Friday the 13th Special: Bad Luck Branding
Happy Friday 13th, everybody! I thought this would be a fun time to talk about some of the the most cursed campaigns in branding and business I’ve seen.
1. Lays WOW Chips.
Wow, oh wow. The marketing was great. The idea was great…in the 90s, fat was branded as the worst part of a diet, and so anything low in fat, high in flavor was touted as a miracle. Enter the WOW chip. Containing Olestra, a “fat alternative,” people were delighted by the notion of fat-less snacking and bought the chips up by the score.
Unfortunately, Olestra caused numerous accidents of the lavatorial kind. So many pants were soiled and so many reputations publicly tarnished that they had to begin labeling warnings on their bags, which was an effective death-nail in the brand. Lays bounced back, but WOW chips are only spoken of as a past embarrassment.
2. New Coke
If a bunch of CMOs got together to tell spooky campfire tales, new coke would be the story that makes them stay awake all night. Coca Cola was making money hand over fist, and decided, for some reason, to spend a fortune generating hype for a replacement formula for their goose that was laying golden eggs.
And in 1985, people bought New Coke. And they hated it. The backlash was so big that some even theorized it was a ploy to get people to buy more Classic Coke when the re-released it. Interestingly, Coke released New Coke again due to the popularity of 1985-centered Stranger Things and people seemed to have palates more geared to the maligned soft drink in 2019 more so than in 1985.
Last year Heineken decided to emphasize the “lightness” of their beer in all the wrong ways. They shot a commercial where a bartender slides a beer past 3 black customers to a white woman, with the tagline: “sometimes, lighter is better.”
Chance the rapper vocally reacted, as he thought this was racist for some reason…what could possibly have led him to such a crazy notion?
Oh, wait. Now I see it.
E.A. Games has had a lot of snafus lately, but when they promoted their Godfather game by sending out free brass knuckles with copies to game journalists, they really broke the mold. And the law.
Brass knuckles are illegal in many states. Also…they are weapons. Chips that make you crap your pants and playfully racist beer I can understand somewhat, but who thought this was a good idea?
I don’t even have to mention what it is for most of you to know but here’s a hint: “Something something toxic masculinity…something something buy our razors, male demographic.” You know what happened. Was it a bad idea? 8 Billion dollars says yes. That’s Dr. Evil levels of money lost. They’ve even tried to rebrand male-oriented products under a different name.
Dove wanted everyone to know you should be happy in your own skin. So they made bottles shaped like different “body types.” The reaction to the tone-deaf campaign on social media was half outrage and half mockery. Some were offended, some (like myself) thought it reeked of desperation to gain visibility via bland virtue signalling.
7. Giant Foods
Print ads nowadays are usually more polished and free from the flaws in the previous entries thanks to the ability to edit, review, and test the ads. Giant Foods must have not done any of these things in their print ad last year. The holidays were approaching, and with people concerned about missing their loved ones, Giant Foods decided to send a message: Just get everyone together and enjoy a SUPER SPREAD. The aforementioned spread being a reference to the foods you put out, and presumably not related in ANY way to super spreading, a colloquialism about disregarding the pandemic and the behaviors that had been adopted that year. Probably goes without saying that this one didn’t do well for Giant Foods.
That’s all I’ve got, I hope you enjoyed these Friday 13th “Bad Luck Branding” mistakes!