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Top 10 Greatest Marketing Disasters in History

Updated on 26 March, 2019 at 7:07 pm By

Even the most reputed brands have a history of marketing blunders, and some of them paid for them in the worse possible manner. Such failures were not always the result a big strategic failure. There are examples of big time ad campaign disasters due to least expected reason behind them e.g. use of wrong word and slang, uncalculated cost of offers, exaggerated hype, over exploitation of some sentiments, and sometime just share bad luck. Here is the list of top 10 marketing disasters of all time, which make good lessons for rest of the marketing world.

10. Hoover’s Free Flight Blunder:

It’s a great idea to offer free prizes with a purchase to sell off a large stock in a small interval of time, but it shouldn’t cost the brand more than the value of a product purchased. In 1992, Hoover Company in Britain launched a campaign offering a free ticket on every purchase worth $100. Now, that was stupid. Wasn’t that? Anyone would buy even shit of $100 to get a free ticket of two round-trip tickets to Europe. The customers flooded the stores, but only to leave the company in a loss of $50 million, which was later sold to an Italian company Candy.

Hoover’s Free Flight Blunder

9. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Bombs:


Just a financial loss isn’t the only determinant while we talk about the worst marketing attempts ever. Imagine if electronic placards are mistaken for bombs, and set a high alert alarm in a city like Boston. That’s what happened with a guerrilla marketing advertising campaign for “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters”. Many promotional battery powered LED placards of ‘Cartoon Network’ character ‘Moninite’ were placed all over popular cities of US. Unfortunately, its visible circuit board and wires gave it a look of an improvised explosive device. On the complaint of a citizen, an army level emergency action was taken. Boston Police Department and Boston Fire Department along with police cruisers, ambulances, and the Boston Police Department bomb squad surrounded the areas where these devices were seen. Now, that’s called a real disaster.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Bombs

8. The Ford Edsel Fail:

Ford hadn’t seen failure before the very moment it revealed its Edsel model, equipped with some new technologies, and was kept a secret until its final curtain lifting. Ford wanted something new in its line of autos to remain a competitive rival to GM. Huge ad campaign gave it hype, and Ford expected a huge sale of the model. Huge crowd came dragged at the releasing event of the car, but couldn’t find what they expected. Not much was wrong with the car, but it was that who would buy an expensive car when the country is in the middle of a recession. Other brands were putting their old models on sale at cheaper rates as the public was looking for low cost vehicles. Moreover, the car arrived at dealers with missing parts, and user reviews confirmed that Edsel was one of the disasters. The company lost $250 million in 1958, comparable to $2.25 billion today.

The Ford Edsel Fail

7. McDonald’s Olympics Free Treat:

It’s a marketing blunder that dates back to 1984, when McDonald’s started “If the U.S. wins, you win!” promotion under which they promised to give free burger, snack, and drinks for every medal US wins. But, they ignored a few things like Germany and Russia, two badass counties were sitting out of the sports event, and that could increase the share of medals for US. That year, 178 medals with 83 gold came home, and then McDonald’s realized that this marketing plan backfired, and did a huge financial damage to the brand.

McDonald's Olympics Free Treat

6. Silo’s 299 Bananas Blunder:

Silo, a renowned electronic retailer of United States that ruled the market from 1947 to 1995, made news with a huge marketing mishap in 1986. Their ad promoted their upcoming radio with a slogan the “Silo Is Coming” for 299 bananas. Of course, they wanted to say 299 dollars for each, but the company had no idea that the people in Seattle and in El Pasowould take it literally. People raided the stores with bundles of 299 bananas, and the stores had to accept the bananas for 35 sets. The cost of 299 bananas was around $40, much less than $299. It cost a loss of over $10, 1000 to a single store. Wasn’t that a silly marketing mistake?

Silo’s 299 Bananas Blunder

5. Calvin Klein’s Sex Sells Fail:

American fashion designer Calvin Klein’s instinct to exploit ‘sex sells’ strategy wasn’t something odd to the public, until he showcased minor’s half naked bodies with a lot clinging and oozing on billboards and TV. He thought sexuality of minors would sell for more, but it was taken very seriously by the parents. After a lot of boycott, FBI launched an investigation into the matter and ultimately, the company had to withdraw the advertisement. Well sir, the moral of the story is that excess of everything is bad.

Calvin Klein’s Sex Sells Fail

4. New Coke Formula:

Coca Cola Company almost enjoyed a position of monopolist until its rival Pepsi-Cola snatched a good part of it from the giant. To boost the sales, Coca Cola introduced a newer version of their soft drink, which was simply called the ‘New Coke’ and ‘Coke ll’ later. New drink claimed a new formula in ad campaigns flooding New York. New drink became a most awaited item by its customers, but when it was launched in 1985, it turned out to be a disaster. Rather, it created an opportunity for the rival Pepsi to mock at it. It’s counted as one of the greatest marketing disasters of all time.

New Coke Formula

3. Electrolux  Slang Disaster:


Unintentional use of words, which have become derogatory to a country like US, does a great damage and bring embarrassment to any brand, especially when it’s a giant like Electrolux. This Swedish multinational catalyzed the sale of vacuums in Britain and other counties under the promotional slogan “Nothing Sucks Like An Electrolux”. However, when introduced to the US market, where the word bears a derogatory meaning, it brought a lot of embarrassment and loss in sales.

Electrolux Slang Disaster

2. Panasonic Touch Woody:

In an another famous case of a misunderstood slang in a language, Panasonic had stood all stupid in front of its Japanese customers, and later on in front of rest of the world, the credit for which goes to the journalists. In 90s, Panasonic was about to launch its new PC, which it named “Woody- the Internet Pecker”, and adding to embarrassment, it was later name Touch Woody to highlight its touch screen capability. What happened later just shook the Company chiefs, and to avert embarrassment and loss, Panasonic had to rename the product a day before its launch. We wish, the marketing guys had properly looked for the meaning of the word before running campaigns with it. (Woody refers to male erection in US slang).

Panasonic Touch Woody

1. KFC Free Chickens:


In an unusual offer on a TV show called Oprah, which was indeed one the most popular shows in US, KFC promised viewers a free coupon for a 2-piece chicken meal with two individual sides and a biscuit. The users only needed to download the coupon from the Oprah website. KFC felt doomed when millions of people downloaded 10.5 million coupons, and rushed to their counters to collect their free treat across US. KFC gave away almost $42 million free food, still couldn’t deliver what it had offered, and it even led to mini-riots. Later, KFC had to apologize to Oprah, and the customers. How come someone couldn’t do such simple calculation before giving hype to such campaign?

KFC Free Chickens


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