Consumerist's Biggest Business Debacles

Plus Ad Lines Used by Financial Companies This Year

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1. COUNTRYWIDE BOSS HITS 'REPLY'
It's a small mistake compared with the ones that led to the unraveling of our financial system, but it said a lot about the man in charge of Countrywide. Back in May, Chairman Angelo Mozilo replied to an e-mail from a distressed homeowner, calling his plea for help "disgusting" because it appeared that he'd been "coached" by the internet. Countrywide later said that Mozilo "regretted any misunderstanding caused by his inadvertent response to an e-mail."

2. DR. JARVIK DOESN'T ROW
After Congress started questioning Pfizer's choice of a doctor who wasn't actually a physician (or an actor) as the spokesperson for the blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor, an innocent article in a rowing-club newsletter written by Dr. Jarvik's rowing stunt double seemed to seal his fate. The campaign was scrapped, and Dr. Jarvik was replaced by a generic everyman on a bike. Was justice served?

3. SO THAT'S WHAT 'DOWNER COW' MEANS
The nation got a lesson in meatpacking terminology when animal-rights activists videotaped workers at a California company forcing sick cows into the slaughter box by lifting and prodding them with forklifts. So-called "downer cows" are banned from the food supply due of the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow" disease. The videotape led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history -- more than 143 million pounds.

4. 'GROCERY SHRINK RAY' STRIKES AMERICA
Have you noticed that you're buying the same groceries -- but they just aren't lasting as long as they used to? That's because they're smaller. All kinds of products, from orange juice to ice cream to garbage bags, shrunk this year -- but the prices stayed the same. Manufacturers hoped consumers wouldn't notice -- but you did, taking before and after photos and writing dozens of angry letters.

5. AIRLINES GO A LA CARTE
Everyone wants a la carte cable -- but what we got was a la carte travel. Faced with fuel prices that were soaring higher than a 747, airlines introduced a smorgasbord of new and interesting fees to already pinched consumers. In addition to charging fees for formerly complimentary services, such as checking a single bag, airlines hiked existing fees and eliminated meals and drinks. Only Southwest Airlines, brilliant at fuel hedging, seemed unaffected.

6. AIG TAKES A HOLIDAY
$23,000 in spa treatments? $200,000 for hotel rooms? An expensive conference at a fancy hotel was no big deal to AIG -- until Congress got a look at the bill. The outrage over a conference for independent agents that took place shortly after the taxpayer-funded bailout led to an angry letter from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and a promise by AIG to reform its free-spending ways -- starting with the elimination of bonuses for top executives.

7. MELAMINE MILK
Melamine, the substance that killed thousands of pets last year, found its way into dairy products this year. Formula tainted with the industrial chemical caused a global panic as several infants died and thousands more were hospitalized. The U.S. banned a broad variety of food imports from China. Recently, trace amounts of the chemical have been found in domestic formula, prompting the FDA to reassure consumers that such small amounts do not pose a health risk.

8. CIRCUIT CITY GOES BANKRUPT
Although it's just one of a bevy of retail failures this year, Circuit City is certainly the most high-profile. Dozens of pundits have tried to pinpoint the moment that Circuit City began its decline. A popular place to start is March 2007, when Circuit City fired more than 3,000 of its most experienced salespeople and replaced them with cheaper labor. In any case, nothing Circuit City has tried since (including offering $1 million "retention" bonuses to executives) has managed to stop the bleeding.

9. MOMMY, WHAT'S AN INVESTMENT BANK?
Once upon a time, way back in September of this year, there used to be something called an "investment bank." Examples included Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch. Now all the major investment banks have either gone bust, been bought up by traditional banks or transformed themselves into traditional banks. Will they be missed?

10. FREDDIE AND FANNIE ARE NATIONALIZED
The specter of government intervention into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loomed over the burgeoning subprime crisis like a thunderhead. The potential nationalization of the mortgage lenders was trotted out as a worst-case scenario that could potentially destroy our entire economy -- but one that probably wouldn't happen. It was the financial equivalent of the moon falling out of orbit -- horrifying but unlikely. And then it happened. Whoops.

Ad Lines Used by Financial Companies This Year

Lehman Brothers: "Where vision gets built"

AIG: "The strength to be there"

Wachovia Bank: "We're Wachovia, and we're here"

Bank of America: "Bank of opportunity"

Merrill Lynch: "We're bullish on the future"

Citigroup: "Citi never sleeps"

Washington Mutual: "Whoo hoo"

IndMac: "You can count on us"

Capital One: "What's in your wallet?"

Countrywide: "No one can do what Countrywide can"

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