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5 Crazy Marketing Gimmicks Gone Horribly Wrong

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks

Before your company decides to do something crazy, maybe you want to check out the results of these guerrilla marketing campaigns. Needless to say, they didn't have the intended result.

Marketing Mistakes

While marketing campaigns are designed to drum up publicity, they don't always have their intended outcome.

New York City's Rich Tu quickly learned that lesson after spending 24 hours in jail following a late-night attempt to drum up exposure for his recently released event management application, Pozzle.

In November, Tu was feeling good after the company hit several milestones, so he decided to plaster New York City with 1,000 stickers bearing his company's logo. 

"I was feeling pretty invincible, so I thought, 'Let's do something crazy,'" Tu told BusinessNewsDaily. 

Tu and Pozzle co-founder Charles Jamerlan had placed more than 500 stickers around the city and were wrapping up their impromptu guerilla marketing campaign about 2 a.m. when things took a turn for the worse. 

"An unmarked cop came out of nowhere and just arrested us on the spot," Tu said. 

Tu spent the next 24 hours in New York City's central booking, sharing a cell with armed robbers, turnstile hoppers and a host of Occupy Wall Street protesters. He was eventually released and ordered to do 21 hours of community service. 

"If there is a silver lining, it is that I am actually enjoying the community service way more than I thought I would," he said. Of course, he's also using the story of his arrest to help promote his business. 

Tu doesn't regret his actions and said the company has really taken off since that November night. Pozzle has tripled its users and recently signed partnership deals with a large event management company. 

"I think it got people interested in my story and helped push the app," Tu said of his ill-fated sticker campaign. 

Through the years, many other companies have run into problems after launching well-intended marketing campaigns. Here is a rundown of a few of the biggest marketing blunders of all time. [Related: 7 Tips for Creating a Great Business Marketing Plan]

Cartoon Network

In a post-9/11 era of heightened awareness, placing strange electronic devices on street corners and bridges across the country might not be the best idea, as The Cartoon Network learned in 2007.

The cable station planted dozens of blinking electronic devices in 10 cities as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign promoting the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The campaign went awry in Boston when a worried resident called the police thinking the devices were explosives. The incident turned into a full-blown terrorism scare, with police sending in bomb squads and shutting down Boston-area bridges.

In the end, the stunt cost Cartoon Network head Jim Samples his job and the station's parent company, Turner Broadcasting, $2 million in compensation for Boston's emergency response.

Snapple Popsicle

Going bigger isn't always better, as Snapple found out in 2005 when it attempted to erect the world's largest popsicle in New York's Times Square.

The stunt might have worked had the drink maker not tried to set up the 25-foot tall popsicle, made of frozen Snapple juice and weighing 17.5 tons, on an 80-degree June day. The frozen treat began to melt as it was being lifted upright, flooding parts of downtown Manhattan with kiwi-strawberry-flavored Snapple.

Firefighters had to be called in to close off streets and hose down the mess.

Mission Impossible

In 2006, Paramount Pictures discovered it wasn't good to mess with a person's daily newspaper.

In a campaign to promote "Mission Impossible III," the movie studio put small red musical devices inside 4,500 L.A. Times newspaper boxes.

When the boxes were opened, the devices would play the "Mission Impossible" theme song, but it left readers singing a different tune. The campaign backfired when customers noticed the devices and became alarmed that the boxes contained a bomb. In one instance, the Santa Clarita bomb squad was called in.

“This was the least-intended outcome," said John O’Loughlin, the L.A. Times’ senior vice president for planning. at the time. "We weren’t expecting anything like this."

Heart Attack Grill

The most recent marketing failure ended up being no stunt at all for Las Vegas' Heart Attack Grill, but a lot of people thought it was.

The restaurant, where diners are given surgical gowns as they choose from a menu offering "Bypass" burgers, "Flatliner" fries and buttermilk shakes, had one customer take its message to heart.

A diner suffered a heart attack last month while eating the restaurant's "Triple Bypass Burger" as other customers looked on thinking the incident, complete with a visit from local paramedics, was all part of an act. 

Since then, restaurant owner Jon Basso has been forced to defend the restaurant against claims that the incident was staged to drum up publicity.

"It was no joke," Basso told the Associated Press at the time. "We would never pull a stunt like that."

Image Credit: Jovanmandic / Getty Images
Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
Business News Daily Staff
Chad Brooks is a writer and editor with more than 20 years of media of experience. He has been with Business News Daily and for the past decade, having written and edited content focused specifically on small businesses and entrepreneurship. Chad spearheads coverage of small business communication services, including business phone systems, video conferencing services and conference call solutions. His work has appeared on The Huffington Post,,, Live Science, IT Tech News Daily, Tech News Daily, Security News Daily and Laptop Mag. Chad's first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.