But the ad campaigns and products on this list are among the worst marketing ideas in history. Many of them were swiftly pulled, and it took some serious retooling to get these fast-food chains back on track.
The worst fast food items and ideas
20. McDonald’s Hula Burger
Launched in the 1960s, the Hula Burger was one of McDonald's first meat-alternative sandwiches. Unfortunately, they took that concept a little too literally.
The Hula Burger featured a thick slice of pineapple on a bun, topped with American cheese. That's it.
It's no wonder McDonald's has completely scrubbed any evidence of the Hula burger from its history. The tastebuds recoil in horror just thinking about it.
In the 1980s, McDonald’s churned out a much more sensible hamburger with pineapple on top, which was a modest success. Maybe because it actually made sense.
19. Wendy’s Buffet
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Wendy’s restaurants had a "Superbar" with three stations: the Garden Spot, Mexican Fiesta and Pasta Pasta.
Prices were as low as $2.99 per person to eat all the salad, nachos, pasta, garlic bread and chocolate pudding your heart desired. In terms of marketing it was actually a great idea. Families loved the convenience and big portions.
Unfortunately, that low price came at a cost.
Wendy’s staff had a hard time keeping the buffet stocked while taking orders for regular menu items, which slowed down service. And although the $2.99 price tag filled restaurants, it wasn't enough to offset costs, and the Superbar was scrapped.
18. Jack in the Box's Bacon Shake
In 2012, Jack in the Box bewildered the nation by introducing a bacon milkshake.
The disgusting elixir contained no real bacon (as if that makes it any more palatable). Instead, it was an assemblage of vanilla ice cream, bacon-flavored syrup, whipped topping and a cherry on top. The concotion is long gone, but it lives in infamy as not only the grossest, but the least healthiest drink of all time.
The 16-oz shake had a whopping 773 calories, 30 grams of fat and 75 grams of sugar, the Los Angeles Times reported. The 24-oz size contained a terrifying 1,081 calories, 40 grams of fat and 108 grams of sugar.
The most diehard bacon lovers couldn't even stomach it, and the idea was quickly scrapped.
17. KFC's Oprah coupons
In 2009, KFC launched a grilled chicken meal in partnership with Oprah Winfrey, who announced on her daytime talk show that viewers could go to KFC's website and print a coupon to get two pieces of grilled chicken, two sides and a biscuit — for free.
You can guess what happened next.
KFC vastly underestimated what happens when you combine Oprah’s star power with America's love of freebies. Customers flooded restaurants across America, and KFC was swamped with literally millions of orders. Demand was so high it crashed the Oprah website.
For possibly the first time ever, KFC locations immediately ran out of chicken and had to promise customers rain checks. After getting sued for failing to honor one customer's coupon, they canceled the promotion altogether.
16. Long John Silver's Big Catch meal
Long John Silver’s introduced its Big Catch meal in June 2013, consisting of a massive piece of haddock, hush puppies and onion rings.
The meal packed a whopping 1,320 calories, 3,700 mg of sodium and 33 grams of trans fat. Medical experts recommend that intake of trans fats be limited to 2 grams per day, so the platter was loaded with more than two weeks’ worth of the heart-clogging stuff.
The consumer group the Center for Science in the Public Interest named Big Catch the "worst restaurant meal in America" — and LJS pulled it off the menus by the end of the year.
15. McDonald’s McSpaghetti
In the 1980s, McDonald’s tried to expand its dinner menu by adding spaghetti. Basically just pasta with tomato sauce and cheese sprinkled on top.
Unfortunately, boiling the pasta took too long for customers used to fast service under the Golden Arches — and at the end of the day, people really came for the Big Macs and the fries.
YouTube personality Furious Pete flew to the Philippines, one of the last places in the world to try the McSpaghetti. He wasn’t impressed: “This tastes like spaghetti with ketchup," he said.
14. The Roy Rogers' switcheroo
In 1968, beloved movie and TV cowboy Roy Rogers agreed to license his name to a chain of fast-food restaurants. Americans loved the roast beef sandwiches, fried chicken and burgers at "Roy's," and the chain grew to about 650 locations.
In 1990, the Hardee’s burger chain bought out the Roy Rogers restaurants for the real estate, and began converting all the locations to Hardee’s — and that’s when the beef hit the fan.
Loyal customers were furious, sales tanked, and Hardee's started switching them all back to Roy Rogers. Today, the chain is just barely hanging on.
13. Taco Bell’s Border Lights menu
During the mid-1990s low-fat food craze, Taco Bell introduced its “Border Lights” menu promoting new options meant to be healthier. Customers could order baked white corn tacos filled with lean beef, low-fat cheese and lite sour cream.
But, as it turned out, customers didn’t want healthy food from Taco Bell. Critics also thought the name "Border Lights" sounded like a reference to controversies at the U.S.- Mexico border.
Taco Bell ran a $75 million ad campaign for its special menu items, but they were gone within a year.
12. Burger King’s table service
In 1992, Burger King branched out from its quick counter service to offer what was promoted as a higher-class dinner experience — with table service.
Between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., customers could sit at a table and order a dinner basket from a server, who brought the food to the table. You'd get a free popcorn appetizer while you waited for your meal.
BK invested heavily in ads featuring MTV's Dan Cortese and even did cross-promotions with popular movies, including Aladdin. Sadly, people just weren’t interested in the dinner baskets — and by 1993, the chain refocused on its fast hamburger business.
11. Subway’s $5 Footlong
After the promotion was introduced in 2007, Subway’s $5 footlong sandwiches became incredibly popular. Nine years later, with costs going up, Subway announced it would raise the price by $1 — and loyal customers were enraged.
The brand has been tripping over its pricing ever since. In 2018, Subway brought out $4.99 footlongs but immediately admitted that franchisees could choose not to participate. To this day, customers never know when and if the offer will be honored.
“Well I guess no more Subway for me,” wrote one angry commenter in a thread on Reddit.
10. McDonald's McDLT
In 1984, McDonald's introduced the McDLT, a burger that came in a two-sided styrofoam container.
The container housed the hot parts of the sandwich in one side and the cold parts in the other. The idea was for customers to assemble the two sections to create one big explosion of hot and cold goodness all in the same bite.
But many McDonald's locations weren't equipped with dual heating-cooling storage units to hold the food before it was served — so, customers were served lukewarm sandwiches they had to assemble like a bad IKEA project.
9. Wendy's Frescata
In 2006, Wendy's saw Subway's healthy lifestyle shtick and decided to jump on the bandwagon. The result was a line of deli sandwiches called “frescatas,” served on freshly-baked artisan breads.
Even though customers liked the sandwiches, the problem was that fresh artisan breads take too long to bake, and the concept couldn’t keep up with the pace of orders in Wendy’s drive-thrus.
Finally, the too-slow Frescata ended up on the bench, while the Homestyle Chicken Sandwich turned out to be the team’s ringer.
8. Burger King's Halloween Whopper
In 2015, Burger King launched a special Halloween Whopper that was served on black buns tinted with A1 steak sauce.
On the surface, it was a great holiday-themed marketing idea — what's spookier than eating a sandwich served on black bread that looks rotten?
Unfortunately, the answer came not long after, when customers complained that the burger was turning their No. 2s an unexpected shade of green. Yikes!
7. Domino's 'The Noid'
Few mascots have inspired more real-world havoc than Domino's "The Noid" back in the 1980s. The Noid was a red-suited villain who was always trying to foil the restaurant's plans, and customers were advised to “avoid the Noid.”
The marketing plan backfired when a man named Kenneth Lamar Noid mistakenly believed the character was a plot to make fun of him.
He responded by taking several employees hostage at an Atlanta Domino's, demanding $100,000 and a copy of the novel The Widow's Son. Fortunately, he gave himself up to the police and nobody was injured.
6. Dunkin' Donuts' coffee freebie
What could go wrong with a plan to offer customers free iced coffee? Quite a bit, as Dunkin' Donuts discovered in 2010.
DD’s nationally broadcast commercials failed to clarify that the freebie would be available in only five states. When the big day came, coffee drinkers across the country showed up for their free java and were turned away.
The only measurable outcome of this marketing ploy: Dunkin's Facebook page got buried under a pile of angry comments from upset customers.
5. Burger King's 'Herb the Nerd'
In 1985, Burger King came up with an epic marketing campaign. The burger chain spread rumors of a guy named Herb who was supposedly the one man on Earth who had not tried a Whopper sandwich.
After building the momentum for months, it was announced that Herb's identity would be revealed during that year's Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, the chain hired an actor to portray Herb as the most unlikeable guy ever — causing the media hype to die off almost instantly.
4. McDonald's McPizza
McDonald’s is synonymous with cheap foods that take about three minutes to slap together behind the counter.
This didn't hold the fast-food behemoth back from trying to add pizza to its menu. By 1990, Mickey D’s had introduced pizzas at nearly 40% of its U.S. locations.
Sadly, it turned out that pizza prep took far too long and was not compatible with the chain’s lighting fast slap-and-serve system. McPizzas were pulled from the menu — although two locations refused to give up on the idea until 2017.
3. Pizza Hut's Priazzo
In the mid-1980s, Pizza Hut wanted to cash in on the deep-dish pizza craze. The result was the Priazzo, a two-layer pie with a ton of cheese, meat and veggies among the layers.
Although customers enjoyed eating the Priazzo pizza casserole, they didn’t like waiting an extra long time for the multilayered pizza to be assembled and baked.
After just three years on the menu, this expensive and time-consuming item was pulled for good.
2. Dairy Queen’s Breeze
What could be better than Dairy Queen's iconic Blizzard?
Sensing that customers wanted healthier options, Dairy Queen invented the "Breeze," meant as a sort of “blizzard-lite” made with nonfat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. Best of both worlds, right?
The problem was that DQ then added the same candy, cookies and chocolate that was in the Blizzard. Even diehard DQ fans couldn’t justify adding the Breeze to their low-fat diets.
1. Quiznos' Spongmonkeys
The Quiznos' “spongmonkeys” were probably the least sensical marketing campaign of all time. In 2004, the sandwich chain decided to make the bizarre, rodent-like creatures into the brand’s new mascots.
In the ads, the creepy critters danced, sang off-key and screeched about how much they loved Quiznos.
Kids were terrified, and disturbed adult viewers described the spongmonkeys as “Mr. Potato Rats,” “drugged up hamsters” and “hell-lemurs.” They didn’t sell many sandwiches and were dropped by Quiznos within a year.