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Top 10 Marketing Fails: Coke, Ford, Netflix

VO: Rebecca Brayton
They seemed like such good ideas... At the time. Not every marketing campaign can be a success, but it takes a special kind of ad to fail as spectacularly as these. Whether they’re creeping out audiences, offending special interest groups, losing money for their businesses or are just plain weird, these marketing choices have been some of the worst in history. What possessed a hugely successful, century-old company to completely change their product? Why did a well-known auto manufacturer make cars to compete with themselves? What made a $16 billion corporation shun its core business? It really makes you scratch your head and wonder: what were they thinking? In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 worst marketing mishaps in history.

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They seemed like good ideas at the time… Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down the top 10 marketing mishaps in history.

#10 – McDonald’s and the 1984 Olympics

McDonald’s “When the U.S. Wins, You Win” contest meant free food based on the United States’ medal count at the ’84 Olympics. Gold got you a Big Mac, silver meant fries and bronze won you a Coke. The problem? The Soviets boycotted that year, and the U.S. took home 174 medals, including 83 golds. Bottom line: don’t run a campaign where you can’t control how much free stuff you’re giving away.

#9 – Facebook Beacon

In 2007, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook launched Beacon, which allowed users’ activity around the web to be shared with advertisers. Controversy erupted immediately, and the initiative was eventually shelved – but not before Facebook’s reputation with privacy watchdogs was significantly damaged.

#8 – Burger King: Creepy Monarch

Someone will need to explain how waking up next to this guy could ever be a good thing. BK tried to resurrect this mascot with the “Wake up with the King” campaign. The character was so creepy, it crossed over into funny – I guess – and went viral. However, the campaign did not perk up sluggish sales, so the King’s reign ended in 2011.

#7 – Snickers: Mr. T ad

I pity the fool that came up with this commercial. Watch Mr. T as he hunts down his prey: a slightly effeminate speed walker. Mr. T evidently does not think men should speed walk, so he shoots Snickers at him until he runs. Gay rights groups did not see the ad’s humor, and accused the company of approving of discrimination. It was quickly pulled.

#6 – Skittles: “Touch the Rainbow” Campaign

This Skittles campaign starred a man who could turn anything into Skittles by touching it. Sounds cute, right? Until you realized the guy actually killed every person he ever came into contact with. Don’t worry: these marketers redeemed themselves by using the same “Touch the Rainbow” theme in a series of interactive online videos. You really can’t lose with cats on the internet.

#5 – Ayds Diet Candy

Well, this one’s obvious. Ayds diet candy was a popular appetite suppressant in the 1970s. That quickly dropped off once the AIDS virus started to spread. It really could not have been more unfortunate that a candy that was supposed to help people lose weight had a name similar to a disease that – among other things – caused intense weight loss.

#4 – Honda ASIMO

Who doesn’t want a robot? Honda tried to appeal to the sci-fi lover in us all with ASIMO, which was designed to help people with low-mobility. It was actually a great idea; if only they could execute. Here’s a tip, Honda: you should probably make sure your machine can walk up stairs before demoing it for the world. FAIL.

#3 – Netflix’s Qwiskter Rebranding

In 2011, Netflix was the go-to service for video rental, and was riding high at a market value of $16 billion. Cue the dumb decision: the company decided to embrace digital downloads, which meant shunning their core, DVD-by-mail business and splintering it off into “Qwikster.” Customers dropped the service in droves, and by year’s end Netflix boasted a market cap of less than $4 billion.

#2 – Ford Edsel

Ford built so much hype leading to their 1957 release of the Edsel, it worked against them: they could not deliver the goods. Actually, tons of things made the Edsel an unmitigated failure: The name sucked, the car was butt-ugly, and Edsel was competing with another division of Ford, Mercury. Quality issues were the final nail in the coffin, and Ford was out $400 million by the end.

#1 – New Coke

Taking the top spot on our list is a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It was 1985: Coca-Cola was winning the cola wars, but for whatever reason, they decided to pour time and money into developing a better tasting beverage. New Coke won blind taste tests against Pepsi and even Classic Coke, but when it was launched on April 23rd, the public responded with a resounding “no.” It was yanked from stores by July. While most considered New Coke a huge disaster, it did manage to get people caring about Coca-Cola Classic again, so that’s something.

There have been lots more marketing disasters. Which were the ones that made you scratch your head and wonder: what were they thinking?

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