7 food promotions gone horribly wrong

Mario Marsicano
The Week

Burger King offends with an ad for a Texican Whopper, and more

Did you ever hear about Burger King's Texican Whopper? The taste of Texas and a little, spicy Mexican — and they do mean little. The ad for the new product ran only briefly in Spain and the United Kingdom before the Mexican government demanded it be pulled. Seems they (understandably) didn't like having their countrymen depicted as three-foot-tall wrestlers who wear the Mexican flag as a cape. Here, a few more promotions that didn't go the way the marketing gurus had planned.

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1. McDonald's gives away free virus
You wouldn't normally expect McDonald's to run a promotion giving away free Trojans (Trojan viruses, that is). In 2006, McDonald's locations in Japan gave away 10,000 MP3 players, fully loaded with 10 free songs. Problem is, many of them were also loaded with a QQPass Trojan virus that captured user info and sent it to hackers as soon as it was plugged into a computer. That's 10,000 folks who weren't necessarily lovin' it.

2. Hell Pizza brings out the dead
This one's kinda creepy. New Zealand-based chain Hell Pizza ran a Halloween ad on its website depicting the skeletal remains of Sir Edmund Hillary and Heath Ledger, just months after their deaths. The spot obviously drew complaints, but wasn't pulled until three days after Halloween — definitely enough time to associate Hell Pizza with a whole lot of bad taste.

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3. Pepsi's ballgame blowout
Pepsi offered to give away 250 pairs of Yankee Stadium opening day tickets. But when the Pepsi reps showed up in Times Square, instead of the 250 pairs of the promised tickets, they showed up with just 100 sets, and most were for a game in June. As one would expect, this basically led to a mob scene, with angry fans yelling "Pepsi sucks!" and pouring cans of soda out on the street. 

4. Domino's has its own bailout
During the tough economic time that followed the 2008 financial collapse, did you notice the trend of companies giving back? Car companies who suspended payments if you lost your job, restaurants that offered free food, and Domino's giving away pizzas to anyone that used the code "bailout." Only problem is the promotion hadn't actually been approved before the code leaked and 11,000 free pies were doled out. Company reps blamed the error on a computer glitch, or hackers. But Domino's actually looked pretty good after this one for honoring the giveaway.

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5. Everyone's a Pepsi winner in the Philippines
This is an honest mistake, but it's still pretty interesting. In 1992, Pepsi offered 1 million pesos to anyone finding a bottlecap with 349 printed on it. The problem: Half a million bottlecaps got printed with 349, which would have cost 18 billion dollars. Pepsi ended up paying winners $19.00, which still cost them ten million dollars. Not only that, but bottling plants were attacked, and many Pepsi execs had to leave the country. And you thought Yankee fans could get angry.

6. McDonald's McAfrika Burger
Also in 2002, Norwegian McDonald's restaurants had the bright idea to name a burger after a place where millions of people were facing starvation. Reps said the McAfrika sandwich was based on an authentic African recipe, but that didn't stop many in Norway from accusing McDonald's of extreme insensitivity. McDonald's considered donating proceeds to famine relief, but ended up allowing relief agencies to place collection boxes in participating restaurants. I think that was the same year they considered the McTsunami filet-o-fish.

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7. Carl's Jr's winning code goes viral
And finally, file another one under the "whoops" category. A 2009 Carl's Jr. online promotion for a free $2.75 "Famous Star" hamburger coupon went a little too viral. 276 winning contestants were texted a passcode and a 48-hour-only URL where they could download their coupon. And as the saying goes, they told two friends... who each told two friends... and so on... and so on. A day later, hundreds of websites were posting the URL and passcode, and the company had to shut down the promotion. Apparently viral isn't always a good thing.

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