Book of Tens: Follies of 2009

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"The Tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11." That was the kicker to print and TV ads for the World Wildlife Fund that featured swarms of planes descending on lower Manhattan. The ad, credited to DDB Brazil, popped up on websites late in the summer and outrage quickly followed. Both WWF and DDB Brazil denied knowledge of the ad. Inconveniently for both, that turned out to be a lie. It turned out that the ads had been sent to bloggers and media in part of a press kit. Not only that, but the ads had been entered into various award shows and even took home a merit award from The One Show. Some good did come out of it, though, as The One Show and other ad award programs vowed to take a much harder line on fake ads.

He was the billion-dollar man, his money a result of being the world's best golfer and the $100 million a year he pulls in from product endorsements. We watched him grow up on public greens and fairways. We saw him come of age, marry, start a family. And then we saw him wreck his SUV in the middle of the night. What began as a minor accident soon turned into an early Christmas present for tabloid editors everywhere. An angry Swedish wife with a golf club. A mistress. Then another. Then a few more. And companies such as Nike, Gillette, Accenture, AT&T and American Express found themselves with a bit of a PR headache. So far, though, they're standing by their man. Ironically, the one brand mentioned most frequently seemed to be Buick, which Woods, who was driving a Cadillac at the time, no longer endorses.

The "Shiny Suds" video from Droga5, New York, was the agency's first work for Method. Meant to support the Household Product Labeling Acts, the online video started off as a faux commercial for seemingly friendly bubble creatures not unlike SCJohnson's Scrubbing Bubbles. The next day the bubbles turn into leering perverts commenting on a woman taking a shower. The video, a stark departure for the household-cleaner category, was an automatic internet sensation, pulling in 700,000 views in a week and a five-star rating on YouTube. But when the Shakesville blog posted the video in its "Today in Rape Culture" section, the video started catching heat for being sexist and demeaning. Method, instead of fighting a losing battle, simply pulled the ad from the web.

NBC's "Jay Leno Show," a 10 p.m. version of his"Tonight" program that costs less to produce than other TV fare, is either a tacit admission that broadcast TV's fortunes are on the wane or a bold attempt to provide alternative, low-cost programming at a time when rivals insist on plugging away at expensive hour-long dramas. And yet, ratings for the 10 p.m. hour on NBC have declined, as have the ad prices the network has been able to charge for the time slot. The move has arguably hurt not only NBC programs that once aired at 10 p.m., but also the Conan O'Brien-hosted version of "Tonight" and NBC-affiliate late-news broadcasts everywhere (rankling NBC affiliates). NBC seems determined to keep Mr. Leno on the air for at least a year, but the question is: What does new-owner-to-be Comcast think of the maneuver?

It's a misstep destined to be repeated in marketing texts for years to come: Peter Arnell's disastrous redesign of Tropicana packaging. The design guru was brought on by Pepsi to revamp the bulk of its beverage portfolio. But while Pepsi-Cola, Gatorade, Sierra Mist and Mountain Dew -- now christened Mtn Dew -- were met with mixed reviews, the new Tropicana packaging and logo immediately raised the ire of consumers. Less than two months into the launch, with sales having plummeted 20%, Tropicana announced it was scrapping the new design. Mr. Arnell's handiwork can still be found on Pepsi's other brands, which consumers appear to have accepted. But, thanks to his incendiary chatter to publications such as Newsweek, Mr. Arnell will long be remembered for his Pepsi gaffes, rather than his Pepsi design work.

Microsoft was shocked -- shocked! -- when it discovered Seth MacFarlane isn't PC enough to be a PC. The company was set to sponsor a prime time special by the "Family Guy" creator as part of its Windows 7 media blitz. Microsoft marketing exec Gayle Troberman went so far as to say, "You'll see us deeply integrated into the content." But after previewing it, the company discovered the MacFarlane-esque fare didn't exactly "fit with the Windows brand." Incest jokes and handicap humor didn't fit with the brand? Really? Was it a case of having never watched even one episode of the show? Or did a team looking for street cred suddenly get cold feet? "Family Guy" did manage to stay in the marketing plans for Windows 7, by way of spots featuring the show's characters.

In a stroke that's likely to go down as "crowdsourcing done wrong," Kraft sought a hip name for a Vegemite product Down Under. Through consumer research, the marketer uncovered that many Aussies liked their Vegemite mixed with cream cheese. Kraft researchers created a cream-cheese spread mixed with the yeast extract and labeled the first 3 million jars "Name Me." After all, Vegemite was named by way of a contest back in 1920. From 48,000 entries, however, the marketer selected one that was thrown in as a joke, and product sales, which soared initially, plummeted when labeled "iSnack 2.0." Blogs, pundits and marketing experts the world over pilloried what was seen as Kraft's tone deafness. The marketer pulled iSnack jars and went back to the drawing board for a more-suitable name.

KFC's grilled-chicken launch was perhaps the most-anticipated in company history. Battling years of slumping same-store sales, the chain needed a big gun to generate buzz, trial and repeat business. And it won the lottery. Oprah Winfrey agreed to endorse the product, and KFC ponied up a free meal for anyone watching Ms. Winfrey's program that day. But the internet is tricky. News of the freebie spread like wildfire, and millions of coupons were downloaded, and then copied. KFC locations were overwhelmed, and reports of closures, employee rudeness and refusal to honor coupons flooded network newscasts. KFC President Roger Eaton offered his apologies on-air and consumers willing to stop by a KFC and fill out a form would receive a free-meal coupon in the mail.

So many ads, so many rescissions. Earlier this year, Burger King seemed to redefine its news cycle as offend, rescind, repeat. The BK Super Seven Incher was promoted in Singapore as so big "It'll blow your mind away." The print ad depicted an open-mouthed woman regarding the sandwich with a mix of shock and awe. In Spain, Burger King depicted Hindu goddess Lakshmi seated atop a ham sandwich, calling it "a snack that is sacred." Burger King pulled the ad in response to criticism and then launched its Texican Whopper campaign. In the TV spot, a tiny, masked man draped in the Mexican flag was carried around by a big tall cowboy. Following complaints from a Mexican official, Burger King chose to pull the spot for revisions. In July, the company agreed to sanitize future marketing communications.

Toyota Motor Sales USA and its agency of record, Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, engaged in a "terror marketing campaign" that frightened and harassed thousands of consumers via e-mail, according to a lawsuit filed Sept. 28 in Los Angeles. The suit claims the online effort, meant to create buzz for the youth-targeted Toyota Matrix, involved a series of e-mails last year to plaintiff Amber Duick from the fictitious Brit Sebastian Bowler, a drunken soccer hooligan who had moved to the U.S. Mr. Bowler's digital missives to Duick indicated he knew her and was coming with his pit bull, Trigger, to stay with her to avoid the cops. The suit says she was convinced a "disturbed and aggressive" stranger was en route to her house. According to her lawyer, Duick took to sleeping with a machete next to her bed.

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