Here are the top ten worst marketing disasters of all time (and what we can learn from them):
- Enron: It's nearly impossible to talk about a far-reaching, industry-changing, regulation-altering scandal and not lead with Enron. This disaster went beyond marketing; the overhype and lack of transparency helped deeply inflate the value of (and disguise the shady and illegal business practices of) one of the more criminal corporations in U.S. history. Its CEOs and various leaders were tasked with improving its public image and keeping the company's record clean for investors. The scandal was so far-reaching that it left over 10,000 working Americans out of their pension and collapsed one of the biggest accounting and consulting firms in the country as collateral damage.
- Fiat's Love Letters to Women: Sending newsletters exclusively to women, anonymously, to imply someone is stalking them was indeed a terrible idea. Someone should have told Fiat before the company sponsored 50,000 letters sent to the homes of women across Spain doing exactly this.
- BP CEO "Would Like His Life Back" After Explosion Kills Employees: After eleven people were killed in an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in a tragedy that caused the worst oil spill in US history, BP CEO Tony Hayward was quoted as saying he "would like his life back." As families mourned their loved ones and BP employees and volunteers struggled to manage the crisis, he also deemed it a "very modest spill." Gaffe after gaffe, Hayward couldn't seem to put his personal pity party aside long enough to convey empathy for what had happened.
- Kenneth Cole Egypt Civil Unrest Tweet: Sometimes tweets directly from the CEO add humanity and excitement into the marketing mix and offer a peek behind the scenes. Other times they put an unfiltered leader into hot water. Such was the case when Kenneth Cole attempted to capitalize on civil unrest by using a crisis to promote his brand's spring collection. Using protests and human indignity to sell products is distasteful and sure to incite anger among existing consumers, media, and prospects.
- Justine Sacco and Her Infamous Tweet: A cautionary communications lesson for anyone tweeting in the internet age, and maybe the first (temporary) casualty of cancel culture. Though she was working in the PR industry in her greatest role to date, Justine Sacco infamously tweeted, "Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding! I'm white." moments before wheels up on a plane during a family vacation. She landed hours later to find the internet aflame in disgust.