Show Mobile Navigation
Pop Culture |

Top 10 Worst Marketing Gaffes Ever

by Jamie Frater
fact checked by Alex Hanton

Advertising is a part of life whether we like it or not. It is on TV, in Movies, on the Internet, on Buses and practically anywhere it can be seen by prospective customers. Sometimes ads are funny, sometimes they are poignant, but mostly they are annoying. And sometimes, ads are downright stupid. This list looks at 10 marketing gaffes, and blunders, or just downright bad commercials.


Mac Tonight

This advert by McDonald’s – which was meant to “adultify” the fast-food joint used Mack the Knife as its theme. Mack the Knife (the character) comes from The Beggar’s Opera in which the he typifies the anti-establishment sentiments of its writer John Gay. The more famous song as we know it was written by Kurt Weill for The Three Penny Opera based on a reworking of the tale by Bertolt Brecht – a Marxist who, ironically for McDonald’s, despised capitalism – the very thing which enabled McDonald’s to become what it is today.


Whopper Virgins

McDonald’s isn’t the only company to make marketing gaffs – in December 2008, Burger King purchased the rights to an advertising campaign that centered on a taste-test marketing campaign, dubbed “Whopper Virgins.” The test claimed to target participants who were unaware of the existence of Burger King or McDonald’s, and had never eaten a hamburger. Opponents of the campaign called it exploitative and racist. As one would expect from a campaign such as this, Burger King was chosen as the favorite by all of the “poor foreigners” involved.


Skittles Depression

Skittles are wonderful colorful candies that everyone loves to eat. In fact, they are awesome. Not so this ad. For some reason it was deemed a good idea to make an ad which parodies the suffering caused by disease. Yes – it appears amusing, but after watching this, the thing I want is a razor blade, not a packet of skittles.


Quiznos Sub

Frankly, I don’t find the idea of a creature which looks like a cross between a rat and a coughed up hairball to be an appealing mascot for a fast food store. And I am not alone in this. When Quizno’s released this series of ads (basing them on a popular Internet Meme at the time), there was such a backlash from consumers that they had to pull them – fast. Poor Quiznos also caused controversy with this ad for its sexual innuendo.


Blue Screen Of Death

In the fast paced world of computer software, every opportunity to advertise is significant. Such was the case in the press conference above in which Microsoft had Bill Gates demonstrate Windows 98 to the entire world. Unfortunately for Bill, in the middle of the demo, Windows crashed and showed the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. There is a very uncomfortable pause while both of the men on stage try to think of something witty to get passed it.


Gary Coleman for, this time he can’t drive.

Poor Gary Coleman has had some bad luck in his life. Despite the illness which rendered him short for life, he became one of the most popular child actors on Different Strokes in the 1980s. At the peak of the show he was earning $100,000 per episode – but his parents, lawyers, and the taxman stole the majority of it leaving him penniless. But then, during 2006 and 2007, he appeared in commercials for a cash-advance loan company called CashCall. He ends the commercial by saying, “Pay your bills on time and everyone will love you.” He even remarks in one commercial that “no one would lend [him] money, not even [his] relatives.” and “What’choo talkin’ ’bout CashCall?” in another. Demeaning.


I’d Hit It

Mcdonalds Id Hit It Ad.Jpg

When McDonald’s came up with this marketing campaign, their ad executives didn’t know what the phrase “I’d hit it” meant. They simply heard kids using the jargon and decided it would be their next big slogan. Unfortunately for McDonald’s, it means (according to Urban Dictionary): “I’ll have sex with her but I’ll be damned if I respect her.” Even worse, the full phrase of the slogan was “Double Cheeseburger? I’d hit it. I’m a Dollar Menu guy.” Nice.



This one has featured on listverse before, but it is simply too bad not to include. Obviously when it was first released the AIDS virus was not known, but it is definitely one of the most cringeworthy ads in history. Not only is it named after one of the worst diseases in humans at the present time, it advocates diet pills for weightless rather than exercise and portion control. “Lose weight deliciously with the aid of Ayds!”


Yesterday and Today


Album covers have long been used as advertising gimmicks – to attract buyers by the often unrelated artwork. Unfortunately for the Beatles, the 1966 US release of their album “Yesterday and Today” featured the above album cover. Upon release, reaction was immediate, and Capitol received a storm of complaints from dealers. The record was immediately recalled and all copies were ordered shipped back to the record label, leading to its collectibility. Despite all of the controversy, the album reached number one in the United States.


Smiley Central

Spyware Pivot.Jpg

This one is on the list for its sheer awfulness – for the company it may be a success – for every person that has to suffer it – it is an abomination. The smiley central ads usually make annoying noises and the worst thing about it is that if you do click the ad and install their smileys – it installs spyware which tracks your web habits for advertising purposes. [JFrater: These awful things even appeared on listverse causing hours of wasted time being spent tracking down the host advertiser to have it blocked. Smiley central is evil.] Smiley Central is owned by – previously AskJeeves.

Hire a social media agency to reach the website audience you want with relevant targeted ads.

fact checked by Alex Hanton
Jamie Frater

Jamie is the founder of Listverse. When he’s not doing research for new lists or collecting historical oddities, he can be found in the comments or on Facebook where he approves all friends requests!

Read More: Facebook Instagram Email