Terrible Promotions That Lost Companies Millions Of Dollars

Lots of marketing promotions fail, but none more than these top 10 terrible marketing promotions that lost companies a fortune!


If you're a small business owner, you might get angry that the Facebook ad you paid 5 dollars for didn’t work all that well. But imagine some chief marketing officer out there when he realized that, short of making the company money, his marketing mistake cost his company millions. Here are the 10 worst promotions that lost companies millions.

10. The Apple U2 Giveaway

You've all probably heard of this one, the story that made U2 into a meme for years to come. But for those who don’t know, let’s explain it a bit (apologies in advance to U2 fans). Back in 2014, some genius at Apple came up with the idea that people would love to have their new products come prepackaged with an album that no one really cared about.

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This was not just a simple giveaway. Aside from the annoyance it caused for people logging into iTunes for the first time, there also exists a magical thing called royalties. Apple reportedly paid an undisclosed fee in royalties to U2 and also committed a whopping 100$ million in marketing campaigns for the band to promote their new album.

As shocking as this is, they even stepped in to defend the promotion and the band which led to some undesired responses within various online communities. Nevertheless, Apple seems to be still bitter about their mistake, because they got rid of the headphone jack.

9. Walkers Weather Promotion

When you think about British weather, what comes to your mind first? If you answered “Rain”, then you're probably smarter than the guys running marketing for Walkers crisps. Some genius decided that people would have fun predicting the weather if they could win a prize for it.

Terrible costly Promotions Walkers Weather Promotion

Walkers Crisps decided to pay their faithful customers 10 pounds if they correctly guessed where rain would fall on a grid map of the UK. Of course, they weren't that stupid as they charged everyone the cost of a packet of crisps, 40p, to have a go.

But, as you've probably guessed, offering a 25-fold return to anyone who can guess the climate of a country with fairly predictable weather patterns is a great deal. Rain kept pouring during the time of the promotion and Walkers bravely followed through with their promises at great cost.

WALKERS crisps its raining prizes of over 3 million

After the contest was over, Walkers crisps had to pay 660,000 pounds in 10-pound payments to cover the entire contest. But, to be quite honest, you could argue that it ended up working as a marketing promotion since it made people remember the name Walkers crisps for years to come. They even got some free promotion in this article!

8. Balloonfest of 86

For some people, the word 'balloon' will cause them to have a flashback to the time United Way decided to release 1.5 million balloons over Cleveland and screwed up very badly. The whole stunt had a neat little idea behind it.

Basically, they just wanted to do a little fundraiser and grab the town’s attention for a while. They built a giant box the size of one city block and had 2500 students do the balloon filling while they waited for the crowds to gather.

Once the launch started, it was one of the most beautiful things you could see. At least, for about a few minutes.

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Nobody actually accounted for the fact that wind exists and therein lies their downfall, literally. The 1.5 million balloons started falling to the ground, causing massive damage. They clogged the streets, waterways and pretty much every nook and cranny of the town.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the balloons were blamed for the deaths of two fishermen who were found drowned 2 days later after the balloons interrupted coast guard attempts to rescue them. In fact, one of the fishermen’s wives sued the company for 3 million but settled for an undisclosed amount.

In the aftermath, United Way ended up paying millions to the city and the cleanup crews, not to mention settling lawsuits from various citizens who were damaged by the balloons. To think that the Persians in the 300 movie used arrows to blot out the sun, what a waste. They should have gotten United Way to plan their attack.

Terrible costly Promotions Balloonfest of 86

7. Jägermeister’s Pool of Death

This case goes to show that marketers sometimes don’t know the basics. In this edition, we go over chemistry. Some genius in the marketing department decided that they'll make a giant pool party for all of Jägermeister’s drunken fans, which is a brilliant start.

Terrible costly Promotions Jägermeister’s pool of death

But then, they wanted to have a lot of fog above the pool for that added effect which, is also quite nice. However, what was not really nice was the liquid nitrogen they used to create the fog by pouring it into the water.

Here's the bad part, however: the liquid nitrogen basically made an unbreathable fog above the whole area when it came into contact with the water, and the marketing team must have been shocked upon realizing that humans need air to survive. This whole event was a mess and actually left one partygoer in a coma while hospitalizing 8 others.

Jägermeister never actually disclosed how much they had to cough up for this mistake but considering they put some poor guy in a coma, we can assume that it was a lot. Just goes to show, if you want to play smoke on the water, don’t go overboard with the chemicals.

6. The Energizer Bunny

Terrible costly Promotions The Energizer Bunny

How could a cute little bunny screw up a company that much? Well, can you remember the brand of batteries you have in your remote? Haven’t got a clue? That’s perfectly normal. And that’s what the marketing team at Energizer realized after it was a bit too late.

While the bunny is actually a cute little mascot and became widely known, you can’t really pull off that kind of marketing for something like a battery. The campaign was successful, but the problem is that they actually managed to advertise their competitor in the battery field.

Duracell released a report after the Energizer Bunny first aired showing that their profits had actually doubled at that time because people thought that the bunny was advertising Duracell. In fact, it worked so well that Duracell uses a bunny as their mascot now, which you may have seen.

 Terrible costly Promotions The Energizer Bunny

While the company didn’t lose money directly, the drastic drop in sales and the money wasted on promoting your competitor was enough of a burn to make sure that they're more careful next time.

5. Tesco and Math

Tesco is praised for being a fairly cheap place to shop in the UK, but after this marketing failure, you might think that it's because they're just really bad at math. Back in 2011Tesco decided to do a special little promotion to outdo their competitor, Asda.

Basically, they promised to refund you twice the difference if their competitor’s item was cheaper. Tesco sadly forgot that people can count; customers got savvy by only buying items that were on sale at Asda.

Therefore, they would go to Tesco, buy the same items of sale at Asda, and then after checking out, they'd request double the difference by referring to Asda's website.

Terrible costly Promotions Tesco Asda

For example, one shopper spent £126 at Tesco on a shop that would have cost £81 at Asda and claimed a £90 voucher. Therefore, they essentially paid 36 pounds for all that shopping. Doing this multiple times would save you a whole lot of money, at the expense of Tesco.

While this was a monetary and marketing catastrophe for Tesco, you have to give them props. They actually made a promotion that ended up being great for their customers.

4. Oprah and KFC

We all know that Oprah is the omnipotent master of our destinies so when she offered people a free KFC two piece meal, we all jumped. So why was it such a catastrophe? Well, you can imagine that KFC was not all that pleased when people managed to print out over 10 million free food coupons from Oprah’s website.


During the time of the promotion, KFC gave away over 40$ million worth of free food and probably paid Oprah a ridiculous amount to do the promotion for them. Needless to say, KFC will not be contacting her anytime soon.

3. Bananas for Stereo

This one didn’t cost a lot of money, but it was really stupid on the marketing side. It was the same old formula: savvy customer + dumb exchange = prize. Silo, a chain of electronics stores, decided that the dumb exchange item would be bananas and the prize would be a stereo.

Terrible Promotions That Lost Companies Millions Of Dollars

Imagine their surprise when, after the whole thing settled, they ended up with 11,000 bananas in their warehouse and a lot of stereos given away for around 40$. These guys ended up being nice and donated all of the bananas to the local zoo, but it kind of makes you think how stoned they had to be to come up with the idea in the first place.

2. Mcdonald's Olympics

Naturally, pairing Mcdonald's and something that requires you to be physically fit is a bit weird, but it gets even weirder. During the Summer Olympics of ’84, Mcdonald's had a catchy slogan “If the US wins, you win”.

They included a ticket you could scratch on every meal. Customers would win A Big Mac for gold, French fries for silver and a Coca-Cola for a bronze medal in the event that was on the ticket.

Terrible Promotions That Lost Companies Millions Of Dollars

Trouble is, since the Soviets boycotted the Olympics, the US ended up with 83 gold medals, 61 silvers and 30 bronzes. Basically, McDonald's lost a huge sum of money because the Russians were too lazy to compete. It seems that Russia can screw American businesses even without the hackers.

1. Number Fever

In 1992, Pepsi had its Number Fever promotion and promised to give away 1 million pesos, the equivalent of 40,000 US dollars, to one lucky person with the right number on their bottle cap.

Terrible costly Promotions Number Fever

Trouble is they had accidentally printed the winning number, 349, on 800,000 caps due to an oversight in the manufacturing process. Consequently, they accidentally promised to give away a total of $55 billion in today's dollars.

Naturally, people did not calmly understand the mistake. Thousands of Filipinos began rioting on the streets demanding that Pepsi pay them their rightful prize which now totaled in the millions.

Terrible costly Promotions Number Fever

People even filed 689 civil suits and more than 5,200 criminal cases for fraud and deception. However, Pepsi wasn't entirely at fault. It is believed this marketing failure was caused by D.G. Consultores, a Mexican consulting firm that Pepsi had hired to randomly preselect the winning numbers.

They were clearly instructed not to make the number "349" a winner, but they clearly didn't get the memo.

Terrible costly Promotions Number Fever

Obviously, with such a costly mistake, Pepsi couldn't afford to pay everyone what they promised, and instead settled on giving just under 2 thousand dollars to each winner, instead of the promised 40 thousand. Regardless, Pepsi ended up paying closer to 10 million dollars for the whole campaign, rather than its original budget of 2 million dollars.

Looking at the whole list, a lot of these things wouldn’t have happened if some people just did their job properly. Thanks for reading!

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