25 of the worst branding fails from 1995-2020

Fast Company looked at some of the worst commercial mistakes of the last quarter-century. Microsoft Vista made it in which, in retrospect, seems a bit harsh. But Calvin Klein’s controversial jeans commercial showing questionably-aged models rightly appears (I’m not gonna say outright what it appears to depict because I don’t want those words on the site). And who remembers Flooz? Or that Folgers commercial? Or the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad?

What are some of your worst branding fails since 1995? Let me know in the comments.

An oral history of the weird Folgers "incest" commercial

Folgers Coffee Brother & Sister Home For Christmas 2009 Christmas TV Commercial HD

Living in the UK, I never got to see this controversial Folgers coffee commercial. But I found out about it through this oral history by GQ:

“Coming Home” opens with a taxi dropping a young man off outside a snow-covered house bedecked in Christmas decorations early one morning. A young woman excitedly opens the door and establishes that she’s his sister by pointing at herself and saying “sister!” He’s weary, having just returned from volunteering in “West Africa,” and the two share a cup of freshly-brewed Folgers coffee while their parents are still asleep. (In some versions he even says “ah, real coffee,” as if he didn’t just come from where some of the best coffee in the world is produced.) He hands her a small present, but instead of opening it, she peels off the red bow and sticks it on his shirt. “What are you doing?” he asks. “You’re my present this year,” she responds. The camera zooms in on her shy glance, then cuts to his furtive, flirty smile. Those three seconds sealed its fate forever.

When I first saw the ad, I thought: wait, are they fucking? (Then, every time after that: okay, they’re definitely fucking.) As I would come to learn, I was hardly alone. The reaction to the ad was an example of the internet at its most fun—the phenomenon of collectively realizing that the specific thing that you believed you’ve singularly noticed is actually a widely-held opinion. Memes, articles, and parody videos abounded. It even inspired a genre of vividly-rendered fan fiction known as “Folgerscest.”

It is weird and does give off incestuous vibes. But the people behind the commercial didn’t feel that way:

Jerry Boyle (SVP and executive producer at Saatchi & Saatchi): You kind of get sucked into the story, which is nice. It was all very, very innocent. Obviously what’s happened since then has been a real … something that nobody imagined happening. And our client is so wholesome. It was, we thought, emotional.

What people read into it—once that took off—was just insane.

This was my favourite reaction, and the first one to notice the strange vibe between the brother and sister:

Alexa Marinos (corporate communications manager): I’m a marketer by trade so I always pay attention to commercials and ads, particularly holiday ones because I’m always curious to see how brands flex and adapt their marketing for the holiday season. I used to do all my writing in front of the television. So when, I’ll call it, “Peter Comes Home for Christmas 2.0” aired I was sitting in front of my laptop. And I just remember immediately critiquing the spot in my head as a marketer. Particularly the casting, the casting seemed off to me. I was like “why is Peter’s little sister 22 instead of four? And why is Peter, like, vibing on his little sister?”

I hope nobody ever puts a gift bow on me.

Non-creept commercial related: Commercial Break: a YouTube channel for archiving commercials

Adverts for defunct brands and discontinued products

90's UK TV Adverts - Defunct Brands/Discontinued items.
90's UK TV Adverts - Defunct Brands/Discontinued Items (Part 2)

As a way to feed my nostalgia habit (and an act of self-care because the world is always on fire in some way), I watch old adverts from the 90s. It reminds me of my childhood and I can revisit adverts or products I’ve not heard of for decades. They also act as mini time capsules for brands and products that are no longer with us.

The above videos show some of those defunct brands and products from the UK, ranging from one2one (originally Mercury One2One, then becoming one2one, then rebranding as T-Mobile UK, then merging with Orange as Everything Everywhere, and finally becoming EE. Phew!) to Dollond & Aitchison (the opticians), the Goldfish credit card (later bought by Barclaycard), and Tandy.

Slate's interview with the "MORTAL KOMBAT!" guy

The dude who shouts “MORTAL KOMBAT!” in the movie and video game advert, Kyle Wyatt, spoke to Slate about how it all came about and how it affected his life. But if you were thinking it catapulted him to stardom in some way, you’d be mistaken:

So had you played Mortal Kombat at the point that you were recording the commercial? Did you have any idea what the commercial was for?

Had no idea, bro.

So they didn’t even tell you why they wanted you to specifically yell the words Mortal Kombat?

Oh, no, no, no, man. It was a gig. I was able to pay my rent that month.

Deep down, isn’t everything just a gig or a moment in our lives?

Mortal Kombat "Mortal Monday" TV Commercial

archives.design archives designs from the Internet Archive

This almost feels like archival inception and that’s honestly the best kind of inception to me.

archives.design is a digital archive of design-related items from the Internet Archive, curated by Valery Marier. She runs the site in her free time. Naturally, the site itself is beautifully crafted and seeing all the covers on a digital shelf in all their glory is exquisite.

Submit an item to the collection by emailing Valery at info@archives.design.

When São Paulo banned billboard advertising

In 2006, São Paulo’s mayor Gilberto Kassab proposed a law known as Lei Cidade Limpa (clean city law in Portuguese) which prohibited any form of billboard advertising or outdoor posters. 15,000 billboards were taken down and despite backlash from advertisers, citizens praised the move.

For New York’s WNYC, local São Paulo reporter Vinícius Queiroz Galvão described his experiences:

São Paulo is a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You could not even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria. And now it is amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. For example, there are some favelas, which are the shantytowns. I wrote a big story in my newspaper today that in a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area. São Paulo is just like New York. It is a very multicultural, globalized city. We have the Japanese neighborhood, we have the Korean neighborhood, we have the Italian neighborhood and in the Korean neighborhood, they have a lot of small manufacturers, these Korean businessmen. They hire illegal labor from Bolivian immigrants. And there was a lot of billboards in front of these manufacturers’ shops. And when they uncovered, we could see through the window a lot of Bolivian people like sleeping and working at the same place. They earn money, just enough for food. So it is a big social problem that was uncovered, and the city was shocked by these news.

Check out Tony de Marco’s Flickr album, titled São Paulo No Logo, for a better look.

Commercial Break: a YouTube channel for archiving commercials

I love old commercials and I like digital archiving. So when I found out about this YouTube channel, I jumped at the chance to subscribe.

Commercial Break is a way to archive the commercials of an era for future generations to appreciate.

Growing up in the 90’s, most kids would record their favorite shows from TV, those kids grew up and archived those commercials on YouTube. But what about kids growing up today? No one is recording live TV on physical media anymore. Sure there’s DVRs, but people (myself included) would just watch the recorded show and eventually delete it to make more room. I realized no one was saving this stuff, so I wanted to start archiving commercials again for future generations to look back on.

Commercial Break started in February 2019 and each video shows US commercial breaks with time tags for each commercial. As of today, there have been 290 volumes covering channels such as:

  • ABC
  • Cartoon Network
  • Fox
  • NBC
  • Nickelodeon
  • CBS
  • MTV

It’s funny how we wanted a way to watch TV without the adverts in between—and got it with things like TiVo and PVRs—and now we’re finding ways to capture nothing but the adverts.

Stream all the commercials from 2019 and 2020 below. And if you like the idea of the digital archiving of TV, check out the story of Marion Stokes.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - action figure commercial.

Triqqa Pli'c: a Pizza Hut advert for Klingons

Triqqa Pli'c: a Pizza Hut advert for Klingons

Pizza Hut pulled out all the stops in the 90s with their unorthodox commercials. But this was features a language from another planet!

Pizza Hut’s Klingon advert was the first full non-English advert on British television when it aired in 1994. While I don’t remember the advert from childhood, I do remember the promotional Star Trek cups that came with them because I had two (which, in hindsight, I wish I’d kept)!

If you plan on emulating this commercial and want to order a pizza in Klingon, here are some suggested phrases:

  • nuvpu’ Qong (Deep pan, please)
  • pagh latlh vIlegh’a’? (Can I have extra cheese?)
  • ghorgh lutu’lu”a’? (Is the base gluten free?)
  • ‘uQ’a’ (Meat feast)
  • tlhIngan taHqeq chuS’a’Daq yIjaH?! (What do you mean the ice cream machine is broken?!)

jochqu’ ‘e’ yIHar or stream it below.

Star Trek - Pizza-Hut Klingons (Funny Commercial)

That time BBC2 appeared in a Pizza Hut advert

BBC2 in a Pizza Hut advert

When I want to feel warm and cosy, I watch YouTube videos of old 90s TV adverts. They give me a kick of nostalgia and remind me of simpler times when you could hug people without fear of dying. Last night, I watched a video with adverts from 1994 and I spotted something strange. The adverts were from ITV but the intro was one of BBC2’s old idents (the one with the green paint). I thought the video had changed. You never saw BBC on ITV unless it was on the news.

And then it turned into a Pizza Hut advert.

Pizza Hut - BBC Two - Advert (1994)

So how did this all come about? Peter York picked up on the story for The Independent back in 1994:

Advertising is in the ‘borrowed interest’ business: famous or beautiful people and spectacular locations are regularly borrowed to add interest to somewhat basic product offers.

Now Pizza Hut has gone one better: it’s borrowed a television channel. More precisely, it has ‘appropriated’ – as a certain type of intellectual likes to say – the BBC2 logo, in its large, plain, anodised-aluminium form. If you’ve had the feeling that you’re in the wrong place recently when watching ITV or C4, it’s because the BBC2 logo has appeared. It sits in its wind tunnel and is swept with green paint, as usual – but then a yob appears and splashes the camera lens with paint, too. It’s a very disconcerting, memorable media-age joke.

But it turns out “spoof” idents have been around for decades and there’s even a website archiving them. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who felt a little off by the giant metallic 2 on the “wrong” channel.

MJ vs. MJ and the fall of LA Gear

Michael Jackson BAD Edition Photoshoot Famous LA Gear Unstoppable

The two MJ’s – Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan – may have joined forces in the video for Jam but they were in competition when it came to sneakers in the late 80s.

the detail., a dedicated Michael Jackson channel, made a video discussing the King of Pop’s involvement with LA Gear and how it competed with Nike before its demise and eventual bankruptcy in 1998.

What is LA Gear?

LA Gear is a US shoe company founded in 1983. Focusing predominately on sneakers, the company had a long string of influential athletes endorsing their shoes, including:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Karl Malone
  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Joe Montana

But the endorsements stretched further than sports.

Singer Belinda Carlisle appeared in print ads for LA Gear and, of course, Michael Jackson, who had his own shoe: the Billie Jean, released in 1990.

Shoe business

Michael’s endorsement was with $20m and billed “the largest and priciest corporate endorsement deal in showbiz history”. LA Gear saw Jackson as the best person to compete with Jordan and his “Air Jordan” line with Nike.

To target the younger demographic and kids going back to school, the company launched the Billie Jean sneaker in August 1990. Jackson also appeared in a TV commercial promoting them, at a cost of $700k for 30 seconds.

But this wasn’t enough to keep LA Gear from its steady decline.

Retailers immediately reported abysmal sales. Some department stores struggled to sell even a few pairs and were quickly discounted as a way to shift stock. Parents complained about the style, refusing to buy the impractical fashion-oriented sneakers. Many concerned that the studded and buckle-laden design would make their kids look like junior Hells Angels in them.

Quote from the detail.’s video

LA Geared for court?

While parents feared their children would look like mini bikers, the poor sales could have been related to Michael Jackson’s low profile at the time. The slated Greatest Hits he was working on was scrapped (before returning in a different form in 1995) and, instead, he released Dangerous in 1991. This was a particularly thorny point for LA Gear as he had suggested wearing their sneakers in music videos during that period but it never came to be.

LA Gear eventually pursued legal action in a $46m lawsuit, alleging fraud and breach of contract, claiming Jackson had “missed deadlines to deliver footage that could have been used in shoe commercials and had not released the album that was involved in the contract”. Michael filed a $44m countersuit but the stalemate led to an out-of-court settlement.

Nike’s dominance

As LA Gear continues its decline in the 90s, Nike grew from strength to strength. Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan line launched in 1984 and a slew of version came out throughout the 80s and 90s, with Jordan wearing each iteration for every season in the NBA and the Olympics in 1992.

In contrast, LA Gear filed for bankruptcy in 1998 but have made comebacks since then and the company’s products remain a part of retro culture. In 2019, Skechers sold a line of shoes branded “LA Gear X Skechers”. And who founded Skechers? None other than Robert Greenberg, founder of LA Gear.

Can you still buy LA Gear gear?

Absolutely. The brand doesn’t have the same appeal as it did at its peak and doesn’t have any endorsements on the same level of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Michael Jackson but the sneakers still retain their retro charm.

Check out the company’s collection and get a hit of nostagia, follow the detail. on Instagram, check out their store, and stream the video below.

Michael Jackson & The Fall Of L.A. Gear | the detail.

30+ Minutes of Vic Berger's Daytime TV & Advertising

30+ Minutes of Vic Berger's Daytime TV & Advertising

(Trigger warning: this video contains clowns and some really creepy puppets)

Entertainment company Super Deluxe may no longer be with us but Vic Berger very much is. We featured one of his creations for SD – the will.i.am one (which had been taken down but we’ve uploaded ourselves) – and now here’s another one.

This is a compilation of videos that were on Super Deluxe but were also taken down and they show Vic Berger’s take on daytime TV and advertising as he explains:

If you don’t watch daytime television, Ellen DeGeneres, Harry Connick Jr, Logan Paul, Steve Harvey and MORE show you what you’re missing. This compilation also features creepy children’s programming and commercials for products that may or may not actually help you.

It starts with Kanye’s appearance on Ellen, made even more surreal than the real thing, followed by a commercial for jawzrsize, Paula Deen on QVC, and… well, you’ll just have to watch for yourself to see the rest.

Vic Berger Presents Daytime TV, Advertising & Kids Shows

Trump Has Always Been Trash, But Here's A Pizza-Related Example From 1995

1995 Donald Trump Pizza Hut Commercial

Stuffed crust aside, NO ONE should be eating pizza crust first, let alone being a white supremacist president like Trump. The storyboards from this Pizza Hut commercial featuring Donald and Ivanka Trump were on sale for $15,000, if you’re weird and love that sort of crap.

I also want to point out I’m not ignoring all the evil, disgusting things he’s done in contrast to his pizza eating habits. All I’m saying is this is a sign of an evil man and we were warned at least 24 years ago. Make of that what you will.