In a 2017 campaign for one of its myriad soaps, the Unilever backed brand posted a clip where a black woman removed her top to reveal a white woman - presumably in the glow of having just scrubbed herself free of pigment. It carried all sorts of racist implications and inferences of transformative superiority.
But perhaps the most shocking aspect of the campaign was that it was in 2017. Someone signed off on that.
When Elon Musk expanded his Tesla marque into the tough new territory of SUVs, he chose the name Cybertruck and unveiled it to the salivating media in California.
Eager to show the world just how impervious it was to damage, the company’s design chief Franz von Holzhausen decided it would an excellent idea to hurl a metal ball at one of the windows. Which promptly shattered.
You’d think that maybe this would be a sign that the exact same thing might happen if you threw the same metal ball at another window. Which Franz inexplicably did, leading perhaps to Musk’s best quote of 2019 “Oh my f****** god.”
When Chrysler introduced its first minivan in November 1983, Chairman Lee Iacocca drove it off the assembly line, accompanied by other executives. He got out and waved to the crowd, but the sliding rear door wouldn’t open, trapping the men in the back. Brilliant.
We couldn’t make this one up. When the auto giant launched a direct marketing campaign - read: stuff in your mail box you didn’t ask for - to coincide with the debut of its Cinquecento hatchback, the target was “independent modern working women”.
Thousands of whom were sent notes that read: “Dear X [and yes their first names were included], Roses are red, violets are blue, check out this new car. I’m staring at you.”
The Starbucks fiasco
In the summer of 2002 - and the year is important - the Seattle conglomerate launched a print ad for a new collection of cold drinks.
They featured a towering pair of these delicious examples amid smaller blades of grass and a hovering firefly. But coming less than a year after 9/11 with its tragically famous images of aircraft flying into twin towers, the campaign inadvertently echoed one of the United States’ darkest days. Especially when teamed with the slogan “collapse into cool”.
For some reason, it’s the auto industry that gets it wrong most spectacularly most often. Mitsubishi, for example, didn’t think to double check what the word “Pajero” might mean in other language. Spanish for example where it aptly translates to w*****.
They are not the first car company to stuff up in this regard. Chevy launched a car called the “Nova” without realising that ‘no va’ means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish.
Because it’s not like tens of millions of people in its home country of America happen to speak the language.
Pepsi must die
To catch up to Coca-Cola in the Philippines, the early ‘90s marketing team at Pepsi launched a competition where one lucky drinker would win 1 million pesos. All it took was the correct three digit code on your bottle cap.
Sales skyrocketed by 40 per cent, almost half the population participated and it turns out that the magic number was 349. Problem was the consulting firm hired to draw the winner somehow misread a memo because 349 was not merely printed on one cap. It was printed on 800,000 of them.
Full scale rioting ensued and the firm ended up paying out over $10 million in legal fees and restitution.