Biggest Follies of the Year

Revisiting Adland's Greatest Gaffes and Glitches of 2014

Published on .

Scratching the Surface

Microsoft's Surface
Microsoft's Surface
Microsoft is paying the NFL $400 million in a sponsorship deal. For that kind of scratch, it's reasonable to expect the company would get some solid recognition for its Surface tablets, which are being used by teams on the sidelines during games. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the announcers of an early season matchup who referred to the Surface as an "iPad" and an "iPad-like tool."

Can't Get No Satisfraction

Burger King's Satisfries
Burger King's Satisfries
Burger King thought it finally had the antidote to McDonald's signature menu item with Satisfries, launched in fall 2013 with 20% fewer calories and 25% less fat than its regular French fries. Trouble is, it seems customers wanted some fat with that after all, and in August, Satisfries were yanked from most of Burger King's U.S. stores.

Fashion Faux Pas in McDonaldland

Ronald McDonald
Ronald McDonald
Ronald McDonald just looked plain wrong in his new wardrobe, part of a campaign to make him more social within the chain's "Fun things make great things happen" push. But even blazers and spiffy styling can't make clowns much less creepy—and it wasn't a good year for clowns, given "American Horror Story: Freak Show."

Consumers See Red Over Apple and U2

Apple and U2
Apple and U2 Credit:
People may want free music, but they want to pick the songs, too. That's what Apple found out in September, when it placed U2's new album "Songs of Innocence" on iPhones around the world at no charge. As thanks, it got a storm of complaints from consumers who called the giveaway presumptuous. "Might have gotten carried away with ourselves," Bono said later. Music marketing is still a minefield.

Marissa Mayer Sleeps In

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
The Yahoo CEO reportedly arrived two hours late to a dinner at the Cannes Lions festival arranged by Interpublic Group for her to woo top marketers. The reason for her tardiness? She fell asleep. Ms. Mayer told Bloomberg News she felt "really badly" for her lateness. "I think the dinner is unfortunate for how much attention it's gotten," she said. "I was late. I apologized to IPG."

Tim Armstrong's 'Distressed Babies'

Tim Armstrong
Tim Armstrong Credit: Davod Paul Morris/Bloomberg
After firing someone during a 2013 conference call, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong upped his gaffe game. In February of this year, he said changes were made to the company's 401(k) plan due to rising health-care costs that he blamed in part on "two distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general." Mr. Armstrong apologized and walked back the 401(k) changes.

If Only It Were a Movie Plot

Sony's 'The Interview'
Sony's 'The Interview'
Sony probably figured the worst that would happen after greenlighting Seth Rogen and James Franco's "The Interview" would be a box-office dud. But the comedy, which portrays a U.S.-plotted assassination of Kim Jong Un, was the catalyst for hackers to target the company. The PR fallout from leaked emails revealing salary negotiations, personal disputes, off-color humor and unflattering discussions of top talent was bad enough. But when the hackers made threats to movie theaters, distributors refused to carry the film and Sony canceled the planned release. One analyst estimated the total cost at $200 million.

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