5 marketing horror stories to haunt your dreams

Published Oct 26 2023 Last updated Oct 26 2023 6 minute read
marketing horror stories
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

It was a dark and stormy night. Rain and wind battered the windows of a small, old cabin set deep in the dense woods. Inside, several marketers took refuge from the terrible conditions and tried to keep warm by a small fireplace. To keep their minds off the horrible howling winds, they shared the scariest, darkest, and eeriest things they’ve ever experienced. 

That’s right! In celebration of “spooky season,” we’re sharing the best marketing horror stories from our fellow Funnelers. These stories celebrate some of the crazy hoops we all have to jump through in this profession (while keeping things anonymous, of course).

But readers, beware! Some of these tales may be too spooky for those new to the trade. Now, step inside this digital house of horror…

Silently stuck, forever

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Video interviews require lots of careful planning. One small step could doom a project, throwing it off schedule and resulting in exponential costs. The stakes are even higher when that video interview will be played as the keynote of a major event. 

Such was the case our content producer, Amanda, found herself in one day. She knew that, for everything to go smoothly, the devil was in the details. 

“It was this big event at a past job,” said Amanda. “I was responsible for filming the interview with the main speaker. I planned everything. I emailed the speaker the questions, set up the shoot date, traveled to their office, and arranged all of the production gear.”  

The preparation seemed to pay off. 

“The interview went great,” said Amanda. “The lighting was absolutely perfect and the speaker nailed all of the answers to our questions.” 

Pleased with how the interview went, Amanda returned to her office. She eagerly awaited the chance to review the material. Upon plugging in her hard drives containing the raw footage, though, she saw something shocking. 

Every single second of the interview was captured in slow motion. To make things even worse, the entire interview was recorded without audio. 


The lesson: Always double check a sample of your footage before wrapping a shoot. You never know what horrors may await you. 


An attempted abduction

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Our video editor, Alexis, has tons of experience. Across his years in the industry, one particular moment is still etched in his brain.

He was providing his expert video editing services for an agency. During his time there, he was brought on board a large project. In those moments, every agency person feels the pressure start to mount. Pulling off large projects successfully can mean the difference between profit and loss. 

This particular project involved the creation of video assets that would be used in the client’s physical locations around the world. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. It turns out, the client started battling the agency producer and project leader.

“The client hated them,” said Alexis. “It got so bad that she (the client) refused to talk to our team leads. I was the only person from our agency that she would talk to.”

Alexis was suddenly thrust into the spotlight — an odd position for video editors, who typically keep to themselves while wearing noise-canceling headphones all day. He was suddenly the lead point of contact, balancing the client’s needs against the demands of  the agency team. 

Luckily, Alexis can be quite flexible and easygoing. 

“Our team leads said the client was just horrible to work with,” said Alexis, “but she and I had a great time during the editing process.” 

It went a little too well perhaps. 

“At the end of the project, the client even asked me to come work with them,” said Alexis. 

He refused. Had he not, perhaps he would have never made his way to Funnel. Ooooooo. 

The lesson: Great people skills matter, which can save you from a decaying relationship. 


Your soul is mine!

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Social media managers see a lot of wild stuff. Our very own, Leah, is no different.

“I have horror stories for days,” said Leah.

One specific incident has been seared into her memories in a way she can never forget. She was working with a client who wanted to create a TikTok campaign featuring a choreographed dance routine with several influencers.

“We are talking more than 20 influencers with very little notice,” said Leah.

In fact, she would have to get her team to contact, contract, and organize all of the influencers in about 24 to 48 hours — a seemingly impossible feat of coordination.

“We barely managed to get everything together on that short notice. It was actually incredible,” said Leah.

Unfortunately, the most frightening part was yet to come. When she thought she had pulled off the impossible, the client informed her that part of the dance was supposed to be in sign language and had to be redone. Surprise!

To make matters even worse, she and her team were delivered this horrific news just hours before the campaign was scheduled to go live. While she was able to work out a solution, the soul-sucking experience made Leah realize that she was probably not the right person for agency life.

The lesson: Always get client sign-off on the brief / scope of work (including timelines) before you start working. Then, hold your ground and know when to say “no.” Otherwise, a project may become the death of you.


A shocking ghost sighting 

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A consultant in our content marketing team, Meg is often influential in helping ideas take shape and come to life. She can turn the ethereal tangible, which makes her terrifying tale even more eerie. 

Years ago, Meg was helping a company navigate a rebranding process with an external agency. As any seasoned marketer can attest, such an undertaking will surely have several missing components and holes as you work up to the launch day for the new brand. 

Marketers aim to present a smooth and comprehensive transition for their customers. That means updating standard touchpoints, like a website and office signage, to more obscure brand representations,  like social media profile images and video assets. In an ideal world, everything switches to the new brand  instantly on launch day. 

For Meg, though, a far scarier situation presented itself. 

“At one point, we realized that our internal team didn’t actually have the final logo that was approved,” said Meg. “We had spent weeks updating materials with assets that were stretched when they should have been symmetrical.”

And, of course, when did the internal team make this realization? At the last possible second: the day before the brand relaunch. 

Frantic and confused, Meg tried her hardest to reach the agency and get her hands on the real assets. But the agency ghosted her. 

“On launch day, they decided not to answer our pleas for hours,” said Meg. 

It’s an experience that still haunts her to this day. 

“I still shudder whenever someone says ‘rebrand,’” she said. 

The lesson: Always have regular check-ins and a plan for emergency situations with your agency. Creating a back-up plan for a major launch can also save you from disaster. 



A concept dies, only to rise again

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And now, a chilling story from the author of this article and Funnel copywriter, Sean. 

It was several years ago. I was working for an advertising agency that did a lot of big broadcast work for big brands. As you might imagine, that meant big budgets, pressure, and results. 

At the time, I was leading a team in account services. One of my largest accounts was a well-regarded regional health system. We had done a lot of work for this client over the years, so there was some level of trust and expectations of either side when going into a new campaign. 

This particular campaign would be a bit more harrowing, though. After much back and forth over weeks, the client finally approved an ad concept requiring a multi-day, multi-location video shoot. The cost for such a production was about $350,000, which meant very little room for error. 

The team flew in from around the US to the client’s location. Early on the first official day of the shoot, the account team and creative lead met with the client to run through the usual pre-production details. It was at this meeting that everything went sideways. 

The client wanted to completely change the concept, yet somehow still move forward with a video shoot that day as the entire team was already onsite. The doors into that meeting room were immediately slammed shut. The concept was being murdered, and fingers were about to be pointed in all directions. 

After an agitated discussion that addressed the client’s concerns and highlighted the reality of what they were asking for, the client agreed that the approved concept was the best way forward. 

And just like that, the concept rose again like a zombie from The Walking Dead. While the campaign went on to become a measurable success, it was an eerily silent shoot from start to finish. Stress still hung in the air like a dense, toxic fog. 

The lesson: Don’t be scared to hold your ground, especially when it’s in the best interest of all parties involved. Appeasing a client and killing a concept last minute could mean doom for your relationship long term. 


Now, it’s your turn to share — if you dare

We’ve all been there before. Whether it’s a project that falls apart at launch, a math error that skews a valuation, or some other horrific mishap, marketers experience a lot of terrifying events. The best way to relieve yourself of your stress  is to share your stories with others, laugh at the experiences, grow, and move on. 

So, we are turning to you for the next chapter in our marketing horror stories anthology. Join us on LinkedIn and share your own hair-raising escapades that only another marketer can relate to. 

Disclosure: The images in this article were created using generative AI. 

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