The Worst Sales Promotion In History

In 1908, a department store janitor named James Murray Spangler was suffering from a bad case of dust allergies. He did what any entrepreneurial asthmatic would do — he mounted a motorized fan motor on a carpet sweeper and filed a patent for the world’s first household vacuum cleaner. Spangler soon sold the patent to his cousin’s husband, William Hoover, who launched The Hoover Company and began selling the devices all over the U.S. and Europe. In 1992, the UK branch of the vacuum manufacturer offered an impossibly sweet promotion. If a customer bought any product worth £100 ($123), they would get two free round-trip airline tickets to the United States. For the 84-year-old electronics brand, it was meant to be an eye-catching way to boost dwindling sales, escape the gloom of a recession, and shrug off increased competition. Instead, it led to the destruction of the company — a downfall that saw multi-million-dollar losses and customer outrage. In 1995, Hoover Europe was sold to an Italian competitor. A quarter of a century later, the blunder is still cited in marketing textbooks as a prime example of what can happen when a company falls short on a promise to customers.