Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The 5 Worst Viral Marketing Campaigns

Perhaps the biggest viral marketing blunders of the last decade.

5. eBay 'Windorphins'

No, they're not anti-depressants. eBay's marketing geniuses dreamed up some blobby little cartoon characters to promote the site and the "endorphin" rush you get when you "win" an eBay auction ("win-dorphin," get it?).
Per the original press release of July 2007:
"We've all experienced that feeling you can only get on eBay--you know, the excited rush you get when you win that item you really wanted at a great price? ... Well, we've had a scientific breakthrough! According to our official scientists--after a lot of arduous, painstaking research--it can be linked to a phenomenon called 'Windorphins.'"
eBay set up a Web site where you could create your own Windorphins, and spent millions on billboards, magazine ads, and TV spots promoting them. One billboard ad proclaimed, "Windorphins are like a ticker tape parade for your soul." A more accurate description came from the blogger who called them "happy, animated hemorrhoids."eBay quietly dropped the campaign a few months later in favor of one titled "Shop Victoriously." Ugh. As for the Windorphins: Now they're just plain orphans.
Lame: Hitting the perfect balance between confusing your audience and nauseating them.
Lamer: Strong-arming a journalist at The Motley Fool into turning over the domain, only to abandon it less than a year later.

4. Wal-Marting Across America

They were Jim and Laura, two average Americans who hit the road in their RV (dubbed "Wally 1"), parking overnight at Wal-Marts around the country and blogging about the fine folks they met along the way. Sounds downright homey, don't it?
But the relentlessly upbeat entries about how everyone just loved working for Wal-Mart set off alarms in the blogosphere, and before long the blog was exposed as a fake. Though Jim and Laura were real, the trip was paid for by Wal-Mart and engineered by its PR firm, Edelman. Once people connected the dots, the blogosphere erupted, splattering both Wal-Mart and Edelman with mud and spawning yet another Web 2.0 neologism--the "flog," or fake blog.
Edelman, which helped write the ethics guidelines for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association but apparently forgot to read them, later admitted to creating two more flogs for Wal-Mart.
Lame: Treating the blogosphere the same way Wal-Mart treats mom-and-pop shops.
Lamer: Spending your vacation in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
3. Jawbone Films

Foul-mouthed racists, homicidal laundry employees, a shark-infested swimming pool, mauled teenagers, and Russian mobsters drowned in their own borscht. The latest Tarantino/Rodriguez gorefest? No, it's a collection of viral videos created to promoteAliph's Jawbone Bluetooth headsets. The idea: Despite what's going on around you (murder, mayhem, sloppy kissing between male rugby players), you can drown it all out using the Jawbone's new "NoiseAssassin" technology. Nice.
In the worst of the four videos, a racist jerk enters a Chinese laundry, insults everyone, and gets smothered with a dry-cleaning bag and beaten to death by the employees--while an oblivious bystander enjoys a crystal-clear cell call.
"I don't have virgin ears and I've dropped an f-bomb or two in my life," notes Patrick Byers, CEO of Outsource Marketing and purveyor of The Responsible Marketing Blog. "But this video is incredibly insensitive, offensive and violent. The Jawbone brand is creating buzz all on its own. They didn't need to resort to exploitative or offensive virals."
Lame: Calling your new technology "NoiseAssassin." Are all your customers 14 years old?
Lamer: Marketing something that makes you look like Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, only less hot.
2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force and 'The Bomb'

How do you promote a cartoon starring anthropomorphic versions of fast food? The creators behind the Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force thought it would be a neat idea to attach hundreds of small billboards styled like Lite-Brite glowing toys to buildings, bridges, and underpasses in cities across the country. But when the Boston police mistook the battery-operated signs for terrorist bombs in January 2007, all hell broke loose. The city shut down highways and parts of the Charles River for several hours. The masterminds behind the signs, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, were arrested, and Turner Broadcasting System had to pay $2 million to clean up the mess. (Berdovsky and Stevens were eventually sentenced to community service.)
But this viral-marketing disaster may have actually helped the show's image, says Barak Kassar, group creative director of full-service marketing firm Rassak Experience.
"Adult Swim's young male audience relish anti-establishment cartoons and likely relished the news footage (which they probably watched on YouTube) of the 'busted' yet unrepentant gonzo marketers who were contracted by the network," says Kassar.
Of the dozen major cities where the signs were placed, only Beantown mistook a marketing gimmick for a terrorist plot. But after all, said Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, "It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires."
Lame: Boston authorities, who insisted on prosecuting the ATHF team for planting "hoax devices" long after their real purpose was revealed.
1. Microsoft Vista's 'Wow'
It was a marriage made in marketing hell: a lame product with an even worse catchphrase. Yet "The Wow starts now" was only the beginning of Microsoft's desperate effort to drum up enthusiasm for Vista, its years-late-and-many-dollars-short operating system.
The campaign hit rock bottom with the Web site that Microsoft created for Vista fans to display their "Wow" moments. By having users upload photos and video clips to, Microsoft hoped to show off Vista's nifty Aero interface. Unfortunately, Aero was too processor-intensive to run on many machines, leading to a class action lawsuit over the "Vista Capable" stickers used to promote the OS on underpowered systems.
"In 1994 we represented CompuServe, which had a product called 'Wow' with a slogan 'Bring the Wow into your life,'" notes Richard Laermer, principal of RLM PR and author of 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade. "Twelve years later, Microsoft's doing it. Using 'Wow' is like sleeping on the job. Whoever came up with that campaign for Microsoft should be shot."
Our favorite ShowUs moment: a video of Claudio, a bone-thin topless transvestite in a blonde wig, shaking his booty and lip-syncing to Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie." Wow.
Lame: Building a marketing campaign around a catchphrase that was tired back in 1994.
Lamer: Windows Vista itself.

Excerpt from,fair use policy.