AD HACK: The blunderful world of advertising
Think of it as “badvertising.”
Many an ad campaign has been an embarrassment, like the introduction of the Edsel, hocking New Coke, or showing off your cool kicks by walking onto Air Force One while “donning” toilet paper on your shoe.
Here are a few of the dumbest advertisements, print and commercial, that should have gone straight to the shredder:
• Stay in skool: Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a campaign touting that “spelling really matters.” In a tweet emphasizing the importance of education, they misspelled the name of the famous historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, spelling his last name, “DeBois.” A rookie error. But Twitter fallout was fierce, and to make matters worse, the DOE expressed its regret, bungling the word, “apology.” Gee. Ask them how to spell irony.
• Candy is dandy but liquor is…: You’d think we’d have learned something from Willy Wonka’s “Fizzy Lifting Drink.” In a real ad gone horribly wrong, like getting that sinking feeling by winning free boarding passes for the Titanic’s maiden (and only) voyage, Bloomingdale’s ran a creepy holiday print ad, suggesting that you, “spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking.” Ewww. Women were justifiably horrified, and men were understandably embarrassed. Convicted felon Bill Cosby reportedly did say, however, “how about a roll in the hay, hay, hay.”
• Dud suds: And before the era of the #MeToo movement, there was “No, means, no.” In 2016, Bud Light, unleashed its “Up for Whatever” campaign, essentially suggesting that beer plus an implication meant that … no means maybe? NO. You’re shut off.
• Isn’t he lovely: In a bizarre 1981 magazine ad, Stevie Wonder is pictured hawking Atari video games. “If I could play video games, you bet it would be ATARI!”
Not fake news. Two years later, Saturday Night Live would spoof the ads by featuring Wonder selling “Kannon” cameras: “A camera so advanced, so simple, even Stevie Wonder can use it.” The SNL short also had Wonder playing tennis. Nothing but net.
• Social blunder: In 2007, Lifelock CEO Todd Davis plastered his Social Security number on a billboard and dared the universe to steal his identity. Guess what? People stole his identity. Lifelock promotes itself as being impenetrable. Sort of like Davis’ noggin for coming up with this fiasco.
• Royal treatment: Burger King put its own botched spin on a “Where’s Waldo,” campaign in the 1980s, when they launched their “Spot Herb” TV commercial. The rub was that if anyone spotted Herb in a BK restaurant, they would win $5,000. Naturally, someone spotted an Herb-like person at the King, but the burger chain Big Cheeses refused to pay. The campaign failed because A. it was just too random, and B. it was just too stupid.
• No Coke, Pepsi: Remember in 1993 when Pepsi ran a lottery in the Philippines? You could win $40,000! As they say there, “Impyerno, No!” Pepsi announced the wrong code. So, instead of one winning bottle cap, there were nearly one million. Pepsi welched. The villagers grabbed their torches and pitchforks. Monster hate fire.
• Not a beak-on of hope: This one’s for the birds. In 1996, Panasonic’s branch in Japan joined the touchscreen PC market, using Woody Woodpecker as its mascot. The campaign’s slogan? “Touch Woody. The Internet Pecker.” Needless to say, feathers were ruffled around the world.
• Don’t tie one on: Bench Mark ran an ad for the “most stressful job.” The ad picture was a necktie in the form of a noose. Disturbing. And a good reason for wearing an open collar.
• Revenge of Pepsi: Billionaire make-up baroness Kendall Jenner appeared in a Pepsi ad gone a bit awry. It featured the non-MENSA member, stopping a protest by giving a cop a Pepsi. Forget racial tension, inequality, socioeconomic injustice, the list goes on – just have a refreshing cola drink already.
• Hungryman toothpaste: Finally, the weirdest of them all: Colgate, professor of the pearly whites, actually tried its hand at TV dinners. Nothing like turkey and faux mashed potatoes, with just that hint of minty freshness. And the string holding the box together doubles as dental floss! Brush while you eat! Ready? And spit!
George Pelletier may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.