Stories of the Year

Plus This Year's Follies

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Photo: Morry Gash

1. BARACK OBAMA
In 2008, an African-American with Hussein as a middle name was elected president of the U.S. To think, some said he'd never make it past Hillary Clinton. And Obama didn't just do it with inspiring speeches. He and his team did it with some pretty inspiring marketing as well. From fundraising to social networking to old-fashioned branding, Barack Hussein Obama will provide a case study for politicians and marketers alike.

2. RECESSION
Turns out the recession was already peeking over our shoulders last time the Book of Tens hit newsstands. Neither marketers nor consumers needed an official label to realize 2008 wasn't going swimmingly. The only things that seemed to climb this year were unemployment numbers and gas prices (and even those have fallen). Sales slumped across all categories, budgets were slashed and ... well, some of the bad news was so bad it merits its own entry.

3. FINANCIAL SECTOR IMPLODES
"The fundamentals of our economy are strong," John McCain said Sept. 15. By October, he was calling this "the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression." What happened? The government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the rescue of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America; the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers; the bailout of mega-insurer AIG; and the biggest U.S. bank failure in history, WaMu (absorbed by Chase). Congress even authorized a $700 billion bailout pool. Crisis over? Not yet.

4. DETROIT HITS BOTTOM
We knew things weren't going great for the Big Three, but did anyone think it would get quite this bad? Sure, Ford showed a glimmer of first-quarter hope, but high gas prices socked it to Detroit's profit center: gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks. Add to that GM's brand bloat, Chrysler's management woes, a recession and a credit crush, and it's no surprise these guys went hat in hand to Washington. The Big Three might become the Not So Big Two. Whatever happens, it's horrible news for agencies and media alike.

5. THE MICROHOO SAGA
Microsoft's bid for Yahoo started a month into 2008, when the Redmond-based giant launched a bid for its neighbor down the coast. As negotiations went from terse to worse, Google swooped in with a doomed search plan meant to save Yahoo; Time Warner started talks with both in an attempt to unload AOL; and regulators decided maybe they should be watching this online space more closely. Now the pair are set to close out the deal just as they started it: alone and still chasing Google.

6. ANHEUSER-BUSCH SOLD TO INBEV
Ending the independence of one of the most iconic and successful American marketing machines ever built, Belgian-Brazilian company InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion. Armchair critics bashed America's most famous brewers for selling out to foreigners. Renowned for his zero-based budgeting, InBev CEO Carlos Brito promised the company "understands Bud" and wouldn't gut marketing. Oh, and in other beer news, Miller and Coors formed a joint venture to take on A-B.

7. THE DEATH OF PAUL TILLEY
The apparent suicide of Paul Tilley, DDB Chicago's managing director of creative, was a tragedy. What happened afterward was a disgrace, as attempts to blame bloggers for his death triggered what Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom called "one of the ugliest, most narcissistic displays I've seen from the ad industry" -- which is saying a lot. He continued: "Executives, reporters and commentators parceled out blame and crazy conjecture as if it were fact and took the opportunity to talk about their own ad blogs."

8. THE OLYMPICS
China is a big country with a lot of people. It's also a big mystery to many -- including marketers. If it seemed the entire world was watching as Beijing opened the 2008 Olympic Games, that's because it was. China certainly didn't disappoint when it came to spectacle. The opening ceremony was so spectacular that spectators forgave the fakery, the injury, the human-rights record. It's not clear, though, that international marketers made any inroads with the coveted Chinese population.

9. MEDIA COMPANIES FIGURE OUT ONLINE VIDEO
Two years after YouTube had everyone panicking and throwing around expensive lawsuits, online video has become a profitable asset for NBC, News Corp. and Viacom, all of which have stakes in Hulu. They scored by streaming full-length clips and episodes of "Saturday Night Live," "Family Guy," "The Daily Show" and "Colbert," occasionally at the risk of jeopardizing long-standing cable-operator relationships.

10. STARBUCKS STUMBLES
Starbucks' year hasn't been so much a rollercoaster as a downward spiral. Brand dilution, overexpansion and a horrific economy created a perfect storm for the once-unstoppable java giant. Starbucks has closed hundreds of stores, slashed executive positions and dialed back store openings. Same-store sales have continued to decline in the face of nationwide sampling, stepped-up marketing and advertising, discounts, and even occasional TV advertising. Next year apparently doesn't look much better.

Follies

1. SENDING A MESSAGE
Carat's U.S. chief people officer, Rose Zory, accidentally e-mailed to all employees a memo detailing a major "right-sizing," including layoffs.

2. RACHAEL'S SCURRILOUS SCARF
The media made a "keffiyeh kerfuffle" out of a Dunkin' Donuts online ad from Studiocom, Boston, that featured Rachael Ray wearing a paisley scarf that resembled the Arab headdress.

3. SCIENTISTS BEMOAN APE APPEAL
Media images of chimps (remember the Super Bowl spot from CareerBuilder?) have desensitized the public to the endangered animals' plight, researchers said in an article in Science magazine.

4. COWBOY LASSOS M&M'S
Times Square's famed Naked Cowboy filed a $6 million lawsuit against Mars and agency Chute Gerdeman, alleging M&M's billboards in Times Square used the street performer's image without permission. Both sides agreed to drop the suit.

5. PACS TAKE A POWDER
Hershey Co. discontinued Ice Breakers Pacs, white-powder mints that came in blue pouches and dissolved on the tongue. Some in law enforcement had complained the candy resembled cocaine.

6. PARENTS FLUNK MCDONALD'S
McDonald's got another lesson in the power of irate parents and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, as the fast feeder withdrew sponsorship of report-card jackets at public schools in Seminole County, Fla. Pizza Hut had sponsored the report cards for a decade, with no complaints.

7. REVULSION, NOT 'REVOLUTION'
A commercial for South Korea's Coreana Cosmetics was revised due to Nazi references. Agency Korad explained it believed Hitler symbolized "revolution," and the skin lotion has "revolutionary" moisturizing and calming effects.

8. HELLO KITTY GUNS IT
Hello Kitty is a marketer's dream, having broken free of the toy world to appear on other products. But police were not pleased when Jim's Gun Supply in Baraboo, Wisc., started putting the cute-as-a-button cat on rifle stocks.

9. 50 CENT RAPS TACO BELL
The rapper sued Taco Bell after it advertised it would donate $10,000 to charity if Fiddy changed his name to 79, 89 or 99 Cent for a day. Problem was the fast feeder apparently never consulted him.

10. MOM CAN BE A PAIN
An online ad for Motrin incurred the wrath of the vocal mommy-blogging community, leading Johnson & Johnson to pull the ad and apologize.

-- Dan Lippe
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