Worst Marketing Blunders of All Time
Marketing blunders can be costly and, at times, unforgettable. In the ever-competitive world of business, a simple misstep in marketing strategy can lead to devastating consequences for even long-established companies.
From infamous flops like New Coke to ill-conceived promotions like the Hoover free flights debacle, these are some of the worst marketing blunders in history.
Coca-Cola Changes Its Formula
In 1985, Coca-Cola introduced "New Coke," a reformulated version of their classic soda. This was something the general public never asked for but the idea came as a response to declining market share and pressure from competitors, particularly Pepsi.
New Coke was an immediate disaster. People were attached to the original taste of Coca-Cola and many expressed their dissatisfaction and disappointment with the change. New Coke only lasted 77 days before the powers that be brought what they now called "Coke Classic" back to market shelves. While New Coke continued to be sold in stores (renamed Coke II) it wasn't a big seller. The company lost $30 million in unsold products and discontinued Coke II in 2002.
The product did make one more appearance in 2019 on the third season of "Stranger Things," which is set in 1985.
From Radio Shack to 'The Shack'
In 2009, RadioShack rebranded itself as "The Shack," in an attempt to update its image and make it more appealing to a younger demographic. The company's intention was to position itself as a destination for consumer electronics and mobile devices, moving away from its traditional image of selling electronic components and hobbyist products.
While "The Shack" was meant to sound more informal and hip, customers didn't get it. RadioShack continued to struggle financially and filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
Ayds Diet Candy and Poor Timing
Ayds (pronounced "aids") was a brand of appetite suppressant candy that had been around since the 1940s and was extremely popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. Its demise was due more to poor timing than anything else. Consumers distanced themselves from the product due to the negative connotations the name acquired during the AIDS epidemic.
The company's efforts to rebrand the product were largely unsuccessful. The fact that it was an appetite suppressant with taglines like “Why take diet pills when you can enjoy Ayds?” also didn't help.
Gerber for Adults
Gerber makes baby food, as it has since 1927. However, in 1974, it attempted to create products for adults known as "Gerber Singles."
Gerber Singles were pureed fruits, vegetables and other prepared meals in single-serving containers. They were marketed as convenient, ready-to-eat options for busy people or seniors who may have had difficulty preparing meals or swallowing solids.
Entrees offered flavors like beef burgundy, ham casserole, turkey mornay and creamed beef, none of which sound appetizing. Gerber pulled the plug on the adult market product in 1975.
Introducing the Ford Edsel
When the Edsel was introduced in 1957, Ford had high expectations for the car. Unfortunately, it couldn't live up to the hype.
People expected a cutting-edge car, but its unconventional styling (vertical grille, anyone?) was polarizing — most consumers simply found the car ugly. Additionally, the Edsel was introduced during a recession and fuel costs were on the rise. At that time, buyers were looking for something more practical. The car was also expensive and had some technical and quality control issues.
By 1959, the Edsel was no more. Ford lost over $250 million ($2.47 billion in today's numbers) on the car. Less than 10,000 cars still survive today. They are now collectors' items and some are valued at more than $100,000.
Oprah's KFC Giveaway
When her show was on the air, Oprah Winfrey's enormous power could make or break businesses overnight. In 2009, she conducted a promotion with KFC intended to introduce its new grilled chicken menu items to consumers. On May 5th, Oprah promoted on the show a downloadable coupon that allowed viewers to receive a free two-piece grilled chicken meal.
The promotion was so successful that it resulted in millions of customers flocking to KFC locations around the country to redeem their coupons. This resulted in long lines, wait times and, in some instances, frustration, as KFC locations simply ran out of chicken. In some stores, the coupons weren't even honored.
Oprah's influence was such that 10.5 million coupons were downloaded for the promotion, totaling $42 million in free KFC meals.
The Promotion that Nearly Put Hoover Out of Business in the U.K.
In 1992, vacuum manufacturer, Hoover, launched a free flights marketing promotion in the U.K. to boost sales. Customers who bought at least £100 in Hoover products would receive two free roundtrip flights to the US or Europe via a small travel agency, JSI Travel, which was looking to offload cheap flights.
Hoover already knew that if too many people took part in the promotion, it would be a disaster, so it complicated the process in various ways. If customers got through these arduous steps, the company reserved the right to reject their choice of destinations and would give them other options. If those didn't work, they couldn't participate.
Hoover assumed customers wouldn't be willing to go through all this, but they were and they kept buying the products. The company saw the writing on the wall and began thinking of ways to swindle customers out of their rewards, resorting to everything from telling them they filled out the forms incorrectly to choosing airports hundreds of miles away from where they lived.
Customers finally revolted: Thousands formed a coalition against the company and one even held a delivery van hostage. Hoover pointed fingers everywhere, but eventually, the president, VP and marketing services director of the company's U.K. division were sacked. Hoover incurred a staggering loss of £23.6 million in sales in 1993 and its American parent company, Maytag, was ordered to pay $72 million in flights to customers.
On top of everything else, people found themselves in possession of Hoover products they didn't want or need. The resale of these items in second-hand stores enabled prospective customers to acquire brand-new products at a fraction of the cost at which Hoover was selling them.
The U2 Record No One Wanted
With its residency at the Sphere, U2 is the hottest ticket in Las Vegas in 2023, but the band's collaboration with Apple in 2014 left much to be desired.
That year, U2 released their album, "Songs of Innocence," via iTunes, which was meant to be a bold and innovative approach to distributing music. Millions of iTunes users got the album for free, but they weren't happy about it. They found the automatic download of the album invasive and an intrusion of their privacy and were frustrated to find it in their music libraries without their permission.
The lack of an opt-out option only added to the frustration, as users felt they should have had a say in the matter. Additionally, those with limited plans were concerned about data usage for downloading an album they had no interest in. So many people were unhappy about it that Apple was forced to create a way to remove it.
Bud Light Is "Up for Whatever"
"Bud Light Is 'Up for Whatever'" was a slogan adopted by Bud Light in 2014, as a fun and adventurous way to advertise to young adults. The idea was to promote being open to unexpected experiences and its advertising reflected this spontaneity with the tagline "The perfect beer for whatever happens."
While the campaign was initially well-received, one phrase in particular, "the perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night," was criticized for its allusions to irresponsible drinking and consent.
Kodak and the Digital Camera
For about a hundred years, Kodak was the name in photography. At its peak, it sold 90 percent of the film and 85 percent of the cameras in the U.S. But did you know one of its engineers, Steve Sasson, invented the digital camera in the mid-1970s?
The company got a patent for the device in 1978 but did not produce the camera. This decision would lead to the company's fall from grace. It's been said that Kodak was concerned that the widespread adoption of digital cameras would disrupt the film business (which was a major source of revenue) and as the camera was the size of a toaster, it was not ready for widespread public use.
As Sasson put it, “It was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘That’s cute but don’t tell anyone about it.’”
Kodak's hesitation and delayed entry into the digital camera market allowed competitors to quickly gain a foothold in the industry. By the time Kodak began to transition to digital, it faced stiff competition — it didn't even stop selling traditional film cameras until 2004.
This was such a grave decision that the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Today, its focus is on manufacturing for the printing and packaging industries and film. It is no longer a consumer photography company.