Lame and Lamer: 10 Dumbest Viral Marketing Campaigns

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2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force and 'The Bomb'

The creators of Aqua Teen Hunger Force got a little more attention than they expected when they scattered battery-operated signs around the U.S. promoting the TV show.
How do you promote a cartoon starring anthropomorphic versions of fast food? The creators behind the Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force thought it would be a neat idea to attach hundreds of small billboards styled like Lite-Brite glowing toys to buildings, bridges, and underpasses in cities across the country. But when the Boston police mistook the battery-operated signs for terrorist bombs in January 2007, all hell broke loose. The city shut down highways and parts of the Charles River for several hours. The masterminds behind the signs, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, were arrested, and Turner Broadcasting System had to pay $2 million to clean up the mess. (Berdovsky and Stevens were eventually sentenced to community service.)

But this viral-marketing disaster may have actually helped the show's image, says Barak Kassar, group creative director of full-service marketing firm Rassak Experience.

"Adult Swim's young male audience relish anti-establishment cartoons and likely relished the news footage (which they probably watched on YouTube) of the 'busted' yet unrepentant gonzo marketers who were contracted by the network," says Kassar.

Of the dozen major cities where the signs were placed, only Beantown mistook a marketing gimmick for a terrorist plot. But after all, said Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, "It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires."

Lame: Boston authorities, who insisted on prosecuting the ATHF team for planting "hoax devices" long after their real purpose was revealed.

Lamer: Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie.

And the winner is:

1. Microsoft Vista's 'Wow'

This guy showed a little too much 'Wow' when he made his video supporting Windows Vista for 'The Wow Starts Now' campaign.
It was a marriage made in marketing hell: a lame product with an even worse catchphrase. Yet "The Wow starts now" was only the beginning of Microsoft's desperate effort to drum up enthusiasm for Vista, its years-late-and-many-dollars-short operating system.

The campaign hit rock bottom with the Web site that Microsoft created for Vista fans to display their "Wow" moments. By having users upload photos and video clips to, Microsoft hoped to show off Vista's nifty Aero interface. Unfortunately, Aero was too processor-intensive to run on many machines, leading to a class action lawsuit over the "Vista Capable" stickers used to promote the OS on underpowered systems.

"In 1994 we represented CompuServe, which had a product called 'Wow' with a slogan 'Bring the Wow into your life,'" notes Richard Laermer, principal of RLM PR and author of 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade. "Twelve years later, Microsoft's doing it. Using 'Wow' is like sleeping on the job. Whoever came up with that campaign for Microsoft should be shot."

Our favorite ShowUs moment: a video of Claudio, a bone-thin topless transvestite in a blonde wig, shaking his booty and lip-syncing to Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie." Wow.

Lame: Building a marketing campaign around a catchphrase that was tired back in 1994.

Lamer: Windows Vista itself.

Have a candidate to nominate for this list? Disagree with us? Comment!

(Contributing editor Dan Tynan writes the Gadget Freak column for PC World and the Tynan on Technology blog.)

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