The Ten Most Catastrophic Event Management And Marketing Fails Of 2014

Last Updated on July 10, 2022

2014 has finally come and gone. As is the custom around this time of year, we’re going to take a brief look back before turning our eyes toward the future. More specifically, we’re going to take a look at some of the biggest blunders, mess-ups, and fiascos of the year in the dual world of marketing and event management.

The catastrophes you’re about to witness are many and varied in nature. From Apple and U2’s decision to force a new album on fans to Paddy Power’s baffling decision to bulldoze part of the Brazilian rainforest; these gaffes all have one thing in common – they caused no small degree of trouble for the brands responsible. There’s probably not a whole lot left to salvage for the organizations involved in these bungles, but at the very least, maybe we can learn a bit from them ourselves.

Like how not to market a brand.

Apple Forces U2 On Its Customers

The Screw-Up:

Back in September, Irish Rock Band U2 and tech industry giant Apple came up with a brilliant idea. See, the band had just released a whole-new album called Songs of Innocence, and it wanted to market that album to music lovers the world over. After a bit of deliberation, they decided that they’d give it out on iTunes for free – whether the users wanted the album or not.

The album was downloaded to the PCs & phones of 500 million users, without their knowledge or consent. Worse still, it proved nearly impossible to delete, so much so that many websites published a guide on how users could rid themselves of Apple’s foolish publicity stunt. Eventually, the people involved realized the colossal mistake they’d made, and U2 front-man Bono issued a non-apology well over a month later. But hey, at least the stunt went viral, right?

Even if it did so for completely the wrong reasons.

What We Can Learn From This:

It’s a pretty well-known truth in the marketing world that people love getting free stuff. Giveaways are a fantastic way to drive attendance to your events, and deep discounts are an incredible means of raising brand awareness and fostering goodwill. But see, here’s the thing…just because something’s free, doesn’t mean it’s good and people will want it.

If you’re going to stage a giveaway at one of your events (or simply over social media), then it’s imperative that you first make sure you’re giving away something your customers actually want. Oh, and a bit of common-sense advice? Don’t force anything on them.

People don’t like that.

Bud Light Didn’t Bother Asking If It was Welcome In Town

The Screw-Up:

Bud Light had a pretty fantastic marketing year, all things considered. Their advertising campaign positioned their beer as “the perfect choice for whatever happens;” a slogan that resonated remarkably well with millenials – one of the brands most profitable demographics. Unfortunately, the culmination of the campaign was…slightly less successful.

See, the brand decided to allow customers to audition for a secret weekend party on the campaign’s official website. Successful auditions would be invited to “Whatever, USA” for a weekend of drunken revelry. Pretty sweet, right?

Yeah, tell that to the residents of Crested Butte, USA; the quiet mountain village where Bud hosted its party.  See, the fact that it was a secret event meant that the brand didn’t quite get around to asking the residents if they were okay with having a thousand drunk, young party animals spend the weekend in their home. I’m sure you can figure out what happened next.

Eventually, the residents of the town voted to approve the sale of a permit to the brand – at $500,000; twice the original asking price. Things could have gone much worse, really.

What We Can Learn From This:

Oddly enough, Bud Light’s marketing director David Daniels probably put it best:

“With any event, you have to build consensus before you get on the ground. After we made our case to the Crested Butte Town Council, we were thrilled to see it pass by a unanimous vote,” Daniels explained to Adweek. “We can’t imagine a better setting for a weekend of unexpected, unparalleled fun. We’ve spent several months planning and preparing for Whatever USA, and have worked closely with the town to ensure we cause the least amount of disruption to the community. When the weekend is over, we plan to return the town to exactly how it was when we arrived.”

So…basically, if you’re planning to host an event somewhere, make absolutely certain that the people who live there are okay with you doing so. And have a back-up locale if your first venue falls through. Also, it’s probably a good idea to sort all of this stuff out before the month in which an event is slated to take place.

The Academy Might Be A Little Bit Racist

The Screw-Up:

The Academy Awards has a bit of a troubled relationship with diversity. They’ve been called out for being racist, sexist, and homophobic on more than one occasion. As you can well imagine, the mistake they made at the 86th annual Academy Awards Ceremony didn’t really help their reputation.

What’d they do, exactly?

Well, some bright bulb on their social media team Instagrammed a picture of Salma Hayek with Robert De Niro…and mistook Hayek for Penelope Cruz. You know, the other Hispanic actress? Worse still, this isn’t the first time they’ve done something like this – apparently, it’s a trend.

What We Can Learn From This:

Simple: if you’re going to connect social media to any of the events you run, make sure whoever is responsible actually bothers to check their facts. Nothing sours an event faster than racism, even if it is accidental – and misattribution of any sort is an incredibly embarrassing mistake, besides. Hopefully whoever’s managing the Academy’s social media presence next year has a bit more patience.

Paddy Power Photoshops An Amazonian PR Stunt…A Little Too Well

The Screw-Up:

Full disclosure here, folks. I’m not actually sure whether to consider this one a fail or a positively brilliant success. You’ll see why in a moment.

As everyone well-knows, the Amazon Rainforest is one of the world’s most important ecosystems. It’s also been steadily receding for the past several decades at the hands of irresponsible logging companies. Things down there have gotten bad enough that it may be losing its ability to regulate weather systems.

It sort of goes without saying that we want to do whatever we can to preserve this ecosystem, doesn’t it?

Paddy Power certainly thought so. In a rather obtuse publicity stunt during the World Cup (more on that fiasco later on); the company digitally edited an image of the Amazon Rainforest to make it look as though they used it as a billboard. Apparently, they wanted to raise awareness of deforestation.

As it turns out, they made the edit a little too realistic.  People were positively outraged, and began heaping abuse on the company over social media. Paddy Power, of course, fueled the fire on their social media accounts…before revealing after twenty-four hours that the whole thing was staged.

What We Can Learn From This:

For one, toying with customer outrage can be a double-edged sword. While I’m certain Paddy Power did manage to successfully raise awareness of the Rainforest’s dire condition, they may have caused a great deal of damage to their brand in the process. Still, even if this wasn’t a total gaffe, there’s something to be learned from it:

If you’re going to be clever on social media, whether you’re promoting an event or simply a brand; make sure you’ve some sort of follow-up.

Oneechanbara’s Tokyo Game Show Booth Is Just….Weird

The Screw-Up:

As some of you may know, video games are among my hobbies. This means that I rather look forward to events like the Electronic Entertainment Expo and the Tokyo Game Show – they’re some of the most important trade shows in the games industry, after all; there’s always some cool stuff to be seen on the show floor. And…some weird stuff, apparently.

Honestly, words don’t really do this one justice. Just look for yourself. I’m sure the developers of Oneechanbara intended for their booth to be eye-catching and ‘edgy,’ but it just ended up being weird, embarrassing, and more than a little uncomfortable.

What We Can Learn From This:

Two things, depending on whether you’re a vendor or an event planner.

For event planners; you absolutely need to properly screen the vendors who are attending your events. Any time a vendor acts out of line, any time they abuse an attendee, any time they think that a pair of breasts that you stick your head into to play a game is a good idea; they reflect directly on you and your reputation as a firm.

As for vendors, you can make your booth eye-catching and attention-grabbing without making it tasteless or uncomfortable.

David Byttow Really Doesn’t Care If Teenagers Commit Suicide

The Screw-Up:

I heard a statistic once – don’t quote me on the source – that a distressingly large percentage of CEOs and executives are sociopaths.  David Byttow, founder of the company behind anonymous gossip app Secret, lent an unfortunate level of credibility to this statistic earlier this year. What’d he do that was so bad?

Oh, not a lot – he only said in the worst way possible that he doesn’t care if teenagers commit suicide because of his app. Further fuel was added to the fire when a campaigner told Pando (the media outlet that blew the lid off this whole mess) that the company was too busy raising money to care about suicides. Great, right?

Now, most of you know how a crisis like this should ordinarily play out – it’s a song and dance that’s pretty well known in enterprise. A key person in a brand says something stupid, and the PR department jumps into action to try to mitigate the damage they caused. Only in Secret’s case, the company’s head of PR, Sarah Sanchetti…actually one-upped Byttow.

Instead of expressing concern for Secret’s users, or pledging that the company will take a hardline stance against cyberbullying, or apologizing for her boss’s callous attitude…she tried to play the victim.

That she eventually apologized doesn’t change the fact that it got to this point in the first place – nor does it repair the damage already caused to the Secret brand.

What We Can Learn From This:

I think we should first start Sanchetti’s public acknowledgement of her mistake. 

“You’d think a marketing professional with nearly 15 years of experience of political campaigns, crisis communications and startup failures would know better,” reads the apology. “Most days, you’d be right. Yesterday was not one of those days.”

Everyone messes up once in a while. Unfortunately, if you’re representing a brand, conference, or event management firm, your mistakes are all going to be very, very public. Measure carefully what you say and do on social media – because you can bet your audience will be doing the same.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup: Everything That’s Wrong With Modern-Day Brazil

The Screw-Up:

Heads up, folks. We’re going to get a little political here for a moment. Don’t worry, it won’t take too long.

As some of you may know, the economic situation in Brazil is…a little disgraceful. The wealth gap in that country is one of the worst in the world. So when Brazil lobbied for the 2014 FIFA World Cup to be held in the country, residents were hopeful. Hosting such a prestigious event could show the world just how great Brazil could be, in addition to creating countless jobs and pumping a whole ton of much-needed money into the economy.

Unfortunately, it was mishandled at virtually every stage of the process. Firstly, it was the most expensive World Cup ever hosted, clocking it at around $11.7 billion in expenses. Much of that money was taken from already-struggling taxpayers. To make matters worse, many of the twelve refurbished stadiums were barely even ready for the tournament; and a number of previously-promised government projects were put on the backburner in order to prepare.

Now that the World Cup’s drawn to a close, Brazilians are left with a still-broken infrastructure, a whole bunch of useless stadiums, and a populace even deeper in debt.  It’s alright, though – FIFA still got a huge tax break.

What We Can Learn From This:

I’m…not actually sure. FIFA has long been known as one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, so I suppose this could drive home the importance of reputation management? Maybe this is an indication that one needs to be careful how they plan their event budget?

Honestly, it’s just a horrible, unpleasant situation all around. Maybe the only thing we can take away from all this is that no event – no matter how large – will fix a deeply broken country.

The NYPD Is Pretty Clueless About How Civilians Feel

The Screw-Up:

This is the last political entry on the list, I promise.

Back in April, someone in the NYPD heard that their officers don’t really have the best reputation amongst the civilian populace right now. They also heard that there was this new-fangled piece of tech called Twitter, which could be used for public outreach. Twitter, they heard, makes heavy use of hashtags to mark posts and make them easier to search.

I’m certain you see where I’m going with this.

The NYPD kicked off a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #myNYPD. What was supposed to be a public outreach program showing positive dealings with the police turned into an unmitigated disaster as users hijacked the hashtag and flooded it with images of police brutality and complaints about police corruption. The NYPD stubbornly refused to deal with the issue, re-tweeting some of the favorable pictures but otherwise completely ignoring the tens of thousands of users who leveled criticisms at the organization.

What We Can Learn From This:

Stay away from hashtag campaigns if your brand already has a negative reputation. That’s…pretty much all there is to say about this.

Apple Completely Botches It’s iPhone 6/Apple Watch Livestream

The Screw-Up:

I know; I’m surprised Apple made the list twice, too. The company’s usually more or less a master of marketing, with a great idea of its target demographic and a knack for getting people to buy its products. Most agree, however, that the launch of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch was one of the worst keynote events in the company’s history.

I can sum the whole thing up in one sentence: everything that could go wrong with the livestream presentation did. Apple did eventually post a recording of the whole event, but by then the damage had been done. While everyone who attended was doubtless treated to an exciting presentation, the millions of viewers online were left frustrated and confused.

What We Can Learn From This:

If you’re going to use technology of any sort in your events, make sure it works. Test it the day before the show, then the day of the show, then immediately before the event. And have a crisis management plan in place in case things go south.

Ubisoft Can’t Market Its Franchises At E3

The Screw-Up:

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got Ubisoft’s rather…lackluster showing at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Everything about their presentation was off, from the terrible jokes made by the speakers, to the awkward meme references, to the supremely bizarre dance number. The most depressing part is that this was actually an improvement from previous years – at least they were actually trying.

What We Can Learn From This:

Honestly, Ubisoft’s keynotes have always been a sort of guide for how you shouldn’t run a presentation. This year was really no different. If you’re involved in planning any presentations for your events, you need to consider carefully how each element will look on-stage. If you think something might look awkward, goofy, or just plain weird, then there’s a good chance that it will.