The biggest corporate marketing blunders

  • (Moneywatch) Sunday's epic skydive by Felix Baumgartner didn't just set a record for speed and distance -- it also set a new mark for the number of viewers of an online event. At least by that measure, Red Bull pulled off perhaps the most successful single marketing event of all time.

    Eight million people watch YouTube's live stream of the jump. That's 7.5 million more than the previous record for an Internet broadcast during this summer's London Olympic Games. The event also dominated Twitter, and on Facebook it got 216,000 "likes" and drew more than 10,000 comments.

    But it wasn't just the large viewership that made this a win for energy-drink maker Red Bull, said Paula Phelan, CEO of public relations firm Nadel Phelan. "Red Bull got visibility with a huge number of people who aren't inclined to drink that stuff."

    Despite the promotional nature of Baumgartner's stunt, the leap wasn't perceived as "stunt marketing," meaning the kind of event staged only to generate attention for a given product.

    "That's because it was real and seen as having true value," Phelan said.

    That likely reflects the very real risks Baumgartner faced and because the jump also had some scientific value. Over the years of preparing for the history-making plunge, Red Bull has gathered and published huge amounts of data intended to help pilots, astronauts and perhaps even future space tourists survive if they have to bail out at extreme altitude.

    And in general, marketing that goes beyond the standard sales push -- in this case, corporate sponsorship of what became a major sporting and cultural event -- tends to generate more positive public reaction than typical promotions. Consumers want to feel a connection to something greater than commerce, even when it doesn't involve falling from outer space.

    That is one lesson Pizza Hut learned this week. The company had promised pizza for life to anyone who asked President Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney during Tuesday's live Town Hall-style debate what kind of pizza they preferred. But the restaurant chain pulled the plug on the campaign after drawing a barrage of criticism for trying to capitalize on the election and detracting from an important political event.

    Such tactical blunders hold important lessons for companies. Here's a look at other recent marketing failures:

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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald,, CSO, and Boston Magazine.