Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

Blunders : Promotional guerrilla marketing campaigns that have run amok … Hotcow

Promotional giveaways are everywhere. They’re in your office, in your home, and in your car. Many things that you see every day and don’t even think about are promotional products.

The reason they’re everywhere is that we all love getting something for nothing. And this is precisely why promotional giveaways are such a popular guerrilla marketing tactic for businesses.

When they’re done right, promotional giveaways can draw huge crowds and do wonders for brand recognition. However, when they’re done wrong, it can be a pointless and costly exercise.

Despite the best-laid plans, history is littered with tales of businesses whose promotional guerrilla marketing campaigns have run amok.


In 2006, McDonalds and Coca-Cola launched a promotion in Japan, offering customers the opportunity to win a Flash MP3 player with a selection of preloaded music, by sending in a serial number from their drink purchase.

Some 10,000 McDonald’s customers got more than they bargained for when they won MP3 players.

Not only were they loaded with 10 free songs, but they also carried a Trojan virus which grabbed user passwords and information and sent it to hackers as soon as it was plugged into a computer.

McDonalds apologised and sent out new MP3 players to those affected.

It’s pretty obvious what the takeaway is here: Test and quality check all of your promotional items before they get in the hands of potential customers.


It should have been the marketing coup of 1992: the most audacious buy-one-get-two-free offer ever made, but it ended in disaster.

In the 1990’s, Hoover ran a very simple promotion: Buy a Hoover vacuum cleaner for at least £100 and receive two free flights to America or Europe.

People couldn’t believe their luck. More than 200,000 people bought Hoovers they didn’t want or need. But Hoover weren’t prepared for the take-up.

Satisfying the demand for free flights would have required more than 500 jumbos, so they had to pull the plug on the offer.

The cost to Hoover was enormous. Legal cases lasted 6 years and cost the company almost £50m. Ouch!

What can we learn from this? Well, rule number one of promotions is ‘never offer anything that is perceived to be worth more than the product it’s promoting’.

It did not take rocket science to work out that the price of two flights to New York was worth the inconvenience of stuffing an unused vacuum cleaner under the stairs.

Hotcow is a non-traditional creative agency that specialises in experiential marketing that goes viral. Our campaigns generate buzz through crowd participation, PR and content sharing.

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