ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

Marketing campaigns can backfire in a multitude of ways. Of course, they can simply be ineffective at selling the product in question, but they can also insult, disgust, offend and perhaps even break the law in ways the original marketing brain never intended.

Last week we heard how a Guild Wars 2 photo shoot accidentally sparked widespread panic in China concerning Gollum-like creatures inhabiting their woods, but that wasn't the first time mythical creatures have caused a panic. Below, is another example of monsters invading China to sell products, as well as eight other weird and ill-advised marketing campaigns.

Alcohol Is The Devil. Literally

Probably not what the Sibuxiang beast actually looks like
Probably not what the Sibuxiang beast actually looks like

On September 19, 1994 TV viewers in Taiyuan in North China received a stark warning which chilled them to the core.

A message scrolled across a blank screen warning that the Sibuxiang beast, a mythical creature whose bite was said to be fatal, was fast approaching the city. The message certainly didn't mince its words, stating that the beast would soon be entering homes throughout the region. It read:

It is said that the Sibuxiang is penetrating our area from Yanmenguan Pass and within days will enter thousands of homes. Everyone close your windows and doors and be on alert.

Many residents followed the instructions, barricading their homes and frantically calling the police to find out what was going on. Fortunately, what was going on was a rather deceptive adverting campaign for a new brand of liquor.

You see, despite the message ending with the phrase, "Plotted by Jinxin advertising", TV commercials were still a novelty in China at this time. Usually, television advertising simply consisted of a picture of the item, accompanied with a voice-over. The Sibuxiang incident marked one of the first instances of innovative advertising methods leaking into the traditionally communist nation.

Jing Huiwen, the creator of the advert was fined 5000 yuan (about $590) for causing a public panic, but in the end he had the last laugh. The marketing campaign had worked brilliantly and three months after the ad, the client base for Sibuxiang had quadrupled.

Drive Recklessly For A Day!

When Acclaim software wanted to market the release of their upcoming racing game, Burnout 2: Point of Impact, some bright-spark with a BA degree in marketing had the brainwave of suggesting they pay off all speeding tickets in the UK on the day of its release - because, y'know, the racing game demographic actually like driving fast in real life.

Of course, as you can imagine, the police weren't exactly happy with the idea of a company essentially facilitating and promoting reckless and dangerous driving. Luckily, the idea never reached fruition and presumably the guy who thought it up was relegated to grabbing the morning coffees and cocaine for the rest of the advertising team.

Sexually Molest Someone For Free!

It seems video game marketing teams don't always come up with the best ideas. Back in 2010, EA were releasing Dante's Inferno, a game loosely based on Dante's exploration of hell. To publicize this, they suggested a "Sin To Win" competition in which Comic-Con attendees could enter a booth with the event's babes and record "acts of lust" - the best of which would win a date with two buxom ladies.

Now, this idea was probably a bad one in any location and with any demographic - but it was particularly misjudged considering it was held at the largest geek gathering in the world. Despite the fact they were only supposed to take photos, many revelers decided to take the opportunity to further their sexual maturation by groping and grabbing the girls in ways which were probably not intended by EA - and certainly aren't encouraged by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Steal My Identity! I Dare You!

I just love this one. Todd Davis is a bold man who doesn't mess around when it comes to big claims about his product - LifeLock, the 'Number 1 Identity Protection Service.' The CEO was so pleased with his product that he commissioned billboards in which he flaunted his social security number and almost encouraged people to try and defraud him.

Of course, this was supposed to show how much confidence he had in his no-doubt impenetrable product. However, as you can probably guess, he became a victim of identity theft... 13 times. Small loans were taken out with his SSN, accounts were opened with banks and cell service providers and he even ended up owing $312 to a gift-basket company. To be fair, there were an additional eighty-seven attempts which at least partly showed his product worked, however others were not so eager to cite the campaign as a success. Ultimately the company was sued $12,000,000 by the federal trade commission and was, ironically, accused of operating a scam.

Department of Offence

On Monday April 27th 2009, the US Department of Defense decided it would conduct a photo opportunity involving a low-flying Boeing 747 being tailed by an F-16 as it circled Manhattan. Does that sound like a good idea to you?

As you can imagine, the photo op caused widespread panic in New York as the population - including Mayor Bloomberg - hadn't actually been informed of the event. The DoD soon realized what a incredibly dumb concept their marketing campaign was and cancelled another photo op that was due to take place over Washington D.C. later that day. A military spokesman later said:

While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.

Ivory Much Hope This Doesn't Happen Again

This marketing stunt is a bit of a special one. Firstly, it didn't exactly backfire - indeed it worked brilliantly - and secondly, it involves an execution of an elephant for murder. From here on out, things are going to get pretty sad guys.

Back in 1916, Sparks World-Famous Shows has struggling to compete with new, larger circuses that were developing at the time. Its only real asset was Mary - an elephant they claimed was the biggest in the world. However, one day a poorly trained under-keeper of Mary was killed when he unnecessarily prodded the elephant with a bull hook, enraging her and resulting in his death.

The town was outraged and responded in the only logical way. The Mayor grabbed the Sheriff and both went down to the circus where upon they promptly arrested Mary for murder, summarily sentencing her to be hanged. However, the owner of the circus, Charles H. Sparks, didn't want to miss a marketing opportunity and decided to stage an execution spectacular! It drew huge crowds and helped revitalize his business. Let's hope it never happened again.

It did...

Feeling Heartbroken? Why Not Buy Some Life Insurance!

Marketing for life insurance is probably pretty difficult. You basically have to scare people into thinking they're going to die tomorrow, while simultaneously persuading them to throw their hard earned cash your way.

However, one - still unidentified - insurance company took things a bit further with their social media campaign. This is Audrey and Mark from Singapore. They started a Facebook group which was apparently devised to persuade their parents to let them marry. Thanks to their Facebook supporters the families finally dropped their objections and the happy day was streamed 'live'. However, before the couple could say their vows, Mark realized he had forgotten something and ran off to retrieve it, passing the camera to his best man. Suddenly there was a screeching of tires as Mark was hit by a car and killed. Of course, everyone thought it was a real tragedy until a message appeared on the screen: "Unexpected Things Happen In Life. Be insured to have your loved ones assured."

The whole thing was simply a stunt to promote a life insurance company. The Facebook followers were, of course, incensed and no company has even come forward to claim responsibility.

Abercrombie and Fitch's Asian-American Racist T-Shirt Range!

In 2002, Abercrombie and Fitch decided not enough Asian Americans were buying their ridiculously over-priced clothes. To get around this dilemma they decided to create a range of T-shirts which would appeal to this demographic. This is their result:

Yes, that's right. Their entire idea for attracting Asian American customers was to print out-dated stereotypes featuring offensive Asian caricatures and puns on t-shirts. Needless to say, the t-shirts did not catch on - except presumably with racists. Indeed, A&F's response was almost as baffling as their t-shirt designs, with the company stating:

We personally thought Asians would love this T-shirt.

Crude Advertising

Where as most people saw the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a major ecological disaster, for others it was apparently an unmissable money making opportunity. Back in 2010, Spirit Airlines ran a poster campaign attempting to lure travelers to sunnier, non oil contaminated climes such as Puerto Rico and Cancun. They did it with these posters:

Given the fact many people, and animals for that matter, were still struggling with one of the worst oil disasters in history, not many potential customers were really in the mood to appreciate their not so clever play on words.


Which of these marketing campaigns do you find most offensive?


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