Every company in the world wants to increase their name recognition; after all, people cannot buy products from you if they do not know you exist. However, sometimes companies’ marketing stunts are so absurd, so questionable that it leads us to think there may actually be such a thing as bad publicity. Below are ten publicity stunts that were not harmful, but were certainly very silly.
10. PETA tries to rename fish “sea kittens”
PETA is well known for taking things too far and using tactics that many would find extremely objectionable. From throwing fake blood on people wearing fur coats, to telling kids their parents are murderers, nothing is beyond the pale for them. However, one of the most hilariously unsuccessful PETA campaigns was an attempt to get people to stop eating fish. The plan was to rename fish “sea kittens”, to give them a cuter appeal. PETA figured that kittens are cute, and you wouldn’t want to eat them, so if they named fish after kittens it would have the same appeal. Unfortunately no amount of words can make a slimy, wet fish cute, and it never caught on even among vegetarians. The campaign didn’t just fail though; it left PETA looking extremely foolish, which is a difficult bar for them to reach at this point. Amazingly they keep topping themselves.
9. Balloon boy hoax
We all heard the story of Balloon boy, supposedly a small child had gone up in a weather balloon of some sort and a huge manhunt and media circus began. The kid was found upstairs in the family’s attic and let slip that the whole thing had been a hoax when talking to the media. It turns out that the boy’s father wanted a reality show for his family, and he was hoping to use it as a springboard. Due to the bad publicity, he never got his reality show, but he has not given up. His children have now started a metal band and hope to one day tour with Metallica. Their father’s reasoning is that he believes in encouraging his boys to take part in hobbies that will give them some sort of tangible benefit. And by them he means him.
8. Burger King pulls prank on customers, tells them the Whopper is off the menu
It’s not exactly abnormal for Burger King to do stupid stunts for publicity, but this one was pretty much a slap in the face to their most loyal customers. Burger King wanted to see what would happen if people thought their most popular burger, The Whopper, was taken off the menu for a day. They filmed people with hidden cameras, and found that many people became very upset at the thought of losing The Whopper. The results of this cruel experiment were used as television commercials to show how popular their burger is. While Burger King should have lost customers for being total jerks, it turns out that it actually boosted their sales. It seems that you can treat your customers like swine as long as you provide them with greasy, cheesy goodness in return.
7. Starbucks fiscal cliff marketing stunt
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is famous for sticking his noise into politics and pretending like he knows what he is talking about. He’s the type that says everything would be great if the two political parties would just “get along” and “be bipartisan” as if that means anything of any substance. As the fiscal cliff crisis ramped up, he put together an extremely misguided plan to get publicity for his company. Baristas in Washington D.C. were told to write the phrase “Come together” on every single cup that they gave out to any customer. Perhaps it wasn’t a publicity stunt, maybe he really believed that a few politicians would receive cups with this message and their hearts would be moved. This leaves us with one of two options, Schultz is either incredibly naïve, or really bad at marketing. Scratch that, both are probably true.
6. Oprah’s famous car giveaway
Unless you live under a rock somewhere in the wastelands of North Dakota, you have probably heard of Oprah’s famous car giveaway. She screamed wildly and told everyone in the audience that they were getting a new car, it greatly increased her popularity, who wouldn’t like someone that generous. But it turns out she didn’t pay a dime for those cars. The whole giveaway was a marketing scheme dreamed up by Pontiac who ended up spending almost eight million to pay for the whole thing. To make matters worse for them Oprah didn’t even mention the car’s name and Pontiac went out of business not that long after. But her audience still got great new cars free of charge, right? Well no. It turns out that because it was a gift the audience members were left footing a huge tax bill for their new cars, and by huge we mean several thousand dollars. If you are hard up enough for cash that you desperately need a free car, you probably aren’t going to be able to afford that.
5. Burger King’s subservient chicken
Burger King made it on the list twice, because we just can’t get enough of their crazy shenanigans. Awhile back there was a site called subservientchicken.com, where you could type in commands and a guy in a chicken suit would act them all out for you. The most bizarre thing about this whole promotion was that you had to do a ton of digging to even realize it had anything to do with Burger King at all. We have to wonder what Burger King was thinking, while it was an interesting diversion, it was also pretty creepy, and with their name not attached it could hardly cause us to connect the campaign with their restaurants. For those of you who are curious, there is still a mirror available here, although it is a little slow to respond.
4. Denny’s opens up a wedding chapel/restaurant in Vegas
Denny’s is probably the most famous diner chain in the United States, which is really not anything to be proud of. The restaurant chain clearly did not have a bad enough reputation, so after (probably) having a lot of drug induced marketing sessions, they decided that the best way to make their image worse would be to create a wedding chapel-diner combination. This monstrosity will have a photo booth, and a full bar, the latter of which would sound good if not for the fact that you would be mixing it with Denny’s fine cuisine. There really isn’t a much worse existential nightmare than waking up with a hangover, throwing up greasy food and realizing as you stare soullessly into the mirror that you just got married at a diner to a woman whom you’ve never met before in your life.
3. Colorado Brewery creates Bull testicle flavored beer
People all over the world love alcohol, and beer is one of the most popular ways of preparing it. There are thousands of beers in the world, a wealth of options to choose from. One Colorado brewery decided that there simply were not enough options though, not for them anyway; they needed something unique, that really fit their style. After pondering awhile they made a new brew that had some fairly innocuous flavors like barley and hops, which wouldn’t sound so bad, until they decided to make it taste like bull testicles. Out of all the different unique beers they could have created, it’s anyone’s guess as to why they wanted testicle flavor. And equally mysterious as to why, out of all the animals in nature, they chose a bull. We’d ask them ourselves, but the prospect of talking to these psychopaths is quite terrifying.
2. Brewdog launches a performance enhancing ale with doping drugs in it
Brewdog, another insane beer company, had a serious problem with the Olympics. In particular they seem to dislike all of the hype and sponsorship deals, so they decided to make a statement and stick it to the Olympics good. Just in time for the last Olympic Games, they made a beer that was chock full of things that Olympic athletes are not allowed to have, substances that will get them kicked out. While some of these are just natural compounds like Guarana and Gingko, they also put real steroids in their beer. We aren’t really sure how they intended to take down the corporate money machine that is the Olympic Games by creating a beer full of substances banned for athletes, but it probably got them good publicity and we are quite sure that was the real point.
1. Taco Bell creates custom Speedo for a teenager
A high school kid on the swim team ate at Taco Bell several times a week, presumably because he completely hates himself, and is making up for past sins. The kid decided that if he was going to Taco Bell all the time, and he was an athlete, he should find a way to get something out of it. The boy took his entrepreneurial spirit to social media and asked Taco Bell to make him a custom Speedo with the phrase “Think outside the Bun”, which is totally not an inappropriate phrase for a large corporation to be emblazoning on a garment that will be on the backside of a minor. Taco Bell not only agreed to his request, but gifted him with a second Speedo as well, proving that bad judgment is not exclusive to drunken family members at holiday gatherings, but can also extend to major corporations with PR firms.