10 tech PR stunts that spectacularly failed

8th Oct 2009 | 13:55

10 tech PR stunts that spectacularly failed

Promo ideas that must have seemed really good at the time

Fails 1-5

What does a big-money tech PR effort need? A big stunt. Trouble is, for every iPlayer flying penguins episode, Threshers e-voucher and Honda live ad piece of genius, there are those campaigns that just make you put your head in your hands. Here's our round up of the worst tech PR stunts we've yet seen. Have you any to share? Then leave them in the comments.

1. Skittles and Tweets

In March this year, Mars brand Skittles decided to go social, incorporating a live Twitter feed on Skittles.com alongside content from Facebook and YouTube, on the advice of Agency.com. Trouble was, the feed pulled in absolutely all tweets featuring the name Skittles. Naturally, Joe Public quickly cottoned on to the fact you didn't necessarily need to be complimentary about the coloured candy to get on the page. The page was soon changed, but the Chatter section of the site still leads to a Twitter search for Skittles. A backfire undoubtedly, but it did get everybody talking about some dullard sweets that don't taste as good as Smarties. Well, they don't!

Skittles

2. Microsoft and Seinfeld

Getting Seinfeld to star alongside Bill Gates was no doubt a stunning stunt on paper. $300 million of paper. But the ads didn't even reinforce the Microsoft brand properly and Seinfeld was paid a reputed $10 million for appearing. The first ad was a 90-second affair, showing Seinfeld assisting Gates in choosing a pair of shoes. But our 'favourite' moment is in the second four-minute vid: Gates is reading a technical manual to a kid at bedtime. "Are there any monsters in this story?" asks the kid. "Yes, but there's a firewall," replies Gates. Terrible, terrible, terrible. And we don't even want to think about the Internet Explorer 8 vomiting incident.

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3. SpinVox's tech demo

Earlier this year, SpinVox had to refute allegations that a great deal of its automated text-to-speech service was, in fact, processed by humans in call centres, which ended up with Spinvox desperately firefighting and going on to employ uber-PR firm Brunswick to help it out. To try and assuage the voracious criticism from journos such as the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, the Marlow-based company decided to invite journalists to its offices for a presentation and demo. Trouble is, the demo (albeit under restricted conditions) failed to convince and only succeeded in proving that Spinvox's service needed the human element to work properly. Although two messages read by Spinvox CIO Rob Wheatley were automatically transferred perfectly, faster messages left by the journos present were redirected to the human assistant.

Spinvox

4. Sony gets its goat

Legendary in gaming circles, Sony Computer Entertainment created a storm after a launch event for the God Of War II game in Athens featured a dead goat. "The event was a theatrical dramatisation with a Greek mythological theme and, as part of the set dressing, a dead goat was provided by the production company from a qualified local butcher. There was never any question of journalists being able to touch the goat, or indeed eat the soup direct from the body of the goat, as one report has alleged. The goat was returned to the butcher at the end of the event," said Sony in a statement.

5. Asus' blogging competition

Earlier this year, Eee PC manufacturer Asus decided to ask people to blog about products they were given for review. Readers would then be able to vote for their favourite, with the winner able to keep hold of their kit forever. Sound simple? Not quite. Readers have a habit of voting for honesty rather than puff, and it appeared that Asus wasn't too impressed when blogger Gavyn Britton came out on top as it was decided the bloggers would have to vote for each other to decide the winner, something that wasn't lost on The Inquirer. However, Asus was keen to point out that there had been some voting irregularities. "It had become apparent that some people's manipulation of the voting system had effectively invalidated the whole voting process. [It was] decided that rather than announce the results of a rigged vote, they needed to urgently adopt a different voting policy (one vote per blogger for their favourite blogger)." Asus added that it was "very disappointed that an external influence, and an influence outside of any of our control, has unfairly tarnished the reputation of this competition."

Fails 6-10

6. EA encourages touching of women

At Comic Con this year, EA came up with a sleazy idea to promote Dante's Inferno. The company asked attendees to commit an "act of lust" with its booth babes and email or tweet in pictures to win dinner with a babe. Nice, yet somewhat disturbing. EA naturally only meant people to take photos, but it was a stunt sure to end really, really well and not at all get itself branded as sexist.

EA stunt

[Image credit: ArsTechnica]

7. Gates releases the bees

This was really, really stupid. Bill Gates unintentionally released live mosquitoes during his speech at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in California. A container was supposed to be opened but the insects themselves were supposed to be kept under a further pane of glass. Particularly as attendees to the $2,000-each charity dinner had to run for cover and some even ended up with minor injuries. After, Gates said "well, that wasn't supposed to happen", adding that the stunt was designed to draw attention to hardships faced in developing countries. Angelina Jolie was among those who were stung.

8. Sony paints pretty pictures

Back in 2005, Sony hired graffiti artists to spray-paint major US city streets with pictures of children playing with the PSP. But the street art drew painted responses – some witty, some less so. According to Wired, the responses ranged from a "four-line ditty slamming Sony" to "get out of my city." Other critics suggested Sony was exploiting the artists. And that wasn't the only PSP fail.

9. Vodafone forced to apologise for streakers

Whoever thought this would be a good idea? At a New Zealand and Australia rugby match in 2002, two streakers invaded the pitch. Only they were wearing Vodafone logos. Harmless fun? Well perhaps, but the cops got involved (as it's against the law y'know) and arrested the offenders before the game had ended. Grahame Maher, the Vodafone Australia chief, had to apologise after he admitted that he had agreed to pay any fines as a result of the publicity. According to the BBC, Vodafone NZ also had to donate NZ$100,000 (£30,000) to a sports injury campaign.

Vodafone

10. Virgin gets rude Branson illos

A B3ta.com competition was supposed to help Virgin go viral but instead resulted in Richard Branson being targeted with a series of unsavoury images. The multi-tasking company promised Xbox 360s and PSPs as prizes and wanted pictures on the theme of "what would happen if you said 'yes' to everything?" according to The Register. Such temptation.

b3ta

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