Explainer: The year's biggest branding and marketing fiascoes

  • Every year has its marketing missteps and corporate capers. And what better time than now to highlight the lowlights of 2010, courtesy of Ad Age.

  • The Jay Leno/NBC fiasco

    Image: Jay Leno
    Mario Anzuoni  /  Reuters file

    At this time last year, we were wondering how the Peacock would respond to the fact that moving Jay Leno to 10 p.m. had tanked with viewers, advertisers and network affiliates. About a month later NBC reversed course, adding fuel to an already hot fire. Sure, affiliates may have grinned, but the maneuver automatically created the Conan monster, turning Mr. O'Brien into a lovable victim who'd been wronged by the suits. NBC became both laughingstock and villain — too harsh, perhaps, for the one network at least willing to experiment with reshaping prime time.

  • Gap's loco logo

    Image: new (now-no-longer) Gap logo
    Who knew Gap still had so many faithful fans? You certainly wouldn't have known it from its sales over the past few years. But when the retailer updated its logo, you would have thought it had defiled a sacred text. Sure, the old logo was a cool classic and the replacement looked like something puked up from a late-'90s Dallas office park, but the outrage was a little over the top. The bigger folly may have been being one of the few marketers who actually caved to the braying of the social-media crowds — especially considering how unlikely it was that any of them shopped there.

  • ESPN's LeBron James show

    Image: LeBron James
    Rich Arden  /  AP
    LeBron James sits with Jim Gray before an interview on ESPN.

    Sure, Cleveland fans have plenty of reason to hate LeBron James for abandoning their NBA franchise. But all of America should have boycotted ESPN. The sports network ceded control of its air to Team LeBron (meaning his friends and advisers, not the Cleveland Cavaliers), so that the championship-ring-less star could announce whether he was staying or going. LeBron used the hour-long special to stab Cleveland in the chest. Repeatedly. ESPN, ostensibly a sports-news outfit, looked like it worked for LeBron; LeBron, ostensibly a loyal and humble guy, annoyed the country enough that he — and Nike — felt a need to make an image-rehab ad.

  • Microsoft's Kin


    Not much to say on this one. The company's first phone product, was as we said in June, "one of the fastest launch-to-failure paths ever taken by a major marketer." A fitting fate for a physically unattractive communication, er, thingie with no clear positioning. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

  • Nielsen's fuzzy math

    Image: laptop computer

    In November Nielsen revealed that it had been underestimating unique visitors to the top 1,000 sites on the web by an average of 5 percent. That admission came one week after disclosing that it had been seriously underestimating the amount of time people spend on the web because its system was choking on long web addresses — those with more than 2,000 characters. This not only reinforced the sense that metrics for the web (supposedly the most accountable medium) are closer to nonsense than suggested, it set back Nielsen's quest to be the standard for online measurement.

  • iPhone 4

    Image: Apple iPhone 4
    Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images

    Thanks to a forgetful Apple engineer, the super-top-secret Phone of all Phones IV (are we already up to the fourth version?) found its way into the hands of the enterprising bloggers at Gizmodo. This made Steve Jobs very unhappy. Also making Steve Jobs very unhappy? You silly left-handed people who pointed out that the phone part of the iPhone (always a sketchy detail to begin with) didn't seem to work so hot. Jobs' solution? Hold it in your other hand. Oh, and get a protective casing. Most bizarre about all this is that Apple consumers — even the left-handed ones — are already lining up to buy the iPhone 5.

  • Christine O'Donnell

    Image: Christine O'Donnell
    Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images

    The Delaware politician went from zero to hero when she beat GOP pick Michael Castle in the Republican Party's own primary, much to the consternation of Karl Rove and others who saw this as the Tea Party snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. (A former governor and nine-term U.S. Rep., Castle was seen as the favorite to win the Senate seat.) While she may have been anointed as the second coming of Sarah Palin and the face of the Tea Party movement, she was little more than a media distraction and a constant source of embarrassment. Note to aspiring political candidates, never start a commercial with the phrase, "I am not a witch."

  • Chevron hijacked by The Yes Men

    Image: Chevron logo - partial
    ROBYN BECK  /  AFP - Getty Images

    When Ad Age received a call from a Chevron spokesman miffed about our coverage of its new campaign, we were puzzled — we hadn't covered the campaign. After some digging, it turned out that activist group The Yes Men, along with Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, had hijacked Chevron's brand, its ads and its PR push. Not only did the group send out convincing fake press releases, it set up very convincing fake Chevron sites and even a fake Ad Age site with fake coverage. Much to the consternation of Chevron, a number of real news outlets fell for the ruse.

  • Bare bear bottoms banned

    Image: 5th Annual Charmin Restrooms In Times Square Ribbon Cutting
    Henry S. Dziekan III  /  Getty Images Contributor
    TV personality Kim Kardashian attending the 5th annual Charmin restrooms ribbon cutting in Times Square in November.

    We didn't know if this qualified as a folly, but we didn't have a list solely for headlines we never thought we'd right. But news is news, and "NAD to Charmin: No Bare Bear Bottoms. P&G Must Show Some Pieces of TP on Bruin's Bums" was an actual story. After a challenge from Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble was forced to add little flecks of cartoon toilet-paper to the backsides of its Charmin cartoon bears to avoid the wrath of arbitrators. The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus determined that P&G had indeed substantiated its claim of leaving "fewer pieces behind" than K-C's Cottonelle. The problem? The tests used by P&G didn't mimic the way humans actually wiped.

  • The Steve Slater affair

    Image: Steven Slater
    Louis Lanzano  /  AP
    Former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater.

    It wasn't JetBlue's fault. We understand that. The airline can't be held responsible for a flight attendant losing it (allegedly because of an abusive passenger), popping the emergency slide and escaping the airport with beers in hand. But the airline, typically known for transparency and a strong social-media presence, had to go silent for legal reasons and let Slater go. And go he did, becoming a media sensation and a folk hero to a population that's had it up to here with the indignities of air travel.


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