the rights for the beloved cartoon character, Woody The Woodpecker. Brand mascots are nice, and I personally really like them, but Panasonic's slogan for the product was “Touch Woody, the Internet Pecker.” When they were informed that this slogan will most definitely be seen in a sexual manner, they panicked. And made matters worse by renaming it, “Woody Touch Screen''.

This hilarious disaster was caused due to cross-culture differences, but nonetheless, Panasonic came up with an awesome product that was ahead of its time in the market!

3. Burger King Marketing Fails:

Burger King, one of the biggest rivals to McDonald’s during the early 2010s, started doing a series of offensive, creepy, and just ineffective advertising (check their various marketing fails here). During the early 2000s, their sales fell 5% and their market share dropped 14.6%, whereas McDonald’s’ market share grew by 46%, which still did not stop them from making some of the worst-received advertisements in history. However, I want to focus on Burger King’s brand mascot, The King. Contrary to Panasonic’s unintentional mistake, Burger King did this on purpose. And it did not work.

Their “King” in the advertisements sneaked into bedrooms, rapped about square butts, and scared people from outside of their window. Even in the advertisements, the King was a plastic statue; Bob Garfield from Ad Age describes the king very well -

“Likewise the King's, which is not only unanimated but frozen in place, a grotesque death mask of a grin, like something out of a John Carpenter movie. You don't know whether you're going to have it your way or he's going to have his way with you.”

Prior to this, in 2008, Burger King had successful marketing campaigns like “Subservient Chicken” where customers could go on a website and type commands to a giant chicken and it would act them out. But for some reason, they decided to bring back the King, which was discontinued in 2011 as they kept on offending different demographics (see few of the ads here). The takeaway from Burger King’s King is that brand mascots are good, but not always necessary.

Did you know about these marketing fails before? Tell me in the comments!


Priyal Maheshwari is Marketing Society’s 2020-2021 Co-Director of Content. She is a sophomore at NYU Stern, concentrating in Marketing and Computing and Data Science with a minor in Astronomy. She is running One More Book - MktSoc’s Book Reviews, check it out here!

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