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Famous marketing stunts that totally backfired

It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Unfortunately, these failed campaigns beg to differ.

From doughnuts that blew up the internet to identity theft to destructive popsicles and plenty of disasters in between, the following events prove that when publicity stunts go wrong, they can go horribly wrong. You won’t believe these famous marketing stunts that totally backfired.

LifeLock CEO gives TMI to the public

Close up image of American dollar bills and Social Security card
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In 2006, LifeLock CEO Todd Davis made a very poor decision when it came to marketing.

To prove the effectiveness of his company’s offerings, he posted his social security number across media, including internet ads, billboards, and on TV commercials. The idea? To prove that LifeLock was super-good at protecting your identity.

However, it didn't quite work out as he’d hoped. His identity was stolen at least 13 times, and there were nearly 100 failed attempts. In spite of his claims that the low number of successful hacks was a testament to the company’s offerings, the FTC did not concur. LifeLock was fined big time for false advertising.

Time to make the doughnuts

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Once upon a time, UberEats forged a partnership with Krispy Kreme to create, what they hoped would be, an epic promotion. The offer? Free doughnuts for residents in London who ordered over the app. The promotion was popular... but perhaps a little too popular and ended up backfiring.

Apparently, everyone and his brother reached for their mobile phones to order some tasty fried treats, but the demand was so great that the app crashed in mere minutes. Hungry, would-be customers took to social media to complain, and it turned into a doughnut debacle.

Snapple melts down

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In 2005, Snapple attempted to make the world’s largest popsicle. While food world records have proven an effective marketing strategy for many companies in the past, this particular project was destined to fail.

Sure, the massive popsicle was impressive... for a very short period of time. But someone had decided that the first day of summer was a great day for this undertaking, and it turned out to be a balmy day. Quite quickly, the 25-foot popsicle, made with 17.5 tons of Snapple, started to melt across New York City streets. The city’s famed Union Square was awash in a deluge of strawberry-kiwi liquid, resulting in street closures and who knows how many flies.

“Mission: Impossible” faux bomb threat

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In the 2000s, a publicity event to promote "Mission: Impossible” went terribly, terribly wrong.

To promote the new movie, devices playing the theme song were put into Los Angeles-area newspaper racks to help create buzz.

However, the devices looked suspicious, and when residents saw something, they said something. The boxes with wires were thought to be bombs, and the cops were called in. The boxes were determined not to be a threat, but the promotion went up in smoke.

Nintendo Wii promotion goes terribly wrong

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In 2007, a radio station held a cleverly titled “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” promotion. The idea? See how much liquid people could drink and hold it in the longest.

It backfired in a tragic way. The day after the promotion, a participant was discovered dead in her home. The cause of death was water intoxication.

Consider the implications

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While taking bold and creative steps in advertising and publicity can be a good thing, some marketing stunts are bad ideas. These PR blunders are proof that sometimes, it’s better to stick to tried-and-true promotions rather than trying something wacky that could result in disaster.