Worst Marketing Nightmares Of 2010

Why do agency folk imbibe so heavily on the holidays? Because there's no telling how much coal their clients are giving them for Christmas after the year's marketing mishaps. The small mistakes never get publicly reported; in the true spirit of client retention they are swept under the rug while the agency perps are shown the door. But the big mistakes -- the ones that can't be covered up with apologies and media buys -- are the stuff of this year's list of the Worst Marketing Nightmares. From chicken wings to jeans, here are the brightest busts of the past 12 or so months.


We called it racist, but to KFC's Australian market, a television commercial featuring an uncomfortable white character surrounded by a bunch of raucous black characters was just another day at the cricket field. KFC's white "hero" calmed them down with -- what else -- fried chicken! Then someone went and posted this lovable TV spot online and the almighty judgment of the rest of the world was loosed upon the poor down-dunder marketers. Aussies, who found the spot funny, claimed that "we doth protest too much" -- or just didn't get their humor. KFC yanked the spot and apologized. And where was the agency behind all this mirth? Quietly tiptoeing out the back door while the client took a dip in the deep fat fryer. Was it Draftfcb, CMB or Ogilvy Sydney? Only the Ad Age guys know for sure, and they would rather focus on the client left holding the bag than the agency that handed it off to them.



On paper, Pepsi's AMP UP Before You Score campaign seemed to have it all: viral marketing, an iPhone app, and the clincher: sex. Unfortunately for Pepsi, it chose the wrong kind of sex, launching a program that categorized women as everything from "cougars" to "rebound girl," and 22 other locker-room stereotypes. The iPhone app delivered sure-fire pick-up lines for the Maxim crowd, with a nifty social media feature that let users brag about their conquests. The response was predictable: anyone who wasn't a 17-year-old male with a fake ID failed to get the humor. Pepsi rose to the immediate challenges with this tweet before inevitably pulling AMP's power plug: "Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it's in bad taste & appreciate your feedback." The agency behind the program was noticeably quiet during this conversation; maybe its social media skills didn't include client crisis management, in case it wasn't billable.

What retail company wouldn't want a brand image like the Gap? Well, the Gap, apparently -- because it made the bold move of changing its logo from the one everybody knew to one that no one recognized. Within hours of this rebranding decision, a Web site -- "Crap Yourself Logo" -- was launched, allowing visitors to generate their own version of a Gap logo. Facebook protest groups formed and the Gap caved. Certain individuals are known for their love of brands -- think methamphetamine-producing motorcycle gangs sporting Harley tats; but who knew the Gap could produce such an emotional response? It was news to the Gap, too -- how's that for understanding your customer! The happy ending for the Gap was finding out that anyone actually cared about their logo in the first place. Gap's agency, Laird and Partners, let its client wear the pants on this one.

There seems to be one thing you can count on in this year's crop of marketing nightmares: if you're a client, you're on your own when the spit hits the fan. In the parlance of some agency bigwigs: "if you can't bill it, chill it," and make sure your own footprints are well hidden as you hastily depart the scene of the crime.

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