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25 Times Companies Promised More Than They Could Deliver

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Taco Bell: Mexican Pizza
Taco Bell

Not Ready for Prime Time

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, these things need no special marketing, selling like crazy on their own. Either way, it's a dream — until high demand backfires, leaving throngs of disgruntled customers. From Cabbage Patch Dolls to Pelotons, here are several times companies overpromised and underdelivered — including Taco Bell running out of a recently resurrected favorite in less than two weeks.


Related: Companies' Worst PR Fails

Taco Bell Pizza
Taco Bell

Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza

Bringing back the cult-favorite Mexican pizza seemed like a slam dunk for Taco Bell ... except that most people can't find one. Taco Bell removed the item from menus in 2020 in an effort to streamline offerings during the pandemic, but the decision met with outrage from fans. So, with much fanfare — including a Dolly Parton-led TikTok musical — the Mexican pizza reappeared on menus in mid-May. But Taco Bell underestimated its dedicated fan base, because the pizza is already sold out at most locations. Demand is a staggering seven times higher than the last time the Mexican pizza was on the menu, with one location selling 1,000 in one day. The Bell has to get its supply chain straightened out, so don't expect to see the Mexican pizza back on menus until this fall. 


RelatedFast Food Dishes With Downright Obsessive Followings

Grubhub And Doordash
LeoPatrizi/istockphoto

Grubhub

Maybe it's true — there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Grubhub received more attention than it bargained for when it offered New York City residents $15 off their orders for three hours when they used the code FREELUNCH on the delivery app. So many customers clamored for the deal that they crashed the Grubhub app and website shortly after the offer went live, causing scores of angry (and hungry) people to complain that their orders were hours late — or canceled completely. Grubhub was able to fix the jam with only 30 minutes left to spare in the promotion.


Related: Here's Why You Might Want to Delete Your Restaurant Delivery Apps

Donald Trump Truth Social
Donald Trump Truth Social by Michael Vadon / Truth Social (CC BY-SA)

Truth Social

While Donald Trump promised he would "let truth prevail" with the launch of his social network, Truth Social, the site's rollout has been riddled with technical glitches. It suffered a 13-hour outage, and has a waiting list for hundreds of thousands of potential users. The site's logo is also identical to that of a British truck solar-panel company, and a company executive told The Washington Post that it is "seeking legal advice." Even on a help page, the site's own name was misspelled — oops. Former California Rep. Devin Nunes, who now works as a CEO of Trump Media & Technology, has pledged Truth Social will be fully up and running by the end of March. (Incidentally, Truth Social was quick to lock out an account named for a Twitter parody of Nunes.)


Related: I Signed Up for Trump Dating and Here's What Happened

MoviePass (2018)
MoviePass

MoviePass

Ten bucks a month to see one movie a day is a shockingly good deal — and that’s probably the reason MoviePass ran out of money. In 2018, frustrated subscribers were turned away at the box office when the company couldn’t pay for users’ tickets. In a desperate attempt to stay afloat, MoviePass raised prices and limited subscribers’ access to some big-name first-run movies, but those moves couldn't save the company, which folded in 2019. But it turns out MoviePass is back for an encore presentation in 2022. Its co-founder, Stacy Spikes, bought the company out of bankruptcy and is relaunching MoviePass this summer with tiered subscriptions and tradable credits that subscribers can roll from month to month or use for a friend's admission. Whether it will work, of course, especially as cinemas struggle to recover from the pandemic, will prove a real cliffhanger.  


Related: How to Go to the Movies for Less


Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich
David K./Yelp

Popeyes Chicken Sandwiches

It’s the chicken sandwich that spawned long lines, brawls, and even a fatal stabbing. Popeyes’ crown jewel debuted in August 2019, and demand was so brisk that the chain shortly ran out, even spurring one Tennessee man to sue, alleging false advertising and deceptive business practices. Why all the hubbub? Well, between the buttered brioche bun, the thick, buttermilk-battered filet, and the tart pickles, the sandwich really is that good, fans insist. And has history has shown, it has "inspired" knockoffs at practically every other fast-food chain


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Peloton store exterior view
Sundry Photography/istockphoto

Peloton

Remember when Peloton couldn't make bikes fast enough? In 2020 and early 2021, the company was battling demand so hot that frustrated customers were waiting months for their equipment to be delivered. The problem, of course, is that the company overcorrected. It bought exercise-equipment maker Precor for $420 million, then announced a brand-new $400 million factory in Ohio. The good news? It soon had enough bikes again. The bad news? Pandemic-driven demand for at-home exercise equipment has declined sharply, leaving the company with way too many bikes and not enough buyers. 


Related: Cheap Alternatives to Pricey Stationary Bikes and More

Amazon Prime Day (2018)
Amazon

Amazon Prime Day

Amazon relentlessly promotes Prime Day, but in 2018, 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 had 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. 


Related: Insider Hacks and Secrets for Shopping on Amazon 

Build-a-Bear 'Pay Your Age' (2018)
Amazon

Build-A-Bear 'Pay Your Age'

Amazon's difficulties probably had Build-A-Bear executives breathing a little easier in 2018 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.

Intermarche Nutella Discounts (2018)
AlinLyre/istockphoto

Intermarché Nutella Discounts

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 in 2018. 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.

Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino (2017)
Starbucks

Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino

The Unicorn Frappuccino was one of several fast-food misfires in 2017. Starbucks couldn't keep up with demand for the insanely sugary concoction and many stores ended up selling out of the colorful drink, leading angry customers to vent online. The shortages were cheered by one group, however: bone-tired baristas who spent their days coated in the pink and blue powder they had to sprinkle into each drink. 


Related: 15 Things You Never Knew About Starbucks

Nintendo SNES Classic (2017)
Walmart

Nintendo SNES Classic

Video-game consoles are notorious for whipping up insane customer demand, but Nintendo might be king when it comes to disappointing customers. Few were able to track down an SNES Classic in 2017, and it was the same story for the console's predecessor, the NES Classic. Ditto for the initial release of the Nintendo Switch and the Wii. The chronic shortages led many to speculate that Nintendo deliberately creates shortages to create buzz — a charge the company, of course, has denied, and one that might seem novel in light of today's very real shortages, driven by a lack of microchips. 

Mcdonald's
tupungato/istockphoto

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce

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 in 2017, but quickly ran out — forcing cops to deal with irate customers chanting, "We want sauce." 

T-Mobile/Domino's Free Pizza Promotion (2016)
jetcityimage/istockphoto

T-Mobile/Domino's Free Pizza Promotion

Free pizza is always bound to draw a crowd. Domino's found out the hard way in 2016 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.

A Tesla for 'Research'
LPETTET/istockphoto

Tesla Model 3

Electric-car juggernaut Tesla created enormous buzz in 2016 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. 


Related: Surprising Tesla Products That Aren't Cars

Lilly Pulitzer for Target (2015)
jimkruger/istockphoto

Lilly Pulitzer for Target

Target relishes its "cheap chic" reputation, but its much-ballyhooed partnerships with designer brands haven't always gone smoothly. The most notorious example: Stores sold out of Lilly Pulitzer for Target merchandise in minutes in 2015, leaving long lines of frustrated shoppers — and a thriving market for marked-up items on eBay. The store faced a similar debacle in 2011 with its Missoni for Target line, and in 2018 with Hunter for Target.

Sephora 'Epic Rewards' (2015)
anouchka/istockphoto

Sephora 'Epic Rewards'

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 in 2015, 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.

Apple iPhone 5 (2012)
guvendemir/istockphoto

Apple iPhone 5

Lines form at Apple stores with every new product, but some releases are more infamous than others. In 2012, 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.

Nike Air Jordans (2011)
Stadium Goods

Nike Air Jordans

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. 


Related: Sports Collectibles That Scored Big at Auction

KFC Grilled Chicken (2009)
marcoprati/istockphoto

KFC Grilled Chicken

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 in 2009 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.

Quiznos Subs (2009)
typhoonski/istockphoto

Quiznos Subs

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.

Dr. Pepper and Guns N' Roses (2008)
Samohin/istockphoto

Dr. Pepper and Guns N' Roses

In one of the stranger marketing stunts in recent history, Dr. Pepper in 2008 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."

Burger King Pokemon Toys (1999)
Ebay

Burger King Pokémon Toys

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 in 1999, 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.

Tyco Tickle Me Elmo (1996)
Amazon

Tyco Tickle Me Elmo

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 in 1996 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. 


Related: Toys Fads That Drove Us Crazy

Coleco Cabbage Patch Dolls (1983)
Ebay

Coleco Cabbage Patch Dolls

It was the toy fiasco that started it all: the Cabbage Patch Doll craze of 1983. Ingenious marketing of the unique "adoptable" dolls worked a little too well, and manufacturer Coleco ended up selling millions before the holiday season even began. As shortages started to plague stores, overeager parents resorted to camping in parking lots and ripping boxes from each other's hands.

Dupont Nylon Stockings (1945)
Etsy

DuPont Nylon Stockings

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.