HD_3652_L.JPGIt was spring of 1996 and I needed a compelling theme to drive attendance at my business unit’s sister event at the company’s major customer event.

Our product, called Rapport Dialup Switch, had a terrific advertisement made by the folks from J. Walter Thompson who were the agency of record at the time. The all-text ad, which ran in the Wall Street Journal in September 1995 had the headline: “If the Internet is a goldmine, what does that make us?” and then injected in a provocative way in large font half-way down the copy was the word “Dynamite.”

The copy referred to how our dialup platform provided unprecedented insights into user preferences and habits which would be particularly powerful in the wild west of the Internet’s early days of commercialization.

So, to get carrier customers from around the world to come to my group’s day-earlier event in Montreal Canada we mailed them a red mailing tube with a plastic cap and a wick hanging out of it. Inside was the ad, instructions on how to register and of course the agenda for the event.

Well, when my European colleagues, based in the UK office, got wind of the program (which we mailed from Texas), they hit the roof. Apparently, just a week before our mailing, some wacko had blown up an elementary school in Scotland and so everybody was very nervous about dynamite and things that looked like dynamite, and especially things that looked like dynamite coming through the mail. (Imagine mailing a bad of white powder today to somebody and seeing what kind of reaction you get today).

Needless to say, we got some egg on our face, but fortunately, there were no folks from Scotland on our list of attendees and it all blowed over in no time.

Fast forward – same company, 4 years later (2000).

At the CMO’s annual global senior marketing talent meeting, the CMO asked if anyone had ideas on how to help a particular person from Germany. She stood up and told this story:

We outsourced the e-mailing of a special invitation to an agency. First of all, they sent the email with all the addressees in the to: window, so everybody knew everybody else who had been invited, and all of the senior executives got a little miffed that we knew so many of their competitors…

… but the worst of it was that the email agency sent a virus to all of these customers.

Any suggestions on what we should do would be welcome…

Here are the other 10 stunts gone bad.

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