What were they thinking?
That's about all you ask from the marketers on this list of 2014 brand fails, which run the gamut from arrogant to sexist to obscene to just plain stupid. Settle in and get your annual dose of ad-enfreude from these deliciously embarrassing marketing moments.
Whatever you did or didn't accomplish this year, be thankful you weren't this dumb.
What's the best way to sell mattresses? Not by depicting Malala Yousafzai being shot by the Taliban, and then bouncing back (get it?) off a Kurl-On mattress to accept a humanitarian award. Ogilvy India apologized for the ad, and rightly so.
It was a great year for female empowerment. Unless you were Subway, in which case you told women to eat right so they'd be sexier in their sexy Halloween costumes. The ad was pulled from YouTube.
Life Alert's old "I've fallen and I can't get up!" ads were cheesy. This one was bloodcurdlingly weird—showing an old lady screaming in a heap at the bottom of a flight of stairs. It mostly prompted a lot of screaming by visitors to the brand's Facebook page.
The online insurer quickly pulled down this innocent-seeming billboard over the summer. Why? Because from a distance, the letters blurred together—and "Cover your home in a click" looked more like "Cover your home in a dick." (Not sound insurance advice, btw.)
How not to treat breastfeeding moms: usher them off your sales floor and into a stockroom to finish their unspeakable business in private. That's what Anthropologie did to a woman at its Beverly Hills store, in what became a PR nightmare. The brand apologized and promised "further training and education for our staff."
Bud Light had a generally great year with its "Up for Whatever" campaign. But the "Whatever USA" party-town portion of it ran into some embarrassing snags—namely, the residents of Crested Butte, Colo., many of whom were furious when they learned that their quiet mountainside village would be hosting a weekend of beer-fueled revelry. The event went on as planned, but not before protests made national headlines.
Leave it to Victoria's Secret to completely ignore the advertising trend toward Dove-style "real beauty" and instead launch a campaign all about "The Perfect Body." Not even the supermodel-making lingerie brand could get away with that. After widespread backlash, it changed the theme to "A Body for Every Body."
The year's most upsetting new mascot happened to come from one of the world's biggest marketers—and was aimed at children! "Say hello to our friend, Happy!" said McDonald's of its toothy new Happy Meal mascot. Instead, many ran screaming.
DiGiorno had one of the year's most notorious #facepalm moments on Twitter. It jumped on the #WhyIStayed hashtag conversation, about why women stayed in abusive relationships, without understand the context—and posted the shockingly callous tweet "#WhyIStayed You had pizza." To its credit, the brand responded to scores of users offended by the post with personalized messages of clearly sincere regret.
Another year, another winner from Urban Outfitters. This time, the provocative clothing store decided to sell a "vintage" Kent State University sweatshirt featuring fake blood splatters. (Four students died at Kent State during an anti-war protests in 1970.) The brand apologized, but claimed the sweatshirt was just "part of our sun-faded vintage collection" and the red marks weren't supposed to look like blood.
Most hated TV commercial of the year? It was this Cadillac spot, which ran incessantly during the Olympics—showing Neal McDonough waxing poetic about the virtues of working hard and owning stuff, and throwing in a few digs at other countries for not buying into the same philosophy. Cadillac ended up dismantling Rogue, the agency team that made the ad, later in the year—following months of wretched sales results.
High up on the list of things you shouldn't tweet if you're an airline: a photo of someone using a model airplane as a sex toy. US Airways failed to heed that advice in April—apparently a staffer had the lewd picture on his or her clipboard and accidentally pasted it into Twitter infamy. The airline apologized. But remarkably, the staffer wasn't fired. "It was an honest mistake," the airline said.
The year's biggest fail was truly global, as the normally surefooted band/brand U2 caused a worldwide shitstorm by forcing its new album into 500 million desktops and iPhones, regardless of whether each user wanted it or not. The criticism was swift and merciless, and Bono later admitted that his "beautiful idea" with Apple might not have been so beautiful after all. "[We] might have gotten carried away with ourselves," he admitted in the understatement of the year.