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Advertising Age commissioned us to write up the top ten biggest business debacles of 2006.
1. AOL refuses to cancel customer’s account
2. Comcast tech falls asleep on customer’s couch
3. BOA employee sings U2 cover about MBNA merger
4. Sony recalls potentially exploding batteries
5. Bausch & Lomb recalls fungus causing contact-lens solution
6. AOL releases users’ search records online
7. Northwest tells laid-off workers to dumpster dive
8. Wal-Mart’s fake blogs exposed
9. Hasbro markets Oozinator with suggestive video
10. Cingular cans contracts of unprofitable customers
This list appears in the print edition of Advertising Age on newstands now. Some of the list items were suggested by the readers, and several of the original stories came out of reader tips. Nice work, people!
Story behind the stories, inside…
Vincent Ferrari called to cancel his AOL account, and a 20-minute battle with the customer-service rep ensued. Little did AOL know Vincent recorded the call, and it became an internet hit that spread to radio and TV. AOL publicly apologized and revamped its call centers to make canceling easier. Subsequently, AOL began to hemorrhage subscribers at record levels.
Brian Finklestein recorded a Comcast tech asleep on his couch while waiting on hold with HQ. The video spread across the web and onto national TV. Comcast apologized and sent a crack team of seven technicians to solve Brian’s problem. It took them five hours. And the sleeping technician? Unceremoniously dumped. Which is a little sad, since it was HQ who had him on hold for so long.
Ethan Chandler covered U2’s “One” at a company lunch to pep up the troops about the 2005 merger with MBNA. At the time, the employees were kept in the room by the open bar, but the internet watched in rapture. Thanks to the video’s popularity, Universal Music may be suing Ethan, and Bank of America affirms its identity as a major toolshed.
Sony and all the major laptop makers launched the largest product recall in the history of mankind after it was found that certain Sony batteries could combust while in use. Several incidents were documented and distributed online before the recall launched. In one, a hunter’s laptop went off while sitting on a box of ammunition in his truck, forcing him to dive for cover as the truck spewed live rounds in every direction.
B&L withdrew popular lens-cleaning solution ReNu MoistureLoc after outbreaks of fusarium keratitis fungus emerged in users’ eyes. At least one user went blind as a result. Cases were first reported in 2004 in Singapore. In reaction to the news, B&L’s stock dropped. After the company announced the recall, the stock went back up.
In a misguided attempt to aid academic researchers, AOL released the search records of more than 500,000 users. Not surprisingly, the move didn’t go over well with privacy advocates (or AOL critics). User IDs were blacked out, but it didn’t exactly take a hacking genius to exploit the records and follow searches back to the source. Reporters at The New York Times were able to correlate one user’s searches and discover said user’s identity.
After broad staff cuts, Northwest distributed a handbook for thrifty living to pink-slipped employees. Some of the suggestions were relatively sound, but others were insulting. Among 101 ways to save money, the booklet advised, “Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.” So much for dismissal with dignity. Also: “Bicycle to work.” That would be good advice, provided the recipients had a job to bike to.
Unable to tell the true story about Wal-Mart through press releases, Wal-Mart’s PR agency, Edelman, turned to the blogosphere. One blog followed a couple who decided to “Wal-Mart Across America,” parking their RV in a different Wal-Mart every night. It was later discovered that the people writing the blog had their entire trip underwritten by a pro-Wal-Mart group, which in turn received most of its funding from Edelman.
One of the latest Super Soaker water guns is the Oozinator, which shoots a sticky polymer in addition to water. Hasbro’s spot showed an older teen shooting younger boys with the goo. The results were suggestive and disgusting, and Hasbro removed the video from its site. Hundreds of innuendo-laced reviews flooded Amazon but were later deleted. A few archivists managed to save and publish the video and comments, where they continue to delight viewers.
Former AT&T customers and other “unprofitable” customers had their service degraded. Cingular: raising the bar, then lowering it on their customers’ necks.
— BEN POPKEN