Marketers are only human, but some of the mistakes we’ve seen over the years go beyond simple errors and into the realm of total catastrophes. From controversial product decisions to plain bad tact, several marketing fails found new life thanks to the effects of “viral marketing.” These five brands lucked out with their blunders – but they probably won’t try for the same effect twice.
Mountain Dew – Puppy Monkey Baby
When Mountain Dew’s Super Bowl ad debuted its “Puppy Monkey Baby” creation, no one expected it to achieve much success. Viewers complained that the main character was frightening, leading a 54% negative reaction to the ad. Yet, somehow, #PuppyMonkeyBaby trended, with more than 65,000 mentions shortly after the ad and 22 million views on YouTube. This strange advertisement and new Mountain Dew mascot should have been a major marketing failure, but its attention proved otherwise.
Although the commentary on the Puppy Monkey Baby ad was less than enthusiastic, Mountain Dew proved the theory that any publicity is good publicity. The amount of buzz the scary hybrid created definitely got people talking, from celebrity tweets to mention on talk shows. Whether Mountain Dew thought the character would be a smashing success or counted on it going viral due to its strangeness, the results were in its favor.
Whole Foods – #OrangeGate
Whole Foods thought it was being clever when it began selling pre-peeled oranges to their customers. Convenient, affordable, fresh … what more could a customer want? The only problem is, they sold the oranges in plastic containers – a mistake customers were quick to point out. One Twitter user posted a photo of the oranges with the caption, “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.”
The tweet earned over 111,000 likes and as many retweets.
Instead of cracking under the pressure of this abysmal marketing fail, Whole Foods took advantage of the viral mistake and transformed it into their incredible successful #OrangeGate campaign. The media covered the controversial new product and the backlash Whole Foods suffered, putting it in the spotlight. The grocery store chain used the spotlight to laugh at its own blunder, posting a tweet of the oranges in glass jars with the caption, “Is this more a peeling? #orangegate.” It removed the product from shelves and apologized for the mistake, turning the whole event into positive publicity for the brand.
Starbucks – Christmas Cup
Everyone can recall the infamous Starbucks cup scandal of last December, when the coffee empire made the controversial decision to replace its standard Christmas-themed cup with nondenominational red versions. This decision met with widespread public outcry, bashing Starbucks for being anti-Christmas in more than 480,000 Twitter mentions of #MerryChristmasStarbucks. Many customers vowed never to support the franchise again.
For every angry customer, however, there was someone defending the company, using another trending hashtag, #itsjustacup to remind people to have a little perspective. Starbucks didn’t interfere in the national controversy it had started, a decision that was probably wise. Although Wall Street predicted otherwise, Starbucks didn’t lose out on its now-famous Christmas cup decision. Ultimately, the company gained a ton of publicity and sales actually rose 9% during the quarter.
Donald Trump – Controversial Tweets
Donald Trump may be the reigning king of would-be marketing fails that ultimately helped his brand. We can use any number of his tweets as examples of social media blunders that would be the end of many brands, but somehow work in Trump’s favor. Take this one, for example: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” Or this: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” – referencing the 26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military.
Trump is notorious for his risky and typically insensitive tweets, but fans have embraced them as part of his appeal. No experienced marketer thought Trump would make it this far, but he continues to be a crowd favorite and a trending topic.
Heinz – QR Code Incident
One marketing blunder heard around the world was Heinz’s QR code mistake. From 2012-2014, Heinz ran a special promotion in ketchup bottles that allowed customers to design their own labels. In a crucial oversight, the company allowed the domain for the QR code expire, allowing anyone on the Internet to take it over. Unfortunately, it fell into the hands of a hardcore porn site. One customer pointed the problem out to Heinz in a public complaint, criticizing the company for the mistake and making the issue go viral.
Heinz managed to make amends for this public relations nightmare by apologizing and offering the unhappy customer a free bottle of ketchup with a customized design. All in all, the company didn’t lose any business, and it gained a ton of free publicity for the unusual problem.