Photo by Frank Okay on Unsplash

Technology is hard. Having been part of a number of technology product launches spanning more than a decade, there are a million and one things that must go absolutely smoothly, and only one wrong move that can bring the whole endeavor crashing down. Sometimes it can be an issue with the raw materials, some faulty hardware component, some error in the software code discovered too late, or it could be a well intentioned, but ultimately doomed marketing program that, in retrospect, never should have left the brainstorming session in the first place—here’s to you, Pepsi.

In the spirit of Halloween, I’m taking a look at the top three nightmare tech product launches where the marketing went horrifically wrong.

Bronze Award: RIM.jobs*, eh?

Caption: Remember when QWERTY keyboards were all the rage?

Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian creator of the iconic Blackberry phones that practically invented the smartphone category, was at one time the hottest tech stock around. In recent years, the company has struggled to regain its place amongst the tech elite, operating today as Blackberry Limited.

In early 2011, near its peak, RIM launched a marketing campaign to boost recruitment. At its core was a new HR job recruitment site called http://RIM.jobs, where prospects (I’m guessing here since it no longer exists), could search for and apply for work at the Windsor, Ontario-based company.

The horror (or laughs?) didn’t stop there. The company’s clueless social team began using the hashtag #RIMjobs to promote its, uh, openings.

The campaign proved to be a canary in the coalmine. Just six months after launching RIM.jobs, the company initiated the largest layoff in its history at the time, eliminating 2,000 employees in what is now a six-year-plus turnaround with no end it sight.

#RIMjobs certainly isn’t the only reason the company failed to maintain its place atop the smartphone market, but it sure didn’t help.

*Editor’s note: If you don’t know what this term means, I am not responsible for any objectionable content you may come across should you search this term.

Silver Award: Call in the Bomb Squad

In 2014, videogame maker Ubisoft wanted its new game “Watch Dogs” to explode onto the Australian market, and took that sentiment quite literally with its ill-conceived media mailer.

Australian media outfit Ninemsn (now nine.com.au) received a mysterious black safe along with a “suspicious” letter, which told a reporter to “check your voicemail.” Things got stranger when a staffer tried to open the safe using the pin code taped to the top. The safe didn’t open and instead began to beep, which naturally, spooked everyone and led to the conclusion they might be dealing with a bomb. Everyone on the floor was consequently ordered home and the bomb squad came to deal with it.

Caption: The Infamous “Watch Dogs” Safe

Inside, the bomb squad found a copy of the game along with some swag (a baseball cap and beanie) with a note that the embargo lifted at 5pm.

A poorly conceived and executed media mailer is a dime a dozen in PR, but what made this event particularly special, besides a visit from the bomb squad, of course, was how poorly the stunt was planned and executed:

  • Initially alarmed by the suspicious package, Ninemsn called other newsrooms to see if they had received something similar. None had.
  • Compounding the problem was that no PR person ever left the promised voicemail.
  • The pin code provided on the safe was ultimately incorrect.
  • The kicker: Ninemsn didn’t even review video games.

Of course, Ubisoft got more press from the incident then it ever could have dreamed, which leads to the age of question: is all press good press? (The answer is no.)

Gold Award: Touch Woody

The consensus number one all-time tech PR nightmare belongs to Panasonic. In the mid 1990s during the hey-day of the personal computer, Panasonic wanted to take the lead with a novel concept: a touchscreen device. Besides being way ahead of its time, Panasonic named the PC “The Woody” and presumably dropped beaucoup bucks for the rights to use Woody the Woodpecker as its mascot.

From that moment on, the jokes wrote themselves.

Not only did Panasonic called its touchscreen feature “Touch Woody,” but they concocted an advertising campaign with the slogan: “Touch Woody—the internet pecker.”

Caption: US consumers definitely did not want to “Touch Woody.”

Unfortunately, Panasonic didn’t realize its catastrophic mistakes until the day before the launch when an American employee in Tokyo blew the horn to corporate on the campaign’s overt sexual innuendo. In the end, Panasonic kept Woody in the branding and made slight tweaks to the messaging, but clearly not enough. Instead of focusing on the touchscreen, they emphasized the automated online support function called “Internet Pecker.” Whoops.

Needless to say, if you plan to launch a marketing campaign in a foreign country, it’s best to consult the natives before it’s too late.

Have your own terrifying marketing failures to share? Leave them in the comments.

 

Article by PR Account Supervisor Keith Metz-Porozni