Biggest Online Marketing Campaign Flops

Biggest Online Marketing Campaign Flops

It doesn’t matter if you’re a multi-million dollar company or a small business: bad marketing is just bad marketing. Such is the case for the companies featured in this post. Not all of these campaigns are recent, and some of them weren’t made for businesses at all. One thing they all share in common, though, is that those who designed them should have given a little more thought to their efforts.

att-twitter-pic AT&T Tweet for 9/11 Tribute

AT&T is one of the world’s most prominent and storied communications companies. I’m sure they have some of the brightest and best marketing folks in the world working for them. Despite that, there is still the potential for ill-considered actions to take place in the public eye.

An example is the tweet posted by the company in an effort to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. The text in the tweet was fine but it was the image of a handset that portrayed the company as less than caring. They used the tragedy (which happened to be trending on Twitter) as an opportunity to sell their products.

Don’t get me wrong. Riding the coattails of a trending topic is a great way to get more exposure for a brand in social media and on the web, in general. It is in poor taste, however, to do so on the heels of an event where thousands of people were murdered and our country changed forever.

To AT&T’s credit, they removed the tweet and apologized.

walmart Walmart People Who Traveled across America

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That is what Walmart corporate marketing folks discovered when they concocted a scheme to have two working-class individuals (Jim and Laura) trek across the country and blog about their experiences parking their RV in Walmart parking lots along the way.

Promotional campaigns like these are not uncommon, and, for the most part, they are highly successful as long as there is one crucial component: authenticity. And that was the one part Walmart’s campaign was missing.

It was found out that Jim and Laura were not the friendly travelers they were made out to be in their blog posts. They had never met with Walmart employees or listened to stories about how great it was to work at the Supercenter. They hadn’t done this because the entire thing was a sham. Some on the web even put out an open letter  to the duo asking them to reveal themselves as being genuine.

Consumers respond well to human stories that have brand involvement intertwined. They also hate it when they are lied to.

Helter Skelter X (Mike Gravel)

Viral video has worked well for politicians. When you can create that magical formula making people share your video over and over again, it’s a PR bonanza. Unfortunately, a huge potential exists for you to fall flat on your face.

That is what happened to a then 78-year-old former senator from Alaska when he tried to use viral video to overcome a severe brand identity deficit. The video , Mike Gravel – Rock, features Gravel staring at the camera for an eternity before he turns to grab a large rock, heaving it into a pond and then walking away.

The video did get over a million views, but it didn’t carry him to the White House by any means. The video below (also starring Gravel) is even more embarrassing  to watch.

Chevy User-Generated Advertising

Engaging your audience online is an effective way to market a company, but you have to be careful about how you do it. For example, you don’t give your market free reign to create whatever messaging they want about your brand.

General Motors learned that lesson the hard way when it launched its Chevy Tahoe user-generated advertising campaign  in 2007. The company showed users a website where they could upload their own videos, images and audio to make a commercial for the new vehicle.

tahoe In theory, this sounds like a great idea, but it backfired. Visitors uploaded a host of negative videos related to the gas mileage and overall adverse environmental impact of the Tahoe. The website is no longer available, and at the time, GM had not planned on taking the videos down.

It’s campaigns like these that underscore the delicate balance companies are forced to negotiate when handing over their brands to consumers.

The Matrix Super Bowl Commercial

Disclaimer: this video received (at the time of this writing) more than 4 million views, which is a success in any company’s book.

That being said, the spot was as untimely as it was outlandish and cheesy. The last Matrix installment in the film franchise was released more than 10 years before this commercial aired. Granted, there are lots of ads that reference old films, but to base a Super Bowl ad around a movie title that is just now being forgotten is in poor judgment. Sports fans who aren’t into the sci-fi fantasy culture probably didn’t even understand half the commercial.

The whole campaign might not have been a complete misstep by Kia had it not cost the company 4 million dollars for one 30-second TV spot. If you missed it, feel free to judge for yourself.

Bad Spots for QR Codes

This last flop doesn’t showcase any major companies or well-known marketing mistakes. QR codes have been around for a little while with mixed reviews regarding their effectiveness.  I’m in the camp that believes there is still a time and place for the QR code to be successful, but a billboard is not that place.

On more than a few sites around the web, I’ve seen QR codes on billboards actually mentioned as a viable tactic. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly get these things to register on my phone holding a piece of paper perfectly still at a table let alone with one hand through a windshield while in motion. Using a QR code requires concentration and time, which are two things that are in short supply while driving by a sign at 70 miles per hour.


QR codes can be effective if you are creative and logical. By nature, they require effort on the part of the audience. If your audience is busy driving, chances are your campaign won’t be that successful.


What marketing campaigns have you seen in recent years that have totally tanked? Do you disagree with any of the opinions in this post? Join in the conversation by commenting below.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

Recent Content