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5 Publicity Stunts That Went Horribly Wrong

Are you ready for these quite interesting 5 publicity stunts that went horribly wrong? Good, keep on reading then!

They say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” in the marketing world, but the reality is that things aren’t quite that easy out there in the real world, where outlandish publicity stunts can result in embarrassment, irate customers, and a loss of reputation. In a bid to get attention from the masses, companies sometimes go to extreme limits and fail badly.

Here are some of the most famous publicity stunts that went horribly wrong, which were staged by Lifelock Inc (NYSE:LOCK), Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. (NYSE:DPS), Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD), General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), and Dell Technologies Inc (NYSE:DVMT).

5. Lifelock’s Persistent PR Failures

Lifelock Inc (NYSE:LOCK), an identity theft protection company, ran a years-long campaign in which it put CEO Todd Davis’ social security number on its website and public billboards, and dared anyone to try and steal his identity. The intention was to prove the mettle of the company’s guaranteed protection system and the level of confidence it had in its services. On the website, Davis claimed he was “absolutely confident” that Lifelock was protecting his social security number and name. But this publicity stunt went horribly wrong, as Davis’ identity was stolen over 12 times. In 2007, someone used the Lifelock CEO’s social security number to obtain a $500 loan from a check-cashing company. Later that year, someone from Georgia used the SSN proudly provided by Davis to open an AT&T/Cingular wireless account. There were many other cases revealed afterwards, which proved that Davis’ identity was ripped off by numerous people around the country. If that wasn’t bad enough in and of itself, Lifelock Inc (NYSE:LOCK) later agreed to pay a $12 million settlement to the Federal Trade Commission on charges of making “deceptive claims” about its services. Let’s take a look at those publicity stunts that went horribly wrong.

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4. GM’s Oprah Giveaway

In September 2004, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) signed a deal with Oprah Winfrey in which it would give away 276 Pontiac G6 cars, whose popularity was sputtering, to hand-picked audience members. Oprah Winfrey praised the car in her massively popular show for about 30 minutes, telling the audience that the Pontiac G6 had “one of the most powerful” engines and a satellite radio. Ms. Winfrey then announced that all 276 audience members present in the studio that night would get one of the $28,500 cars for free. But things were not so easy (or free) for the audience, which was understandably shrieking with joy at that point. Behind the scenes, General Motors declared that all the winners would have to pay the federal and state income taxes on the original value of the car, from their own wallets. Those costs totaled about $6,000-$7,000 per car. The publicity stunt becomes even more inadequate because of the fact that Oprah Winfrey had asked the show’s organizers to invite people to sit in the audience who were in desperate need of a car. The winners were given a choice to either pay the taxes and take the car home or refuse the offer. While Pontiac did get a slight boost from the expensive promotion (which cost them about $7.7 million, despite not also covering the winners’ tax obligations), it wasn’t enough to save the brand, which was axed five years later, just ahead of GM’s bankruptcy.

5 Publicity Stunts That Went Horribly Wrong

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On the next page we’ll take a look at three more PR debacles from noteworthy companies.

3. Dr Pepper Snapple’s Disastrous Giveaway  

In 2008, beverage company Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. (NYSE:DPS) announced that it would give a free soft drink to every American if music band Guns N’ Roses released its album Chinese Democracy by the end of that year. The inclusion of the music band in the publicity campaign was unauthorized, and invited the fury of the band, as Guns N’ Roses lawyer Alan Gutman wrote a letter to the company, calling the publicity stunt an “unmitigated disaster”. Gutman also demanded that the company give a public apology and extend the time of the giveaway offer. Much to the dismay of Dr Pepper Snapple, the music band released its album before the expiration of the giveaway offer, resulting in a massive influx of people on Dr Pepper’s website trying to claim their free beverage, though the company had no real system set up to allow anyone to claim it. Dr Pepper’s website servers also crashed. The website promised to send a 20-ounce soda in 4-6 weeks to users who were able to grab the offer, but it’s believed that very few every received their promised can of soda.

What do you think is this one of the top 5 publicity stunts that went horribly wrong or what?

5 Publicity Stunts That Went Horribly Wrong

Jonathan Weiss/

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2. Vodafone’s Naked Streakers

Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD)’s New Zealand arm staged a publicity stunt in 2002 during the Tri-Nations match between the All Blacks and Australia. The company’s CEO, Grahame Maher, had encouraged two streakers to go on the grounds during the match with Vodafone’s logo on their bodies. During the second-half of the match in Sydney, the two men did indeed hit the ground running, completely naked, and with Vodafone’s logo on their bodies. Later investigations revealed that Vodafone was in connivance with the streakers (was kind of obvious after all), which resulted in a public apology by the company and worldwide embarrassment. In a statement, Vodafone New Zealand’s managing director Tim Miles said that the company was “disappointed” with what happened. To mend the bruised PR after the publicity debacle, Vodafone also announced that it would donate NZ$100,000 towards a campaign to reduce sports injuries.

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5 Publicity Stunts That Went Horribly Wrong

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1. Dell’s Disappoiting Sales Stunt

Dell Technologies Inc (NYSE:DVMT)’s sales team decided to stage a publicity stunt at the company’s Round Rock campus in Texas to promote its new tablet, Dell Streak, on February 14, 2001. A Dell sales manager guised himself in a mask and rode a Harley Davidson into the building while carrying two metallic objects. He then ordered the people around him to “go to the lobby”. Several people called 911 and after awhile, a SWAT team consisting of 24 heavily armed security personnel breached the premises, only to find out that the situation was the result of a ridiculously planned sales pitch. Two Dell employees were arrested and charged with misdemeanors for interfering with public duties and deadly conduct. Dell apologized and called the stunt “an unfortunate choice” by the sales team.

That being said, these were the 5 publicity stunts that went horribly wrong. 

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5 Publicity Stunts That Went Horribly Wrong

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