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Major Promotions That Majorly Backfired

August 12, 2019

Silly fast food companies: Promotions are supposed to earn money, not lose tons of it!

No quiero Taco Bell

In the late ‘90s, Taco Bell was responsible for one of the most famous fast food advertising campaigns of all time. In a series of TV commercials, an adorable Chihuahua (a dog breed from Mexico) walked up to humans eating Taco Bell’s Mexican-inspired food items, and said, “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” That’s Spanish for “I want Taco Bell,” and it became a “where’s the beef?”-esque catchphrase in 1997 and 1998. Countless people bought Taco Bell Dog toys and shirts, but one thing they apparently didn’t buy was food at Taco Bell. From the time the $500 million campaign launched to when it was discontinued in 2000, Taco Bell’s sales figures dropped by 6 percent. The campaign apparently, and ironically, made Taco Bell’s food seem unpalatable — seeing as how dogs will eat anything, up to and including garbage and their own waste. Adding injury to injury, Taco Bell was later sued by two men who claimed the chain appropriated their idea of the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and had to pay a $43 million breach-of-contract settlement.

When the U.S. Wins, you Win, and McDonald’s loses

The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles are one of the few Olympiads to ever turn a profit. Not only did the planning committee utilize mostly pre-existing sports facilities rather than build expensive new ones, but they brought in corporate sponsorship at a level never before attempted. McDonald’s was one of the chief sponsors, and in conjunction with the ’84 Games, ran a promotion called “When the U.S. Wins, You Win.” Whenever customers bought anything at a McDonald’s, they got a scratch-off game card which revealed an Olympic event. If the U.S. won a medal in that event, the patron won a Big Mac (for gold), fries (for silver), or a soda (bronze). But after the promotion was already planned and the game tickets printed and distributed, the Soviet Union — the U.S.’s prime athletic competition — boycotted the games. That made the likelihood of a “U.S. win” a virtual lock in most events. McDonald’s lost millions in free food. Some locations even ran out of Big Mac ingredients.

A three? Whee! These fries are Free!

For a couple of years, the Canadian wing of McDonald’s ran a promotion in partnership with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. The deal: If the team scored 12 or more three-pointers in a game, the chain’s Canadian outlets gave away free medium fries (one per customer). However, McDonald’s clearly didn’t anticipate the Raptors being as good as they were in the 2018-19 season. On the way to its first ever NBA championship, the Raptors were phenomenal from the three-point line. During the regular season, the Raptors landed a dozen three-pointers 44 times. In the playoffs, they did it 11 more times. That makes for 55 times that McDonald’s has to hand out free fries. Total cost: in the neighborhood of $7 million.

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