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In honor of Halloween, we thought we’d share with you a scary marketing nightmares that may just keep you up at night!

A couple of decades ago, when the cost of gas was a buck nineteen a gallon and not just a commodity, gas stations actually did promotions to sell more gasoline.

At the time, we had been doing work for an international division of a rather large fuel company, whose name I’ll avoid divulging. It’s one of the largest oil companies in the world.

We took care of any and all of their graphic and marketing needs. Specifically for their central and south American division. And I must say, we did a pretty good job if you look at all of the awards that they won for their marketing. This recognition awarded us an intro with the company’s Florida division.

We went to work producing concepts and developing partners to participate in the promotion.

We ended up with a really great “glass promotion”. The way it worked is when you bought $10 worth of gas, you got a glass. The partner in the promotion ended up being a large sea themed amusement park in Florida. I’ll avoid divulging their name as well; I’ll just refer them to Ocean Place.

This cross promotion involved detailed illustrations of Ocean Place’s sea creatures and characters to put on the glasses. In addition there was a tear off sticker on each glass so you would not only get to keep the collector glass, but you had a chance to win other prizes, discounts to the theme park, and other related prizes.

The promotion started out without a hitch:

  • We got great prices from a vendor on the glass for the client,
  • The illustrations that we created came out fantastic,
  • The glasses were printed with all of these cute marine creatures.

Everything was running smoothly. It seemed like this was going to be a home run.

On a bright and sunny Florida day, all the glasses, point of purchase posters and brochures explaining how to run the promotion, literally millions of dollars worth of materials, were all on a fleet of large tractor trailers being delivered to the various gas stations throughout the state.

Then, on the other side of the world, an oil tanker was the start of a nightmare for the company. The hull of this rather large tanker was slashed open in shallow waters off the coast of Alaska.

After having a couple of glasses of wine, the Captain of the vessel decided to turn in early and left his responsibility to others in the crew.

Due to horrific negligence, the ship ran aground spilling 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil into the once pristine coastal waters of Alaska. Killing and threatening the lives of all of the cute little sea creatures that we had depicted on the promotional glasses that were about to be advertised and awarded to customers during the promotion.

Needless to say, the agencies phone started ringing off the hook. The two companies in the promotion became instantly disassociated.  The promotion came to a screeching halt. Tractor tailors were deterred from their deliveries to the garbage dump.

This wonderful and innocent promotion transformed into a marketing nightmare which never ran and was quickly swept under the carpet.

Though there were no mistakes made when planning this promotion, it shows the importance of always bracing yourself for the worst case scenario.

Do you have any Marketing Nightmares yourself? Share in the comments!

About the Author

Ken Cimetta

Ken Cimetta has over forty years of experience under his belt. Working on National and Multi-national fortune 500 companies and smaller start up companies. Both art directing and executing campaigns as well a pioneering commercial aspects of the the internet. Ken Cimetta the son of European Immigrants was born In...

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