Worst Tech Ads: Biggest marketing mishaps

The best, worst and weirdest TV spots of all time

The product is made, it's ready to go on sale, now you just need to make the public want it. Easy job? The art of advertising does not come easy even to some of the biggest tech manufacturers i nthe business. Here's our pick of the worst tech advert offenders.

As simple specs and sex appeal have lost their allure, the tech world’s cutting-edge creatives have found ever-more inventive ways of selling their wares. Yet from the silly to the plain surreal, sometimes even the greatest tech can sell itself short.

For every great tech advert that perfects the art of selling you a gadget you never knew you needed, there are a veritable host of campaigns that failed to strike a chord with the general public. Here's our pick of the worst offenders.


1. HP and Beats Audio, 2011

We’d love to see the sleek factory that builds Beats By Dre tech, such is its celebrity cred and bling reputation. Except HP apparently doesn’t make laptops in factories – it makes them in a spaceship, with Dr Dre chained to its epicentre. Course it does. These days, the hip-hop master is more machine than man, forced into Darth Vader’s fencing mask to churn out notebooks, one by painstaking one. Every four hours he’s allowed 30 seconds of “no mask time” to catch a few gasps of recycled oxygen, then it’s back to work. But if it means we get stylish laptops to show off on the Tube next to our sexy cans, keep him there.

2. Pole Position, 1982

One of the most overblown adverts for a computer game ever, this big-budget effort (well, for 1982) saw a nerdy family scooped up and dumped into racing cars, as all manner of explodey madness surrounded them. But when this live action was spliced with footage from the game it highlighted how poor the graphics actually were. As the game’s strapline promised, “It’ll leave skid marks on your soul.” Eww.

3. Commodore 64, 1985

“Are you keeping up with the Commodore?” Strangely, in the grainy 80s, everybody wanted to. The extreme musical happiness on show borders on the cultish, but cutaways to shots of people at a theme park only draw attention to how unlike a theme park the alternating shots of people coding are.


4. Apple Mac Performa, 1994

The Apple of the 21st century is a slick, marketing machine, but that hasn’t always been the case. It thought the best way to get you to splash your cash on the Performa was to have a besuited man stand in a room, pleading at length with you to buy its product. Not convinced? What if they then showed someone trying and failing to use a Windows PC, due to its unfathomable complexity? Still no? But look… the man’s got a nice suit on…

5. Piracy is a crime, 2007

You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a movie. But you might commit GBH on whoever came up with this headacheinducingly shot, wincingly patronising drivel, were you to meet them.

6. Microsoft Windows Vista, 2008

It’s 2008 and Vista is your most hated product since Windows Me. Who you gonna call? Er… Jerry Seinfeld. The big M ran two ads, somehow costing in excess of $300 million, in which Bill Gates and Seinfeld discuss shoes for three minutes that felt like three hours. They’re still counted among the worst ads of all time.

7. Microsoft Windows 7, 2009

Chastened by the above, the campaign for Windows 7 suggested you should throw a launch party for the OS’s arrival in your home. Due to Microsoft’s poor track record with comedy, it’s hard to tell if this was playful or brazenly hopeful. After all, even the lobotomised, party hat-wearing planks in the video can’t really be that excited about the prospect of an hour-long system reboot?

8. Palm Pre, 2009

We’re convinced the Pre would have sold more were it not for its hideously illconceived “artful” marketing. While the footage of an elfin woman in a field with hundreds of martial artists certainly intrigued, it did nothing to show what the phone and its new OS were capable of. In a world where the common response to any new smartphone is, “Oh, so it’s like an iPhone?”, rule one of mobile advertising should be to show how like-the-iPhoneonly-better-no-really the product is. Showing the product might possibly help in this respect. Palm declined on all fronts.

9. Asus Eee Pad Transformer, 2011

The clever tab-laptop hybrid’s online ad is a bizarre parody of American sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Or is it? The mahogany acting, stilted dialogue and flat production could be a clever take on how bad its TV source is. Or might it simply be ill-judged humour that just happens to resemble The Big Bang Theory? Perhaps, like the versatile Transformer itself, it is able to convert between two states: unfunny satire and just your basic unfunny.

10. Nintendo 3DS, 2011

The blame for the 3DS’s poor sales can be laid at the door of its launch campaign, which not only failed to make clear it was a new console but also focused on trying to show off 3D on a 2D medium. Unable to use footage, it was reduced to filming a stream of 3DS-holding nitwits pulling the least convincing “wow, amazing!” faces this side of Ann Widdecombe faking an orgasm.
Dead-eyed, singing non-sensations The Saturdays were also involved. Addressing these issues one by one has since seen the console turn a corner. Who knew, eh?

Have we missed your favourite worst advert? Let us know in the comments section below.