6 Horrible Ad Campaigns (Presumably) By People With Marketing Degrees

In marketing and advertising, there’s a thin line between success and failure. Campaigns like Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” or “Old Spice Man” land on the right side of quirky, funny, and not-quite-insulting-enough to get people riled, while still getting attention and building buzz. These campaigns fell on the wrong side of that line.



A lot of people presume that it doesn’t take a lot of smarts to get a marketing degree and even though nothing could be further from the truth, it’s hard to blame them when you turn on your TV. It churns out an untold number of horrible, poorly conceived advertising campaigns that don’t just make you wonder if the people behind them even received a degree in marketing.

They make you wonder if they didn’t make it past kindergarten without some serious tutoring.

Head-On’s “Apply Directly to the Forehead” Ad

This headache remedy became something of a running joke for reasons other than a major pharmaceutical company was able to convince millions of people to pay someone so they could rub glue sticks on their face.

The ads for this product famously assaulted viewers’ attention spans by constantly repeating “Head-On, apply directly to the forehead” over and over until the viewer either changed the channel, got rid of their televisions or bought the product in the hopes that the company involved would have enough money to pay for a better marketing campaign.

The ads became so annoying that they actually produced a second set featuring the same ear-molesting jingle, followed by another person randomly walking into the shot to complain about the commercial that just aired and then heap glorious praise on the product. Truth be told, these ads probably created more headaches than the product actually cured.


Carl’s Jr.’s “Paris Hilton” Ads

Using sex to sell anything is as old as time. The attent is to grab and hold the attention of the (mostly male) audience and plant the marketing message where it counts.

Carl’s Jr.’s choice of a sexy spokesmodel, however, turned more than a few heads when they chose professional spotlight attractor Paris Hilton to promote their new BBQ burger. They didn’t give her any lines. They didn’t give her much of anything.

Instead they stripped her down to her skivvies, propped her next to a very expensive car in need of washing and let the cameras capture the magic. They also threw in a couple of shots of the actual burger. The backlash against the blatantly stupid and sexual ad was, well, anything BUT hot.


Groupon’s Tibet Ad

The Super Bowl regularly attracts more than a few high priced advertisements that don’t make it past the censor’s desk because they are blatantly trying to get the audiences’ attention with obvious sexual overtones or violent rhetoric. Groupon, however, tried for a much more subtle approach: turning government oppression and genocide into hilarious diversions for our financial amusement.

The company had grown some wings in a very short amount of time and used their sudden, immeasurable wealth to buy some time during the Super Bowl. It starts as some kind of non- profit sounding ad urging people to send donations to the long suffering people of the majestic nation of Tibet but then suddenly spirals into a chance to make a quick buck off people who are looking to save a few bucks of their own.

The backlash was so fast that people started filing complaints before the second and third ads even had time to hit the airwaves, giving Groupon time to put their marketing degree holders to work. Thus the new ad was born: “Sure baby seals are being clubbed for sport, but thanks to us, you won’t have to pay full price for a pair of seal skin shoes.”


Quizno’s “Toasty Torpedo” Ads

It’s hard to know the kind of thinking that went into this next series of ads. Then when you realize the ease of accessibility of most hallucinogenic narcotics and the wide variety of tranquilizing cold medicines currently on the market, it still doesn’t make much sense.

It’s clear that Quizno’s had a whole series of ads lined up featuring their creepy talking toaster oven who uses more sexual innuendo than a Benny Hill episode in his conversation with a cautious but curious restaurant employee.

The oven and employee basically talk about their shared experience with very little room for interpretation and then, the oven implores the employee to “put it in me,” only leaving the aghast audience to discern that the oven must be referring to the employee’s “Tasty Torpedo”.


“Tasty” quickly turned to tasteless.

Quizno’s “Singing Rodents” Ads

Again, it probably shouldn’t surprise you that as bad as the previous ad campaign was, their earlier efforts were even less effective.

The so-called “Sponge Monkeys” from this series of ads features some very disturbing looking mice/rat/human hybrids singing their praises of Quizno’s subs. The scary part isn’t the rodents themselves, but the fact that Quizno’s bought and produced at least three of these ads under the impression that this was a good idea.


The only way that traumatizing your audience with your commercials is a good thing is if your goal is to discourage them from eating your food, short of showing surveillance videos of yourself doing things to bread that are probably illegal in the continental United States.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America’s Entire Portfolio of Ads

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you put in your ads or how you choose to get people’s attention as long as you get it. The only way any advertisement or marketing campaign is truly successful is if you are reaching your audience effectively and clearly. If that’s the case, than the Partnership for a Drug Free America’s entire system of anti-drug ads are the Crystal Pepsi-fueled Edsel of the marketing world.

A recent study showed that while the ads the non-profit organization has been producing for the last 20-plus years were recognizable among children and young adults, they also found they did a lousy job at discouraging them from trying drugs. In fact, the ads had the exact opposite effect. They actually made them WANT to try drugs.


Can we blame them if we’re telling them that something as simple as drugs can give them an out-of-body experience that makes them believe they are tasty breakfast delicacies? Why not just have Keith Richards in one of those ads going, “Look at me, how bad can it really be for you if I’m still here”?

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