Two Dell employees last week put the maxim "There's no such thing as bad publicity" to the test after a hostage-themed marketing stunt focused on the Dell Streak tablet went about as badly as you'd expect.
A Dell sales manager dressed in a biker costume and black mask while carrying two metallic objects told people at Dell's Round Rock headquarters Building 1 to "go to the lobby."
This prompted 911 calls, triggering a SWAT team response to what looked like "extreme risk scenario," according to a police officer who spoke to KXAN news in Austin. Two employees behind the stunt were arrested and charged with misdemeanors of interfering with public duties and deadly conduct.
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It turns out the misguided Dell employees who orchestrated the stunt were promoting new interactivity between the Dell Streak and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
A Dell spokesman called the incident "an unfortunate choice" by an employee, according to KXAN.
And while this stunt might have no real rivals for stupidity, it's not without a few challengers:
• Bomb scare. Turner Broadcasting came under fire in January of 2007 after a publicity stunt for its Adult Swim Aqua Teen Hunger Force bombed. Boxes around the size of laptop PCs featuring flashing lights in the form of Aqua Teen Hunger Force characters were affixed to various public places in Boston, including on bridges, bringing the city to a standstill for fear of a bomb plot.
Turner Broadcasting apologized, sort of, and wound up paying a $2 million fine.
• Graffiti artist wannabe. Sony in 2005 promoted its PlayStation Portable (PSP) by having graffiti artists spray paint PSP pictures around New York City and other major U.S. cities, but the company faced backlash over its lack of street cred to pull off such a shenanigan. The advertising stunt was widely ridiculed, with some people painting over the ads and others calling for Sony to remove them itself or pay for removal.
It didn't help that Sony BMG was already taking a beating for its ill-advised scheme to plant rootkits on its music customers' PCs as part of an anti-piracy effort.
• Microsoft campaign doesn't fly. Microsoft in 2002 sent Bill Gates to Central Park in New York City to launch its MSN 8 Internet service, but it also plastered the city's subways, phone booths and anything else with a flat surface with decals of MSN's signature butterfly logo and the caption "It's better with the Butterfly." The New York Times, reporting on the marketing campaign, quoted a Municipal Art Society director saying: ''This is nothing more than corporate graffiti. It's no better than all those kids out there tagging subway cars.''
• World record backfires. OK, this stunt wasn't exactly dumb, but it didn't go smoothly. Mozilla in 2008 launched its Firefox 3.0 Web browser along with an effort to break a Guinness World Record for the largest number of software downloads in a 24-hour period. But the stunt backfired when the site was swamped and U.S. computer users weren't able to access the browser download until 2 hours later than expected. Mozilla said it recorded more than 8 million downloads.
In the end, Mozilla got its Guinness certificate for the record.
• The hell with it. Electronic Arts assembled phony protesters in 2009 outside the LA Convention Center to hold up signs and pass out flyers in the name of their group -- "Salvationists Against Virtual and Eternal Damnation" – and in the fight against EA's latest game Dante's Inferno. While video game fans had mixed reactions to the stunt, EA did get knocked for assembling only about 20 protesters as opposed to gathering a bigger crowd that would have been really impressive.
• Are they dead or not? Retro gaming site Good Old Games last year faked its own death, but then the site's administrators – dressed as "humble monks who have sinned" -- announced/apologized at a web conference that the site shutdown was actually a publicity stunt. "First of all we'd like to apologize to everyone who felt deceived or harmed in any way by the closedown of GOG.com," said the GOG team in a statement. "As a small company we don't have a huge marketing budget and this [is] why we could not miss a chance to generate some buzz around an event as big as launching a brand new version of our website and even more important, bringing back Baldur's Gate to life!"
• Honesty is the stupidest policy. A Dutch company calling itself The Honest Thief, announced in 2003 that it would exploit a pro-P2P court ruling in the Netherlands and license its own P2P software and offer legal advice to other P2P services. But on April 1, the company revealed it was all a stunt to promote a book that was already 2 years old at the time.
Bob Brown is sure that one day he will do something equally stupid as these companies on his Twitter account
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This story, "Dumbest Tech Marketing Stunts Ever" was originally published by Network World.