Contests can be a fun and savvy way to create buzz – especially online – about a brand or product. Most of the time, a contest will at least succeed in grabbing the attention of a targeted audience. Other times, what seems like a brilliant idea for a contest can completely backfire.
That is what happened with these four brand contests. In some instances, the contests seemed totally benign and could have worked beautifully – but something unexpected happened. In a few other cases, those brands perhaps should have more carefully constructed the idea for their contest.
Malaysia Airlines – Bucket List
Malaysia Airlines thought that giving away a free flight could help them muster up some positive vibes after the disappearance of Flight 370 and the tragedy of Flight 17, which was shot down in eastern Ukraine with no survivors.
To gather entries for the free flight giveaway, the airline launched an online campaign that encouraged interested parties to submit their own “My Bucket List.” Quickly, the wrong idea caught fire with social media critics, who said the airline was being insensitive to those who lost loved ones on the two tragic flights.
In response to the backlash, the airline changed the contest name to “Ultimate To-Do List.” The damage from the lost flight and the unfortunate name further tarnished Malaysia Airline’s brand reputation.
Bud Light – WhateverUSA
As craft beer becomes the drink du jour among adults, Bud Light wanted a promotion to make its brand seem cool again. That led to a clever marketing stunt and contest with its WhateverUSA promotion. Winners of the contest were flown to Crested Butte, CO which was ceremoniously renamed “Whatever” for a weekend in September.
As part of the promotion, attendees were encouraged to use the hashtag #WhateverUSA to share their experiences. That hashtag fared well for Bud Light until the party was over, and hundreds of invited guests tried to leave on charter planes from the area's small airport. Security issues -- in part caused by the TSA's discovery of marijuana in luggage (possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal in Colorado but it's illegal to take it across state lines) caused hours of delays.
Guests subsequently missed transfer flights in Denver, and suddenly the #WhateverUSA hashtag became a sounding board for angry people. That's not the free-spirited nature Bud Light had hoped to bring with the weekend.
American Apparel – Plus-Size Models
When American Apparel took first steps to expand its line to include “XL” sizes, the clothing chain made some bad puns and some serious mistakes. To promote the line, American Apparel launched a model search contest in hopes it would find a “booty-ful” model that could “fill out” its limited selection of “big” clothing. The new XL size runs about a 12/14 – the average size of woman in the U.S.
The contest, named the “Next Big Thing," put out a call for curvy models to submit photos for a chance to represent the brand. The winner would be flown out to LA for a photo shoot in the new XL size. Consumers – especially women – found offense in the idea that the average sized American woman was being made out to be “big” or “XL.” Particularly, the offended took issue with some of the verbiage used in the promotion like “XLent.”
One particular size 12 woman that took issue with the contest shot back with some sarcastic photographs for entries. Nancy Upton took photos of herself slathered in ranch dressing and covering her private parts with pie, and then submitted the photos in the contest. Quickly, the Internet got the joke and her personal blog featuring the fruits of a photos hoot went viral. Upton explains on the blog that she just “couldn’t stop eating” for the photos.
After word had spread, Upton won the “Next Big Thing” contest by popular vote, but American Apparel never booked her in a promotional spread. The brand continues to receive criticism and has seen its fair share of dramatic headlines as of late.
Mountain Dew – Dub the Dew
When soft drink brand Mountain Dew set out to find a name for its new green-apple-flavor brand, it turned to the Internet. Surely, the brand thought it could pool the creativity of the web to come up with a great new name that all voters could support.
Instead, Internet pranksters from sites like 4chan and Reddit banded together to push silly and offensive ideas to the top of the name leaderboard. Entering the top 10 were names like “Diabeetus,” “Soda,” and “Sierra Mist.” Eventually, one of the most ridiculously offensive names of all hit No. 1: “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Mountain Dew owner PepsiCo was forced to pull the contest.