Major Fails From Major Companies

List Rules
Vote up the biggest fails by these major companies.

Corporations have a tenuous relationship with consumers, and any hint of scandal or malfeasance can result in a major fail. Companies can make mistakes, just like individuals, but many of these PR disasters are a direct result of egregious and reckless behavior that puts consumers at risk.

These corporate calamities include misguided marketing campaigns that promised more than they could deliver, such as the infamous Pepsi Number Fever debacle; and tone-deaf public responses to company errors, such as United Airlines' unrepentant initial response when a passenger was jerked out of his seat on an overbooked flight. 

Memories can fade and companies have recovered from PR fails, but some of the incidents on this list deserve to remain in the public eye. 

  • Blue Bell ice cream is a favorite among dessert connoisseurs, but in 2015, the CEO was arrested and indicted for trying to hide a listeria outbreak that resulted in the passing of three people.

    In 2015, Blue Bell was notified by health officials that two products - one from its flagship factory in Brenham, TX, and one from a plant in Broken Arrow, OK - tested positive for listeria, a bacterium that can cause serious sickness or death. In this case, three Kansas residents perished, and many others were extremely ill.

    Instead of being transparent, Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse tried to hide the outbreak. The creamery did not immediately recall the products or publish a warning. Instead, Kruse instructed employees to quietly remove those products from grocers without providing a reason.

    Additionally, Kruse told employees to tell any customers who asked that there was an unspecified issue with a piece of manufacturing equipment. Blue Bell only officially recalled the products when ordered to do so, but by then, 10 listeria cases had been linked to the products, and three people were dead. 

    Kruse was eventually indicted and charged with six counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 

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      The CEO Of LifeLock Published His Social Security Number - Then Had His Identity Stolen 13 Times

      LifeLock CEO Todd Davis was so confident in the efficiency of his identity protection company that he published his real social security number in its advertisements. He gave away his social because he "guaranteed" his service could stop identity theft.

      The bold move backfired. Davis's identity was stolen on 13 separate occasions. His SSN was used in activities varying from obtaining a $500 loan from a check-cashing company to opening an AT&T/Cingular wireless account. 

      LifeLock's advertising and guarantees landed the company a $12 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission in 2010.

      • United Airlines Dragged A Random Passenger Off An Overbooked Flight
        Photo: JacobAviation / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

        United Flight 3411 was slated to leave Chicago's O’Hare International Airport for Louisville, KY, on April 9, 2017, when an incident occurred that would forever tarnish the company's reputation and relationship with passengers. The flight was full, but four United employees needed to be on the plane to work a connecting flight. United followed its usual protocol, first offering vouchers to anyone who would willingly give up their seat.

        When no one offered, four passengers were randomly selected, including Dr. David Dao Duy Anh, a physician who refused to leave the flight because he needed to be at the hospital the following day. United employees called airport security, who physically dragged the screaming Dao from his seat, hitting his face on the armrest, which resulted in a broken nose and teeth. 

        Traumatized passengers filmed the incident, which quickly went viral as people around the world reacted with horror to Dao's treatment. United's CEO Oscar Munoz initially blamed Dao for being belligerent and described the practice of "reaccommodating passengers" as normal, but Munoz quickly became more apologetic as public outcry grew.

        Munoz eventually testified about the incident before Congress, and United came to a settlement agreement with Dao, but the airline will forever be linked to the horrific video of officers dragging a screaming passenger from his rightful seat.

        • In 1992, the vacuum company Hoover announced an incredible promotion in the UK: Any customer who spent more than £100 would receive two free round-trip flights to anywhere in Europe.

          The advertising campaign was the brainchild of a struggling travel agency looking to sell cheap flights. It approached the UK Hoover company, which was dealing with disappointing sales figures brought about by the recession and competition from brands like Dyson. The promotion included a number of hurdles and caveats that made it time-consuming, but not impossible, for consumers to obtain the promised flights. Ultimately, the sales revenue exceeded the overall cost of the campaign, which included the tickets, and Hoover was finally making a strong profit. 

          However, instead of reaping the benefits of this fruitful advertising strategy, Hoover decided to expand the offerings and include flights to any city in the US. The company truly believed that not enough people would take advantage of the campaign to disrupt profits, but the price difference in tickets to Europe versus tickets to the US was exorbitant. Additionally, excited UK customers rushed to purchase Hoover's cheapest products to get them over the £100 benchmark, and the manufacturer began to run out of products. 

          More than 300,000 people filled out the required forms to obtain their US flights - far more than Hoover anticipated. Most customers purchased a £119 vacuum cleaner. An expert wrote that Hoover made a profit of £30 per vacuum and that the two free fights were worth at least £600, which meant the company would have to spend approximately £570 per customer to honor the promotion.

          Ultimately, Hoover tried to swindle customers out of the agreement, resulting in terrible press, angry consumers, and a court ruling that required the parent company to spend $72 million on flights for 220,000 customers. Hoover UK folded and the flight campaign became a textbook example of what happens to companies that do not honor their word.