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5 Ad Campaigns that Failed Quickly (or Spectacularly)

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Getty Images

Microsoft announced it was moving away from its commercials featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld just two weeks after unveiling the baffling teaser ads. Although the Seinfeld spots were so short-lived that they might be dubbed a failure—particularly since Seinfeld's deal with Microsoft is rumored to be worth $10 million—Microsoft and ad agency Crispin Porter claimed that the teasers did what they set out to do.

The tale of Gates and Seinfeld traipsing around with the common man wasn't the first ad campaign to struggle to find its audience. If Microsoft execs need a boost, they can console themselves that it could have been worse. They could have run one of these campaigns:

1. Virgin Blue Encourages Travelers to "Chuck a Sickie"

Earlier this year, budget Australian airline Virgin Blue ran a campaign telling potential passengers to "chuck a sickie" to take advantage of the carrier's ultra-thrifty fares. If you're unfamiliar with Australian slang like I was, you might think this campaign was some sort of horrifying effort to encourage the tossing of ill people. Instead, "chuck a sickie" is a more benign term for taking a sick day from work. Virgin Blue head Brett Godfrey didn't see the campaign as harmless fun, though; he didn't appreciate how they supported workplace absenteeism. Godfrey reportedly ordered the ads pulled just 29 minutes after seeing them for the first time.

2. Chevy Lets Users Generate Attack Ads

In 2006 Chevrolet ran a promotion tied to an episode of The Apprentice. The idea was that fans of the Chevy Tahoe could go on Chevy's website and "build their own" Tahoe ads from stock footage of the SUV rumbling through the wilderness. Chevy's website would host the ads, and the best ones would win concert and sporting event tickets for their directors.

However, the site drew more than a few directors seeking a soapbox from which to lambaste SUVs, often with hilarious results. The natural settings in the stock footage coupled with the directors' own trenchant barbs about environmental degradation fostered some truly biting attack ads that ran on Chevrolet's own servers. Here's an example:

3. Benetton Goes to Death Row

Italian clothing maker Benetton has never backed down from a controversial ad campaign; at various points the company has run pictures of terminal AIDS patients and a priest kissing a nun. However, many critics thought the designer finally crossed the line in 2000 with the campaign "We, On Death Row," which featured death-row inmates wearing their prison uniforms. The company's catalog contained pictures of 25 death-row prisoners, and their faces also appeared in print ads and on billboards around the world.

The campaign's creator, Benetton creative director Oliviero Toscani claimed that the images were simply used to draw attention to the brutality of the death penalty. Families of the prisoners' victims and victims'-rights groups contended the photos and accompanying narrative glorified the convicts and portrayed the killers as the actual victims. (The ads didn't mention the often-grisly crimes for which the subjects were imprisoned.) Public outrage grew so quickly that Sears terminated its contract to peddle Benetton's clothes, and the campaign could still be considered to be one of advertising's bigger blunders in poor taste.

4. Nike Dunks Its Sneaker Shots

Nike's Hyperdunk basketball shoes got a huge shot in the arm earlier this year when the viral video of Kobe Bryant wearing the sneakers and jumping over an Aston Martin became a web sensation. The print ads Wieden + Kennedy designed to go along with the shoes didn't fare quite so well. The ads presented large photographs of a basketball player being dunked on; the center of each shot was the hapless defender's face, which was obscured by the flying dunker's thighs and waist. Slogans like "That ain't right" appeared on top of the image. To basketball players, it seems apparent that the "that" in question is being on the receiving end of a ferocious dunk. Others, though, thought that the key to the image was one man's groin in another's face, and "That ain't right" was actually a homophobic slam. Following a heated debate on Wieden + Kennedy's blog and a loud public outcry, Nike scrapped the ads.

5. Just For Feet Trips at the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is the biggest stage for advertising, and as such, it can be the scene for some of the industry's biggest failures. Few ads in history have failed quite so spectacularly as the one footwear chain Just for Feet ran during the 1999 Super Bowl. The spot portrayed a Humvee of white mercenaries chasing an African runner before giving him a cup of drugged water and then forcing a pair of Nikes on his feet while he's passed out. The ad weathered criticism for being colonialist, racist, and pro-drugging; the whole thing was offensive enough that no one seemed to even notice it didn't even really make sense.

Want more proof that the ad was transcendentally bad? Just For Feet sued its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, for $10 million for convincing the company to run the ad despite its misgivings. Although Just for Feet eventually dropped the lawsuit, the company filed for bankruptcy protection later that year amid a serious accounting fraud.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

See also...

Shedding Light on Trade Secrets

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6 Cases of Shamelessly False Advertising

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Advertising Icons: Where are they now, and who were they then?

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Fearless Man Slices 26 Watermelons on His Stomach in 60 Seconds, Setting New Record
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iStock

Ashrita Furman, a 63-year-old New Yorker who holds the world record for setting the most Guinness World Records, just achieved another one. This time, it was for the most watermelons sliced on top of his stomach in 60 seconds, Nerdist reports.

Furman came up with the idea for the record himself, and while he didn’t have any competition, Guinness stipulated that he had to slice at least 20 watermelons to be recognized. He managed to cut through 26 melons with his tool of choice, a katana, in less than a minute. (He walked away without a scratch.)

Check out this spectacle (and serious ab workout) for yourself:

“I’m really thrilled,” Furman told Reuters after pulling off the feat. “My first reaction is I’m relieved that I didn’t kill myself and the second is that I’m exhilarated because it is not only a skillful record, but also it’s something that I invented and now it’s out there and other people can challenge it.”

Furman, who has been called “Mr. Versatility,” currently holds more than 200 Guinness records. He set his very first record in 1979 after completing 27,000 jumping jacks, and he hasn’t slowed down since. In the past near-40 years he has set the record for—among other feats—the most knives caught in a minute (54); the greatest distance traveled while juggling on a pogo stick (4 miles, 30 feet); and most grapes caught in his mouth in one minute (86).

[h/t Nerdist]

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7 of the Most Bizarre Ways to Die
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iStock

While most of us hope death comes with dignity and being surrounded by loved ones, there’s really no telling what fate may have in store. If you manage to avoid some of the most common causes of expiration—heart disease and cancer are statistically the most likely causes to interrupt your existence—there’s an endless series of lesser-known maladies and tragedies that could conceivably cause you to miss the upcoming final season of Game of Thrones.

1. DEATH BY NASAL IRRIGATION POT

A woman uses a peti pot to clear her sinuses
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Neti pots, which are used to irrigate the sinuses of allergy sufferers, resemble teapots with a spout that allows water to be poured into one nostril and come out the other. Usually, the worst case scenario when using one is that you’ll make a huge mess and wind up with a sink full of snot-tinged water. But for two people in Louisiana in 2011, the pot facilitated the transmission of a brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. It’s believed the organism was transmitted by contaminated tap water contained in their residences, which they both used to fill their neti pots.

The amoeba, which is typically found in warm freshwater lakes, causes fatal brain swelling and carries a mortality rate of more than 97 percent—though infection is actually very rare. The fact that the deceased delivered it directly into their sinuses is what led to the fatal outcome. “Normally, it’s totally harmless, doing its own thing in the mud, eating whatever it finds there, going about its business, not bugging anybody,” Dan Riskin, biologist and expert on the Animal Planet series Monsters Inside Me, told Mental Floss last year. That changes when water harboring N. fowleri is violently shoved up someone's nose. That’s why you should never use anything but sterile water in your neti pots.

2. CHOKING IN A COCKROACH EATING CONTEST

Cockroaches are piled on top of one another
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Endurance and eating contests bring their share of peril. There was the case of the woman who died from dangerously low sodium levels after drinking too much water and holding in her urine for a 2007 radio promotion. Gastronomic athletes have died in an attempt to break hot dog eating records. But nothing compares to choking to death on cockroaches. According to CNN, 32-year-old Edward Archbold entered a bug-eating competition in 2012 that was sponsored by a Florida reptile shop. Archbold wolfed down a series of cockroaches and worms, only to find his airway blocked by the influx of their masticated body parts. The medical examiner ruled he asphyxiated on the bugs.

3. GRAPPLING WITH A VENDING MACHINE

A vending machine that offers a variety of options
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Weighing anywhere from 500 to nearly 900 pounds when empty, and even more when fully stocked, vending machines are the closest thing we have to the falling anvils of the cartoon world. When a machine eats bills or fails to dispense Doritos, some people can become agitated enough to think that rocking the unit is a good idea. It isn’t. An estimated 1700 injuries occur each year as a result of tussling with these monuments to snack storage, with roughly four deaths attributable to the duels.

4. POOPING TOO HARD

A man strains while using the toilet
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A fiber-rich diet and sensible cheese consumption should keep most people from enduring a most ignoble end. Straining to pass hard stool can result in something called defecation syncope, or poop-fainting. By holding your breath while bearing down to expel waste, the body’s blood flow is reduced. If you already have compromised arterial blood flow, the low blood pressure can trigger fainting or a heart attack. The University of Miami described two such cases in a 2017 paper. In postoperative hospital care, two patients experienced fatal cardiac events following excessive toilet straining.

5. DEATH BY LAUGHTER

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Some of us truly can suffer consequences during Home Improvement marathons, though not in the way you’d expect. A 2013 paper published in the British Medical Journal offered a litany of possible consequences from laughing, from the minor (fainting) to cardiac events as a result of preexisting conditions. Infamously, a bricklayer named Alex Mitchell died in 1975 after getting the giggles while watching a BBC sketch show titled The Goodies. Mitchell had Long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that can be worsened by the exertion of laughing. He went into cardiac arrest and died. His wife, Nessie, wrote the show's producers, thanking them for making her husband’s final moments happy ones.

6. KILLED BY A ROBOT

A robot arm holds up a wrench
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As technology improves, it seems inevitable that a robot will eventually stand trial for murder just as Isaac Asimov predicted. When that day comes, we may look upon late Kawasaki factory worker Kenji Urada as an early casualty. In 1981, Urada attempted to repair a robot at one of the company’s plants in Akashi, Japan. Urada failed to heed protocol, jumping over a fence rather than opening it—which would have triggered the machine to shut down. Instead, one of its massive arms pinned Urada to a nearby machine that cut up engine gears. Workers tried to intervene, but Urada was killed. A similar incident occurred in 2015, when a robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany grabbed an employee instead of a vehicle part and crushed him to death.

7. FELLED BY AN ATOMIC WEDGIE

A man has his underwear yanked out of his pants
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For anyone who has never attended public school, a “wedgie” is committed when an assailant takes a fistful of a victim’s underwear and yanks, causing the garment to become lodged in the buttocks. While uncomfortable, it rarely proves fatal. An exception came in 2013, when a McLoud, Oklahoma man named Brad Lee Davis had a physical confrontation with his stepfather, Denver Lee St. Clair. After a struggle, Davis took St. Clair’s underwear and pulled it up and over his head, causing the elastic waistband to stretch tightly around his neck. The constriction caused his airway to become blocked, and he expired. Davis accepted a plea deal in 2015. “I did a horrible thing when I gave him that wedgie,” he lamented to authorities. Davis received a 30-year sentence.

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