Most companies want nothing more than to drum up demand. Special promotions and flashy launches are one way to create buzz, even if the product ends up flopping. Other times, products need no special marketing, selling like crazy on their own. Either way, it's a company's dream — until high demand backfires, leaving throngs of disgruntled customers. From Amazon's Prime Day woes to the financial troubles plaguing MoviePass, here are 2 times companies overpromised and underdelivered.
Ten bucks a month to see one movie a day is a shockingly good deal. And that’s probably the reason MoviePass is reportedly running out of money. Recently, frustrated subscribers were turned away at the box office when the company couldn’t pay for users’ tickets; now, in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, MoviePass is set to raise prices to close to $15 and limit subscribers’ access to some big-name first-run movies.
Amazon relentlessly promotes its Prime Day, but this year, the ecommerce giant was caught with its pixels down. The website crashed outright when deals were released, and technical glitches continued to plague would-be customers for hours, costing Amazon untold amounts of business. And it's not the first time Prime Day has left customers angry. In 2015, shoppers flooded Twitter with complaints about subpar deals on items no one wanted, such as no-name women's underwear and old Adam Sandler movies.
Amazon's difficulties probably have Build-A-Bear executives breathing a little easier after being in the hot seat for a botched "Pay Your Age" promotion, which had the stores offering $2 bears to 2-year-olds, $5 bears to 5-year-olds, and so on. The hysteria that followed seemed predictable to everyone — well, everyone except Build-A-Bear. Lines of frenzied parents and kids reached epic proportions, forcing local authorities to put a stop to the deal.
Nutella has always been popular in Europe, but the French took their devotion to new heights when supermarket Intermarché slashed prices independently on the chocolate-hazelnut spread. Fights erupted between customers, leaving at least one worker with a black eye and an elderly woman with a box thrown over her head. One store reported selling out of three months' worth of Nutella in minutes.
McDonald's introduced Szechuan sauce in the late '90s as a tie-in with the Disney movie "Mulan," but it didn't stay in restaurants permanently. After the condiment was featured on an episode of Cartoon Network's late-night cult favorite "Rick and Morty," fans took to social media, pleading for McDonald's to bring it back. McDonald's was all too happy to oblige for a single-day stunt, but quickly ran out — forcing cops to deal with irate customers chanting, "We want sauce."
Free pizza is always bound to draw a crowd. Domino's found out the hard way after it co-sponsored a promotion with T-Mobile that offered free pizzas to T-Mobile customers through a special app. Stores reported massive increases in orders, partially because the deal wasn't limited to one pizza per account or household. Domino's stepped in to save its struggling stores, pulling out of the deal after a couple of weeks.
Electric-car juggernaut Tesla created enormous buzz when it announced a vehicle that many people could actually afford: the $35,000 Model 3. Of course, the funny thing about affordable vehicles is that people want to buy them. The company took in hundreds of thousands of preorders, but after significant production roadblocks, nearly a quarter of would-be customers ended up requesting a refund of their deposit.
Makeup chain Sephora has some truly devoted customers, many of whom are members of its Beauty Insider customer loyalty program. Members earn points when they buy products, and they can redeem them down the road for reward merchandise — at least, that's how it's supposed to work. During an "Epic Rewards" promotion, the rewards turned out to be so over-the-top that they were gone in seconds. Frustrated fans launched a revenge campaign to return everything they'd bought in the past 60 days, even if it was already used, to exploit the store's lenient return policy.
Lines form at Apple stores with every new product, but some releases are more infamous than others. The iPhone 5 saw double the preorders of the iPhone 4S, and nearly quadruple the number of the iPhone 4. Stores sold out of their initial supply in under two days, and even those who placed preorders had to wait several weeks to get their hands on a shiny new phone. If Apple learned from its mistake, it had a funny way of showing it: The same thing happened a couple of years later with the iPhone 6.
Air Jordan devotees swarmed stores during the holidays in 2011, hoping to land a coveted pair of Nike's limited-release Air Jordan 11, a white shoe with sleek patent-leather accents. Instead, some of them got a face full of pepper spray as long lines led to fights and arrests all over the country. Some customers angrily accused Nike of artificially creating a frenzy by keeping production low. The company has stayed mum about how many shoes it actually cranked out.
KFC learned the hard way that you shouldn't use Oprah to sell a product if you don't want to sell out — and then some. The company used her show to promote a free offer for two pieces of its new grilled chicken, two sides, and a biscuit. Millions of hungry customers tried to take KFC up on the deal (some with photocopied coupons), forcing executives to renege after just a couple of days because of extreme demand.
Chicken devotees weren't the only fast-food customers to get burned in 2009. Quiznos rolled out a Million Sub Giveaway and, unsurprisingly, at least a million hungry customers showed up. But when some tried to redeem their coupons, they were met with strange stipulations, refusals, and rudeness from franchisees. Turns out franchisees were mad because Quiznos was making them eat the cost of the promotion — no pun intended — instead of paying for it.
In one of the stranger marketing stunts in recent history, Dr. Pepper decided to troll Guns N' Roses by promising free soda to everyone in the U.S. if the band finally released its album "Chinese Democracy" after keeping fans waiting for 14 years. Lo and behold, the band released the album. Dr. Pepper scrambled to modify its promotion, forcing people to sign up online to get a coupon, but there were still so many thirsty deal-seekers that the website crashed, leaving many empty-handed. A lawyer for Guns N' Roses later demanded full-page apologies from the company in several national newspapers for a campaign that "brazenly violated our clients' rights."
When Pokémon fever first gripped the country in the late '90s, Burger King was there to capitalize with a $22 million promotion. It gave out Pokémon toys with its kids' meals, but several restaurants ran out due to insatiable demand. Pokémon collectors snapping up toys were part of the problem — one even tried to buy 500 kids' meals at a restaurant in Chicago. Sadly, the shortages ended up being the least of Burger King's Pokémon problems: It had to recall 25 million of the toys after two children suffocated because the plastic Pokémon balls became suctioned to their faces.
Tickle Me Elmo will forever live in infamy as one of the nuttiest holiday toy crazes. Tyco's laughing, furry Elmo doll became an unexpected hit after being featured on Rosie O'Donnell's daytime talk show as well as the "Today" show. Sellouts fueled news coverage, which in turned fueled even more demand. Then came the inevitable reports of fights, trampled customers, and parents running after delivery trucks.
Pantyhose has fallen out of favor with many women, but in the '40s it was a different story. When DuPont introduced nylon stockings, they sold out in days to women all too happy for an alternative to fussy silk. But U.S. troops fighting in World War II needed nylon for parachutes, ropes, and other goods, so it was rationed — and stockings were nowhere to be found. That is, until the war ended. In 1945, women clamored for the stockings again, resulting in massive lines. In Pittsburgh, 40,000 women lined up for 13,000 pairs.