5 Impressively Clueless Marketing Stunts That Totally Backfired

by Pauli Poisuo

Marketing executives would sell their shriveled, raisin-like souls for the ability to channel true roguishness, if only because legitimate badassery makes selling toothpaste infinitely easier. Still, there’s a reason we’re fueling this site with Patreon and the Modern Rogue store instead of traditional ad revenue: Whenever marketers try to go full rogue, the result is usually cringe-inducing idiocy.


Ubisoft Promotes Watch Dogs With A Bomb Scare

One huge game can potentially make or break a developer, and with budgets on par with some countries' entire economic pools, it makes sense that their marketing teams try to get as creative as possible. If you ever find yourself in that position, try not to use the method that Ubisoft greenlit to promote Watch Dogs, which in 2014 was, "Let’s send a mysterious, beeping package to a random journalist."

One day, a random reporter of an Australian news office called Ninemsn received a strange parcel that contained a small, black safe and a letter that instructed him to check his voice mail. Unfortunately, this particular reporter didn’t have voicemail. Now faced with impossible instructions and a creepy package, the staff did what pretty much anyone would do and punched in the pin code taped to the top of the safe. This didn’t open it. Instead, it started beeping ominously.

"Don't worry, it's safe. HYOOOO!"

At this point, Ninemsn recognized that the “someone sent a newsroom a creepy, beeping device and a crazy letter” situation was either a particularly stupid PR stunt or something that they should run away from really, really fast. They started calling other newsrooms in case they had received similar presents, but no -- they were the only one. Some light evacuation and a few phone calls to the authorities later, the bomb squad arrived and pried open the safe, only to discover ... a copy of Watch Dogs and some merchandise.

A Dell Promotional Stunt Gets Two People Arrested

How would you promote a brand new tablet? Run ads touting its design and performance? Pepper tech sites with free products and merchandise to get positive reviews? Send an angry, masked biker to scream at people?

If you’re one of the two goofballs in charge of arranging an internal marketing event for the Dell Streak tablet at the Dell Round Rock Campus, your answer is obviously that last one. Bryan Crester and Daniel Lawson had arranged their event at the lobby, but how would people find their way there? After all, the lobby is a notoriously removed part of a building that people almost never pass through. Eschewing traditional methods such as printed invitations or just telling people about the event, Crester and Lawson decided to channel that very specific sense of humor that only marketers and people who think school shooting pranks are hilarious have: They decided to dress Crester up as a biker and have him invade the building. Oh, and to make things even more hilarious, they neglected to inform anyone else in the company about the stunt.



"We see nothing wrong with this idea. Good businessing, gentlemen!"

And so it came to be that on an otherwise unassuming Monday, horrified Dell employees had their work day interrupted by a scary biker dude in dark clothing and a skull mask who ran through the offices, wielding two “metallic objects” and screaming that everyone had to go to the lobby.

911 was immediately flooded with the workers’ panicked calls about a masked gunman running amok in the building. When the police rolled on the scene with multiple heavily armed units, Lawson decided to frost their already impressive stupidity cake with an extra glazing of insanity by confronting them and brazenly refusing to give any information about the situation. You’ll recognize this as an excellent way to get tasered in the crotch, and eventually, so did Lawson. He revealed the true cause of the panic and the police located Crester. The pair got arrested on the spot for being colossal dumbasses, and were slapped with misdemeanor charges of "deadly conduct" and interfering with public duties.

The French Police Reminds Cannes Visitors That Terrorists Might Attack At Any Moment

In 2016, the world wasn’t exactly experiencing a shortage of terror attacks. France in particular had been on high alert for quite some time, what with the Cannes-Torcy Jihadist Cell and the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

With the legendary and extremely high-profile Cannes Film Festival nearing, the authorities were keen to show the world that they were able to handle whatever terrorists could throw at them. So a few weeks before the festival, the French police threw a red carpet party of their own ... by running a large-scale, realistic terror attack simulation on the famous steps of Palais des Festivals, the main venue of Cannes.


The intention of the exercise was to put people’s mind at ease on how efficiently they’d react should there be a terrorist attack. However, when the video of the event started making rounds and the famous attendees saw heavily armed cops running over one of their most sacred grazing grounds, the effect was not exactly what they intended. Up until the release of the video, the celebrities and executives due to attend the ceremony hadn’t really been thinking about the risk of an attack, but now that they saw an actual, physical dry run of how their fancy ball might wind up going down, many of them thought, "Holy crap, we might actually be attacked on the red carpet!"

What’s more, France forgot that the industry professionals they were trying to impress with the stunt are in the BS business themselves, and they’re very good at smelling a rat. As such, the way the footage of the exercise spread through the internet and received heavy airtime on French television caused multiple attendees to question whether the whole thing was just a big ol’ PR stunt and the festival was actually a lot less ready to deal with terrorists than the officials would have the world believe.

A Hotel Trade Group’s Attack Ad Hilariously Backfires

For obvious reasons, the hotel industry hasn’t exactly welcomed the rise of Airbnb with open arms. However, few hotel owners have reacted to the home-renting platform with the kind of bile that an anti-Airbnb trade group of New York City hotels did in the summer of 2017. They had plenty of ammunition against their competition: They could have pointed out Airbnb’s regulatory issues, or allegations of poor host vetting, or “mega-hosts” who rent out hundreds of listings while happily dodging hotel taxes. Instead, they decided to join forces with two unions that represent hotel workers and straight up claimed that Airbnb sucks because they help terrorists.


They released a hilariously aggressive attack ad that paints Airbnb as a terrorist enabler ... after all, there’s no telling just who could rent properties through the platform. In fact, the guy who bombed the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester earlier that year was staying in a short-term rental apartment!

To the group’s disappointment, Airbnb completely failed to be cowed when the clip was released. Instead, the company cracked its knuckles and replied with the business equivalent of a “Now listen here, you little sh*t ...” speech. An Airbnb spokesman had a field day pointing out that although the Manchester bomber had in fact been staying in a short-term rental property, Airbnb had nothing to do with it. Then, he went on to kindly remind us that the thing they were being accused of -- enabling people to stay somewhere without anyone knowing where you are -- has historically been hotels’ exact and entire thing.

As for terrorists? Well, the 9/11 hijackers stayed in hotels, as did the terrorists who attacked Paris in 2015.

A Department Of Defense Photo-Op Accidentally Recreates 9/11 Panic

There are marketing stunts that are bad. And then there are marketing stunts that manage to recreate the most traumatic experience in a nation’s recent history.




That takes some serious incompetence, so it’s probably not a surprise that the government was behind it. In 2009, the Department of Defense felt that it needed to remind people that it had access to a ton of cool planes that were capable of even cooler things. So they decided to arrange a $330,000 promotional photo-op featuring a Boeing passenger jet and a military fighter plane. To maximize the coolness of the pictures, the planes would fly in worryingly low altitudes over a cityscape.

This, to be fair, would probably have made a pretty kickass set of promotional images ... if the town they chose for their flyover didn’t happen to be New York. Yes, that’s right. The Department of Defense thought it would be fantastic to have a giant jet plane do a low-altitude flight over freakin post-9/11 Manhattan, around the Statue of Liberty and near the WTC site. For 30 minutes. Oh, and as an extra rotten egg smell to this brain fart, whatever city officials they claimed to have notified certainly weren’t the appropriate ones. Even Mayor Bloomberg didn’t know about the operation.

The flyover went exactly as well as you can imagine. The low-flying planes created a citywide panic. People cleared out from their office buildings for fear of having their names carved in a memorial. 911 operators drowned under scores of panicked emergency calls. The Department of Defense had to deal with an extremely angry mayor who was now forced to deal with a city that just had its collective 9/11 memories rubbed in its face.

And the mayor was just the start of their troubles. The flyover turned out to have been authorized by a White House staffer, and the Boeing 747 used in the flyover was a very specific plane called Air Force One. President Obama’s exact reaction to the incident has unfortunately not been released, but it has been described as "furious", and the discussion he had with the White House staffer responsible "didn’t sound like a fun meeting".

Like this article? Check out "5 WTF Work Screw-Ups That Were So Bad They Made The News" and "5 Moronic Criminals Who Basically Caught Themselves".

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