Arrogant, intolerant, sexist, disgusting, cheesy, tasteless, just plain stupid. Brand fails come in all kinds of off-putting shapes and sizes, though one thing remains constant—the guilty adrenaline rush of ad-enfreude that onlookers feel while watching brands implode for everyone to see. We've collected some of the most delectably embarrassing marketing moments from 2013 for your rubbernecking pleasure. Eat it up, you heartless pigs. And just be thankful it wasn't you who screwed up this royally.
Hoy Trial Lawyers
"Will you please stop?" That was Sioux Falls, S.D., lawyer Scott Hoy's desperate plea to viewers in this commercial. But stop what, exactly?! The year's most confusing ad was also, it must be said, one of its most strangely enjoyable.
Worst acting ever in a commercial? The performances in this Samsung promotional video have to be in the running for that dubious prize. The baffled housewife, studious Asian gamer and corporate ladder-climber all have some explaining to do—though only the ladder-climber actually did so publicly.
Also in terrible promotional videos: this Mercedes song sung from the point of view of a car that's desperately craving a little TLC from a Mercedes repairman who knows how to use his hands. Prurient lyrics + clichéd, over-Photoshopped images = wretched harmony of embarrassment.
Portland, Ore., talk radio station KXL-FM pulled its "We love you long time" billboard—placed in Chinatown, no less—after complaints that it played on racist stereotypes about Asian women. The replacement billboard said, "Stay connected, my friends," which was neither a prostitute catchphrase nor a line from a Stanley Kubrick movie.
"Boots on the ground" or not, let's not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear
— Kenneth Cole (@KennethCole) September 5, 2013
Making light of mental illness? Never a good ad strategy. McDonald's learned that the hard way when this ad was pulled after intense criticism. Boston agency Arnold took the blame, and in fact admitted that McDonald's never even approved the work to run.
In a year of empowering messages for women, Roxy took flak for this spot starring surfer Stephanie Gilmore—focusing entirely on her rockin' bod and not showing her face at all. It was meant to be a teaser, but Roxy ended up being the one getting relentlessly teased.
No one wanted to double down on this KFC food, accidentally served to a British student. The kid thought it was a chicken brain, leading KFC to release this amusingly defensive statement: "Although we haven't received the product, it appears from a photograph that unfortunately on this occasion a kidney, and not a brain as claimed, was not removed in the preparation process. We're very sorry about Mr. Langoo's experience, and while there was no health risk, we agree it was unsightly."
Mount Saint Vincent University
One of the year's dumbest billboards celebrated women—by showing three smiling men.
Women would rather talk about shoes than the reliability of public transport, according to this bizarre campaign from the D.C. Metro.
The idea was to play off Canada's bilingualism by jumbling English and French words on bottle caps of Vitaminwater. The result was the phrase "You Retard" appeared on the lid of a young woman's drink. Worse: The girl has a half-sister with cerebral palsy.
It's been 101 years, but is it still too soon for jokes about the Titanic? Apparently so.
AT&T had the biggest 9/11 fail this year by trying to work a product shot into the Tribute in Light searchlights. A flurry of hate tweets got the image removed.
JCPenney can't catch a break. So of course it was the marketer that unwittingly put up a billboard with a tea kettle that looked like Hitler.
Disgusting employee antics at fast-food restaurants is something of a tradition. This year's big loser was Subway, where two "sandwich artists" found out that the best way to get fired from Subway is to freeze your pee and rub your junk on the bread.
How do you thank your biggest fan, who selflessly founded World Nutella Day, a global holiday dedicated to your product? By sending her a cease and desist. Way to go, nutjobs.
One of the big design fails of the year was the new Target.com homepage, an eyesore introduced just in time for the holidays. It was so bad, Target wouldn't even say who designed it.
Amy’s Baking Company
Simply the year's most epic brand meltdown on Facebook.
A Web designer claimed he wasn't paid properly by Fitness SF for his work. So, he went and replaced the Fitness SF website with an angry letter about how evil the bastards at Fitness SF are.
Suicide is not a good theme for advertising, period. Showing someone trying to kill themselves in a Hyundai, it turned out, was not good for Hyundai.
Another reminder to brands everywhere: "Run until you kill your dog" is not great brand advice. Running-shoe brand Pearl Izumi apologized for this ad, admitting it "overstepped the bounds of good taste. A lot." The company also made a $10,000 donation to the Boulder Valley Humane Society.
Want to instantly piss off a lot of people? Say you'll never make ads featuring gay people. Barilla did that in September, and paid the price. Rival Bertolli, at least, had some fun with it—see below.
Talk about going from hero to zero. Everyone fell in love with GoldieBlox thanks to its incredible "Princess Machine" video, set to reworked version of "Girls" by the Beastie Boys. Then everyone swiftly fell out of love when it became clear that GoldieBlox hadn't asked for permission to use the song—and preemptively filed a cynical lawsuit against the band to protect its stolen goods.
Having problems with lululemon yoga pants? It's probably your fat thighs that are the problem. That's according to the brand's founder, Chip Wilson. The year's biggest fail—prompting a firestorm of criticism—didn't end well for Wilson. He semi-apologized in November, but by December he'd been forced out. Later, skater.