There are lessons to be learned when marketing campaigns go terribly wrong

Did you catch the story in the news this week about the Canadian man who decided to attach a whole lot of balloons to a lawn chair with the plan to fly into the sky as a promotional stunt for a cleaning company?

canstockphoto14985442It worked a little too well, as he floated for miles over Calgary and lost control of his rig. He eventually landed, injuring his ankle, and found himself in trouble with local authorities who didn’t think the stunt was amusing.

It was a marketing stunt gone wrong, or perhaps it went right, considering all the attention he received.

It brought to mind other marketing and promotional stunts that have gone wrong in the past involving big-name companies you would think would know better.

Here are five of my favorite “What were they thinking?” marketing blunders:


In the 1990s, Pepsi launched a promotional campaign to win over consumers in the Phillippines who were consuming a lot of Coca-Cola products.

The contest worked this way: If you got the bottle cap with the lucky three-digit number on the inside, you won 1 million pesos.

The campaign was a huge success until it went very wrong.

There was supposed to only be one winner. The number 349 was announced as the winning number by the company. But someone on the inside didn’t get the memo, and 349 was printed on 800,000 bottle caps.

Riots and lawsuits followed as Pepsi backpeddled to avoid paying out billions of dollars and angry winners did not receive their prize money. Oops.


Who can forget the marketing fail that was New Coke back in the ’80s, when Coca-Cola was losing market share to Pepsi and tried to win back younger consumers by “freshening up” the product?

This proved that you don’t mess with tradition, as consumers rejected the product and the company introduced Coke Classic to win them back. That “oops” cost the company a fortune.


Speaking of not messing with tradition, Gap learned this the hard way when it redesigned its logo in 2010.

No doubt it spent countless hours and big bucks working on the new design. Too bad customers hated it.

The feedback was so negative that within a week of releasing the “new and improved” logo, the company reverted to its classic logo and the logo has remained the same since.


In 2005, drink company Snapple decided to introduce its new line of frozen treats by trying to create the world’s largest popsicle.

The 17.5-ton strawberry-kiwi popsicle was erected in New York City on the first day of summer. Guess how that ended up? A slushy, sticky, melted mess all over the streets.


In 1992, car company Fiat launched a campaign in Spain to market its new hatchbacks. It focused its direct mail campaign on independent, working women by sending them “love notes” in the mail.

The campaign backfired when women received notes that said stalkerish things such as, “We met again on the street yesterday and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction,” and other weirdly inappropriate sayings.

The notes had no return address or identification so women had no idea who was sending them. No doubt they were locking their doors, and it wasn’t the doors to a new Fiat.

So what can small-business owners learn from these marketing blunders?

1. Know your audience, your customers and your market. Do your research before launching a campaign.

2. Change is not always a good thing nor is it always necessary. It can backfire if your customers aren’t ready for it.

3. If you plan to invest a lot of money in a marketing campaign, hire a professional who knows what he or she is doing.

4. Think twice before you decide to attach balloons to a lawn chair to go for a ride!

Deb Neuman

About Deb Neuman

Deb thinks Maine is a great place to do business and loves telling the stories of Mainers proving that it can be done! An entrepreneur at heart, she enjoys helping others with the same drive to create and innovate!