*Special* The Year in Bad Business Ads

Remember those ads you hated? Now you can read about them, too! Plus, tell us the ad you detest most.
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This article is part of


1998 Awards series. For more information, please see our introduction to the series.

Film producer

Joseph E. Levine

once said, "You can fool all the people all of the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough." Unfortunately, for the following ad spots, a budget the size of the national deficit wouldn't be big enough to make them right. Below, we provide our nominations for the year's worst business ads.

10 Ways to Keep Your Man Award

It's been blamed for breaking up more than one relationship, but perhaps it's changing its game.


(SNE) - Get Report

is now advertising that the couple that Play(Station)s together, stays together.

This year's ad we most hate to love is part of Sony's latest print campaign from

TBWA Chiat/Day

, Los Angeles.


is positioning itself as a woman's best friend. Appearing in such publications as




, the two-page spread features the ubiquitous PlayStation accompanied by the statement, "If he's at home, he can't cheat on you." Right. It appears Sony has conveniently forgotten its television ads in which a guy locks his girlfriend out to "play games" with

Tomb Raider


Lara Croft


And What Do You Do? Award

"A population ... the size ... of the United Kingdom ... joins the Internet ... every six months." Good thing, too.

Seems that


(CSCO) - Get Report

is "Empowering the Internet Generation" that speaks with a decidedly British accent. Stuck somewhere in between



"Ride the Light" campaign and


(MSFT) - Get Report

"Where Do You Want to Go?" campaign (making it roughly analogous to a stuttering


video) is this little gem from ad firm

Goldberg Moser O'Neill

, San Francisco.

The spot whisks us from locale to locale as children of multiple ethnicities ask us multiple times, "Are you ready?" Ready for what? Ready to change channels? Sure.

"Virtually all Internet traffic" may travel over Cisco systems, but we'll give any of those kids a quid if they can describe what a networker does.

All in the Family Award

If we were conspiracy theorists, we'd think that

Jane Campion

was behind the

MCI Worldcom


merger. The connections between the director's Oscar-winning film

The Piano

and the latest MCI Worldcom campaign just can't be shrugged off as coincidence.

In 1994,

Anna Paquin

charmed us as that little girl in those MCI ads. Now

Sam Neill

, one of Paquin's four co-stars in

The Piano

, fills her tiny shoes.

The latest incarnation of the company's ethereal campaign, created by

Messner, Vetere, Berger, McNamee, Schmetterer/EURO RSCG

, New York, features Neill peering through a peephole to pitch the company's new "On-Net" communications. We're supposed to recognize this singular portal, through which pours at least 3 million kilowatts of halogen-produced light, as the one solution to all of our fiber-optic/Internet/communications needs. Instead, it just reminds us never to stare directly at the sun.

Let's just say MCI Worldcom keeps its good standing until it starts to feature

Harvey Keitel's

better half.

The Ad We Most Love to Hate Award

What can one say about the incessant


ads on



Marcus and Associates

, Dallas) except that at least they recently changed the song?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

How Twisted Can You Get? Award

Stunned gerbils are shot from a cannon into a brick wall, rabid timberwolves are released onto an unsuspecting high school marching band, and six-year-olds are driven to tears as a tattoo artist permanently brands their foreheads with the company's name. Now that's funny stuff -- if you're last name happens to be



In a twisted campaign that could induce nervous giggles and years of therapy,

Cliff Freeman and Partners

, New York, seems to be hoping that the old adage "any publicity is good publicity" will drum up plenty of name recognition for

Cyberian Outpost's


online computer store,


. "Send complaints to Outpost.com" flashes the screen after each bizarre scenario. "Outrageous.com" may translate into increased traffic for the site, but do you really want to buy software from the e-commerce equivalent of the

Jerry Springer Show


Pump It Up Award

It's got colorful fish! It's got colorful, singing fish! It's got colorful fish singing the "Hallelujah Chorus"! It's the '90s version of

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

-- but without

Angela Lansbury

! And without clear product placement.

This spot from New York-based


is vivid, full of whimsy and will have you thinking that fish isn't just for Fridays anymore.

But you'll be more pickled than a herring trying to recall the sponsor's name. Move to the head of the class if you remember that "communities around the world are cleaning their water with the help of a durable pump engineered by

ITT Industries

(IIN) - Get Report


Creepiest Use of Crash-Test Dummies Award

Not since




have crash-test dummies made so much of an impact (forgive the pun) on television audiences. It seems that the




got it all over


in this eerie spot that is meant to celebrate the sedan's five-star crash safety rating, awarded by the

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


Put together by

McKinney and Silver

of Raleigh, N.C., this spot features a veritable Greek chorus of crash-test dummies lumbering toward the Audi A8 Sedan while serenading the vehicle with



Unfortunately, this ad is too much like an impending crash: You tend to turn away at the last minute and miss the product plug.

Gag Me with a Spoon Award



-laden chips and warning-labeled bags were one thing. It was the ad campaign that brought on gastrointestinal distress.

After months of debate over the safety of the fake fat,

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

was bound and determined to gain the trust of the consumer the old way -- to earn it.

Mixing lines of folk whimsy and tableaus of craggy farm workers with mist-covered soybean fields, New York's

Grey Advertising

took aim at the heartland and missed. According to the agency's Web site, "The farm imagery and the farmer's genuine delivery make the message both clear and relevant." How about condescending and ridiculous?

Try and choke down this line from a spot titled "The Soybean Farmer": "And now I see what I'm a part of, and it makes me feel good." Stomach rumbling yet?

We Hope Sex Still Sells Award

Raise your hands if you find anything sexy about the following phrases:

Minute Rice

, long grain, boil-in-bag.

Uncle Ben's

is hoping that wild rice and

Wild Orchid

will be inextricably linked in consumers' minds after they see its newest television and print campaign. New York-based

D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles

, or DMB&B, intended the ads to reposition the brand from staple to steamy -- a rice for people passionate about their food.

Featuring a couple "mixing things up" as they mix up various rice dishes, this series of salacious ads is enough to drive folks to egg noodles for the rest of their side-dish loving life.

That's So '89 Award

What is wrong with the following statement?: Blah, blah, blah -- NOT! If you answered, "Shyeaahh," you're right. It looked like a sure-fire winner. Combine one of the most lovable pop-cultural phrases of the '90s with one of the best known of the '80s and -- poof -- hip, Gen-X-like ironic copy. As if!

Unfortunately for DMB&B, the agency didn't look closely enough at their text for "


-Speak 101" when brainstorming this campaign for


. Even


knows that "NOT" can only be used to negate a positive. Proper usage is as follows: "She's totally babe-a-licious -- NOT!" These spots from DMB&B just aren't worthy.

The Lifetime Achievement Award

Just this side of Chinese water-torture lies


ad schedule. Operating only slightly within the accords of the Geneva Convention, the channel supplies brief respite from the drip, drip, drip of discount-brokerage ads with its clever animated station-identification spots playing on the network's peacock trademark.

Unfortunately even an ad considered the

Citizen Kane

of the genre would have the viewer calling for the remote thanks to the cable network's ruthless rotation.

Did we miss any? Please

tell us. And please include your full name!