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The Top Marketing Flops of 2010

Some companies are skilled in the art of advertising and branding. Then there are these guys.

Believe it or not, 2010 marked the silver anniversary of arguably the most misguided marketing move of all time: Coca-Cola's stupefying decision to reformulate its flagship soft drink as "new Coke." The move faced enormous consumer backlash and the original formula--renamed "Coca-Cola classic"--returned to stores within weeks. Although the debacle offered many lessons, not all marketers learned them. Join us as we stroll down short-term memory lane to revisit the biggest marketing gaffes of the past year. 


Gap's New Logo

Gap's New Logo
In one of the most ill-considered marketing makeovers in corporate history, Gap abandoned its familiar blue-square logo last October. The clothing retailer said the redesign represented its evolution from "classic, American design, to modern, sexy, cool." As modern and cool as stonewashed denim, that is. The revamped logo--white background, black type, new typeface and a shrunken-down blue box--was universally savaged, and it even spawned a satirical DIY website, Crap Logo Yourself. Gap scrapped it within a week. Fashionistas take note: Khaki pants do not go with red faces.


The Fall of King James

The Fall of King James
In the summer of 2010, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James was a coveted free agent and a god in his native Ohio--a state desperate to keep him. Then came The Decision, an ESPN primetime special in which James declared he would "take my talents to South Beach," joining the Miami Heat. That evening, James was reborn as one of the most reviled figures in professional sports. His efforts to win back fans continue--but as Cleveland knows, James always comes up short when it matters most.


The iPhone 4

The iPhone 4
Sometimes it seems Apple can do no wrong. Just ask CEO Steve Jobs. When Apple's iPhone 4 came out last June, buyers complained of reception problems when they held the smartphone by its metal sides, which are the phone's antenna. One user e-mailed Jobs, writing, "What's going to be done about the signal-dropping issue?" Jobs' reply: "Non issue. Just avoid holding it in that way." Apple later gave away cases to solve the "non issue," but Jobs' condescending response got a decidedly poor reception from consumers.


Nestlé's Facebook Fiasco

Nestle's Facebook Fiasco
In March, environmental activists turned to social media sites to wage battle against Nestlé over the food goliath's partnership with a firm that harvests palm oil from the Indonesian rain forest. Nestlé responded in kind, leveraging its corporate Facebook page to reach out to consumers and stem the wave of bad publicity. Not a good idea. After first threatening to delete comments that had the cheek to incorporate altered versions of the company's logo, Nestlé's Facebook page administrator totally lost it, sparring with users and eventually proclaiming, "It's our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus." Apologies soon followed. "Good Food, Good Life" is Nestlé's slogan. Too bad the company stopped before it got to "Good Sense."


Zynga's Fake Money

Zynga's Fake Money
Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of social games like FarmVille, Zynga rules the virtual world. The real world is a different story. To promote the August release of Mafia Wars: Las Vegas, Zynga partner Davis Elen Advertising subcontracted a guerilla marketer to glue roughly 4,000 fake $25,000 bills to the sidewalks of San Francisco. As public works crews armed with special steam-cleaning equipment hit the streets, Zynga dropped a dime on Davis Elen, fingering the ad firm as the culprit behind the campaign. Three months later, Davis Elen ponied up $45,000 to San Francisco's coffers, accepting full responsibility for the stunt. Snitching on an associate?

The real Mafia is so not impressed.

Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.

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This article was originally published in the February 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Opposite of Marketing Genius.

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