For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved a good scary movie. Well, maybe not even good ones because I even love the terrible ones (Sharknado anyone?). I don’t know what it is: the panic, the scares around the corner, the scenes that make you jump, the ominous score. Whatever the case, there’s something utterly enjoyable about horror stories. But professionally? Nothing scares me more than some little oversight that ends up going viral or making headlines for being insensitive, offensive, or downright stupid.


Check out this list of my favorite marketing horror stories and the real life nightmares of these popular brands:


1. Heinz QR Code Links to Hardcore Porn Site

heinz marketing failureYikes right? Can you imagine if one of your links or campaigns directed to a porn site? Heinz ran a scannable barcode campaign on limited time bottles, but when the campaign ended, they didn’t renew the connected URL. A clever German purveyor of pornagraphy ended up swooping on that expired URL and directing it to one of their websites.

2. Bloomingdales Terrible Terrible Terrible Ad


bloomingdale's marketing failureSometimes I wonder how some ad copy makes it from concept to approval. What group of geniuses sat at a table and thought “I have a great idea for an ad! Let’s have a guy creepily stare at a woman in the advertisement, with the copy ‘Spike Your Best Friend’s Eggnog When They’re Not Looking.'” The ad practically endorses alcohol-fueled date rape. Thankfully, Bloomingdale’s was quick to apologize via Twitter, but still I’m left to wonder. Who came up with this and how did it even get put into development? You would think someone would look at this and say “You know what guys? This might not be the message to send to customers.”

3. Bud Light #UpForWhatever

Social media has offered some amazing opportunities for brands to showcase their messaging and personality. It’s also provided us with moments where we think WTF were they thinking? #UpForWhatever is Bud Light’s attempt to create a slogan that promotes carefree spontaneity, adventures, and for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary at night. Wait what? Yes, Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever slogan encouraged rape culture and promoted reckless drinking. When alcohol fueled date rape is an increasing concern across college campuses, you have to wonder how some of these ideas make it past the concept stage.

4. When Beyonce Drops Your Name and in response you have… nothing

beyonce red lobster marketing fail


“When he f—k me good I take his ass to Red Lobster Those were the lyrics that Beyonce dropped in her song Formation. And in response Red Lobster had nothing. They made the mistake of not responding in a timely fashion, and then by responding with this gem:”Cheddar Bey Biscuits” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? #Formation @Beyonce

And more responses like these:

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 2.11.51 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-17 at 2.11.55 PM

Missing out on an opportunity is almost as bad as creating a terrible ad. I mean what are the chances of lightening striking twice right?

5. Walmart and the “Fat Girl Costumes”

walmart marketing advertising fail

I can only imagine one of Walmart’s SEO people sitting there thinking, “We have to name these ‘fat girl costumes’ because it’s the most popular search term and brings x% more traffic than competing terms.” This little gaff is why SEO specialists should sometimes sacrifice the bump in traffic for a more friendly term.

6. Starbucks  Race Together campaign

starbucks race together
Despite their good intentions, Starbucks encouraged customers to engage in discussion about race relations with baristas. I’m not sure if 16 year old baristas are the best representatives of the Starbucks brand to discuss the hot topic of race relations, and this is definitely an issue that falls under the category of “too hot” to address in this manner.

7. #McDStories

mcdonalds stories failure
Hehe. The #McDstories hashtag may have seemed like a great idea — Promote positive stories about your brand. The problem here is that those people who were thinking of this campaign probably really really love working at McDonald’s and are detached from how consumers truly feel about their brand. This hashtag was just a recipe for hilarious disaster.

7. Apple Replaces Google Maps | U2 Album

I had to lump these two Apple failures into a single item. The forced “MApples” conversion from Google maps. There were tons of stories such as a user following Apple Map directions into the middle of a natural park. I’ve even had my share of Apple map directions lead me completely astray. The other Apple fail — forcing every single user to download the new U2 album.  It’s one thing to offer a free album, but forcing an album onto users devices was some next-level stuff.

8. Seoul Secret

seoul secret marketing failure

Race is always a touchy subject, but when a company compares light and dark skin… yikes.  Seoul Secret, a beauty brand created a campaign called “White makes you win,” promoting a skin-lightening cosmetics line. It’s at this point that I should stop writing because let’s be honest, this clearly doesn’t get any better. Long story short, Seoul Secret tweeted out the campaign along with a video of actress and singer Chris Horwang talking about how her white skin helped her become more successful. Obviously this was not well received.

9. The National Republican Senatorial Committee Bashes a Candidate


GOP bad tweets on social media

Political muck-slinging isn’t anything new, but when the GOP decided to tweet saying that  Tammy Duckworth doesn’t “stand up” for vets that’s when things went wrong. 1) Duckworth actually lost her legs while serving in Iraq. 2) She came back to work as the assistant secretary in the Department of Veteran Affairs. 3) The tweet was posted on International Women’s Day. I think it’s safe to say they hit the trifecta on this one.

10. Microsoft AI Twitter bot that went awry…

Microsoft AI twitter bot gone wrong

There’s a famous saying that goes “this is why we can’t have nice things.”Microsoft created an “AI” twitter bot that would learn from users based on conversations. This could have been huge in terms of lowering marketing overhead and increasing real-time response rates. How could something this awesome go wrong? In less than a day, several trolls managed to turn Microsoft’s Twitter bot into a huge racist douche.

11. #AskSeaWorld Campaign

After the hot release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish”, what could go wrong with a good ‘ol hashtag campaign by SeaWorld that encourages users to ask questions about whale care?  The only thing worse was SeaWorld’s responses to these users by calling them “Trolls” among other things.

12. Amazon’s “The Man In The High Castle”

Nazi advertising amazon
If you’ve seen “The Man in the High Castle”, then you know it’s a great show  about an alternate reality where Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II. In terms of promotion, Amazon could have gone the basic route of putting up posters, online ads, etc. Instead they went for a shock and awe approach. They covered New York City subways —sets, walls, and ceilings — with Nazi and Imperial Japanese imagery. Considering the largest Jewish population in the United States is New York City, this may not have been the best idea.

In fact, Mayor De Blasio called the ads “irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers.”