25 Unbelievable Marketing Mess Ups You Might Remember

Posted by , Updated on October 22, 2022

Do you remember some of the biggest marketing mess ups? These screw ups hurt the reputation of many companies. In fact, some of these companies even went bankrupt! How big must a marketing fail be in order to make a company go under? Get ready because you’re about to find out. These are 25 unbelievable marketing mess ups you might remember.



eaSource: kotaku.com

They sent out brassknuckles as part of a promo for the Godfather II. Unfortunately, they’re illegal in a majority of states.



mcdonaldsSource: theatlantic.com

They once released a financial calculator for their employees (to look like they cared about them…allegedly) It helped them budget rent, gas, etc. Unfortunately, it turned out that even when cutting out all luxuries, skipping meals, and not driving…the employees still didn’t have enough money to balance McDonald’s suggested budget. To make things worse there was even a line for income from a second job. So yes, they basically inadvertently admitted that it’s not possible to live on their income.


Vanderbilt College Football

footballSource: dailymail.co.uk

Recently, Vanderbilt changed their team slogan to “We don’t need your permission”. The time was really bad considering that several members of the team had been charged with gang rape.


Bud Light

bud lightSource: theguardian.com

In a similar vein to Vanderbilt, Budweiser once released an ad that included the phrase “taking ‘no’ out of your vocabulary for the night”. It’s hard to see how nobody caught that.


Mountain Dew

mountain dewSource: time.com

When they decided to let the internet help them name their next drink in a “Dub the Dew” campaign, the most highly voted entry was “Hitler did nothing wrong”.




lockSource: wired.com

LifeLock is a company that specializes in protecting your identity. In order to prove this, co-founder Todd Davis had his social security number plastered onto LifeLock advertisements around the US. Perhaps not surprisingly, before the end of the year his identity was stolen 13 times.



walmartSource: huffingtonpost.com

Walmart’s marketing team faced similar cross-cultural struggles to those of Hershey’s when they tried to expand to Europe. When it came to promoting typical American retail values…like overly friendly cashiers, team building exercises, and low wages they ran up against legal trouble. That being said, the German market has a tendency to reject American corporatism to some extent, especially when it comes to a lack of environmental friendliness and pushing local retailers out of business. After a few years, Walmart decided to close shop in Deutschland.




jcpenneySource: forbes.com

They tried to sell things at the actual price but sales plummeted. It turns out that people prefer buying things that are marked down from artificially high price points. Why? Because they want to feel like they’re getting a deal. Yet another case for the business schools…



kfcSource: foxbusiness.com

They had to change their slogan in parts of China because “finger lickin’ good” was translated as “eat your fingers off”.



aydsSource: dietspotlight.com

It was a popular diet supplement before AIDS even entered public awareness. They allegedly tried asking scientists to change the name of the disease, which worked just about as well as you would have guessed. The brand was eventually discontinued.



a&wSource: mentalfloss.com

When they came out with their ⅓ pound burger to compete with McDonald’s quarter pounder, it failed. Apparently people thought that ¼ was more than ⅓. Note: it was probably because 4 is bigger than 3. As a marketer, never forget to factor in human stupidity.


Barbara Streisand

barbara streisandSource: theguardian.com

When she tried getting pictures of her home in Malibu taken off the internet, she ironically generated even more publicity for her home. It has even been called the “Streisand Effect”.



m&mSource: snopes.com

They refused E.T. permission to use their candy during the movie. This forced the production team to go with Reese’s, a candy nobody had heard of yet. After the movie, sales of Reese’s took off while sales of M&M plummeted. Also, the manager responsible for the decision was fired and died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Apparently it was caused by stress.


Gerald Ratner

gerald ratnerSource: telegraph.co.uk

The CEO of Ratners Group, a British jeweler, put down the company’s products by basically admitting that they were tacky. Apparently people don’t like being called tacky. Today we call this sort of thing the “Ratner Effect”, or “pulling a Ratner”.



nypdSource: huffingtonpost.com

They tried to run a twitter campaign asking people to share their experiences with the police department. Perhaps predictably, most of the #NYPD stories were negative. And that’s an understatement.



toyotaSource: usatoday.com

At a time when people were having problems with their cars driving forward unexpectedly for various reasons (people even died), Toyota changed its motto to “Moving Forward”. Not surprisingly, people started tacking on the phrase “even when you don’t want to”.


Hong Kong

hong kongSource: theguardian.com

They ran an advertisement about how “Hong Kong will take your breath away!”…during the SARS epidemic.


Union Street Guest House

yelpSource: orlandosentinel.com

This hotel in New York (jokingly) threatened to fine customers who left a bad Yelp review. As soon as the internet found out things got bad enough that the hotel is now out of business. Don’t joke around, apparently.



nestleSource: cnet.com

When they tried to run an #AskNestle hashtag in Germany, the main questions they got were along the lines of “Why are you letting children starve?” and “Why do you support child labor?”



pepsiSource: cbsnews.com

Long story short, Pepsi ran a campaign that let people collect points. The biggest prize was a Harrier Jet for 7 million points. What Pepsi apparently didn’t count on was somebody actually collecting 7 million points. When a man named John Leonard demanded his jet, Pepsi said it was just a joke. It even went to court.



verizonSource: theverge.com

Not long ago they tried selling a wireless wallet service named ISIS. It was quickly renamed.


Osborne Computer Corporation

chipSource: zdnet.com

The company hyped up the next version of their product so much that people canceled their current orders to wait for the release. Unfortunately this caused the company to go under.


Red Lobster

red lobsterSource: theweek.com

In 2003 the CEO of Red Lobster had to step down. Why? He had underestimated American gluttony. When the restaurant offered all you can eat crab, they almost went bankrupt.



taxiSource: smh.com.au

When YourTaxis asked people to share their experiences via twitter they got an unexpected response. People shared stories of harassment, abuse, and even rape.


DiGiorno Pizza

pizzaSource: adweek.com

When the WhyIStayed hashtag was trending (about domestic violence), DiGiorno took the opportunity to tweet “#WhyIStayed he had pizza”. It blew up.

Image Credits: 1-2. Public Domain, 3. Anthony22 via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 4-8. Public Domain, 9. Base64, retouched by CarolSpears via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 10-11. Public Domain, 12. EG Focus via Flickr CC BY 2.0, 13. Public Domain, 14. Jonathan Tommy via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0, 15. Ann Baekken via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 2.0 , 16. Jussi via Flickr CC BY 2.0, 17. Public Domain, 18. Mike Kalasnik via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0, 19. Photograph taken by Jared C. Benedict on 22 February 2004 via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 20-21. Public Domain, 22. Gabriel Millos via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0, 23. Public Domain, 24. Danielk2 via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 3.0, 25. Paul Downey via Flickr CC BY 2.0.

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