In today’s busy world, it’s tougher than ever for companies to get their names out there and sell their products to consumers. But advertising and marketing campaigns aren’t just about who has the most money but rather who is the most clever. From Oprah Winfrey’s free-car giveaway to a bomb scare for a cartoon show, we’ve rounded up some of the wildest things companies have done to reach new customers and find new markets. Some rocked and some tanked but all are legendary in their own rights for their creativity and ingenuity. Find out some of the tactics used in this list of 25 Creative Company Marketing Campaigns With Epic Results.
Red Bull Marketing Campaign Featured image by Benoit DUCHATELET via Flickr CC2.0
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You get a car! You get a car!
Oprah Winfrey’s free car giveaway on her talk-show has become a legendary example of marketing – for carmaker General Motors but especially for Oprah. Oprah’s rating surged due to the publicity but General Motors’ tanked after the winners in her studio audience heard they would have to pay $7,000 tax on each of the Pontiacs they won. After a slurry of negative publicity, Pontiac reversed course and covered the state sales tax.
Enticing would-be customers with beer has long been a tactic for companies to boost business. The Cleveland Indians baseball team gave it a shot in 1974 with a 10-cent-beer-night. The promotion tripled attendance but resulted in some less-than-desirable outcomes, including a riot, attacks on players and fans, and destruction to the stadium.
Burning up the disco
Similarly, the Chicago White Sox ran a promotion in 1979 during a double-header entitled “Disco Demolition Night”. The team encouraged fans to bring in vinyl records they were willing to part with – to be blown up. Fifteen times more fans showed up (partly lured by the 98-cent entrance fee with their record), even scrambling over the walls to get in. The records were detonated after the first game and pandemonium ensued – fans rioted, the batting cages and bases were torn asunder, and riot police had to break up the deranged masses.
The Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese
As online casinos are legally prevented from advertising in traditional media sources, GoldenPalace.com got crafty with its marketing strategy. In 2004, the online casino bought the famous part-eaten grilled cheese sandwich which seemed to feature an image of the Virgin Mary. The price for a part-eaten grilled cheese? $28,000.
Breaking the sound barrier
Now infamous, Red Bull sponsored parachutist Felix Baumgartner on a free fall. Red Bull is known for sponsoring extreme sports and this one was made more extreme as Baumgartner jumped out of a plane at 23 miles (37 km) up – in the Earth’s stratosphere. This jump clinched Baumgartner the record for being the first person to break the sound barrier (without using a machine).
An unexpected Guinness success
Now ranking as the third most widely read book in the world, the Guinness Book of World Records was never intended to become a global phenomenon. Managing Director Hugh Beaver printed the book to settle senseless pub debates and distributed it throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. The book quickly became a bestseller, so much so that Guinness eventually spun off the publishing unit which continues making annual versions of the popular book.
Mobile dating app Tinder is no stranger to trying some non-traditional advertising techniques. In 2014, Tinder – partnering with BBH creative agency and animal rescue group Social Tees – made profiles for a host of dogs up for adoption. During swiping, a user might come across one of the pups, seeing their description and pictures (which are probably better than those of most actual people on Tinder). The campaign was a success and a good few dogs were adopted.
Steal me if you can
LifeLock CEO Todd Davis infamously advertised his security company by giving away his social security number in print and television, daring thieves to try stealing his identity. The marketing stunt was brilliant – earning LifeLock loads of publicity. However, a class action suit was brought against LifeLock claiming the ad was misleading as Davis’s identity had been stolen by about 20 different thieves. LifeLock claims only one was able to successfully steal its CEO’s identity and only got $500 out of it.
The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Bomb
Cartoon Network was trying to promote its Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force in January 2007. To do this, it commissioned a company to create items that looked like backpacks with wires and lights coming out the back and a screen on front. These bags were then covertly dropped in train stations, hospitals, and on bridges throughout Boston. After the Boston Bomb Squad fully mobilized and boat traffic through the Boston Harbor was shut down, Cartoon Network called off the publicity attempt and told police where the devices were. Lesson learned: if you’re a company trying to get people to buy your stuff, don’t make people think you’re dropping off bombs.
One ad stunt by land and by sea
In an attempt to break a Guinness World Record and garner publicity for Virgin, CEO Richard Branson drove an aquaticar from London to Paris over roads and across the English Channel. Branson drove into Paris wearing a tuxedo and surrounded by a hail of fireworks and popping champagne bottles.
Big Brother for cats
Del Monte Foods created a show similar to the popular Big Brother but with a different cast: cats. Entitled Meow Mix House, the show featured 10 cats living in a house with their lives recorded on cameras for the world to see. The stunt was for a good cause – cat adoption – and every cat which was voted out was adopted and given a year’s supply of Meow Mix.
Keeping your Facebook friends close
Tattoos are becoming ever more popular (as is Facebook). Inking studio Tattoo Dex released a video of a woman with 152 of her Facebook friends – tattooed on her arm! After garnering massive worldwide publicity, the company admitted it was a publicity stunt and the ink was a wash-off variety.
The burger for left-handed people
Massive fast-food chain Burger King wanted to cater to the 10% of Americans who are left-handed, releasing a left-handed Whopper on April 1, 1998. See the problem? Burger King was getting into the April Fool’s Day spirit with and succeeded in selling more burgers as many customers came in asking for the left- or right-handed Whopper.
Doctors love hot dogs!
Nathan Handwerker split from his former employer – Coney Island eatery Feltman’s – to open his own hot dog stand. In those early days of Nathan’s Famous (hot dogs), he hired homeless people to stand around his stand to make it look busier. After that didn’t work, some say he then paid the homeless people to dress as doctors in an attempt to increase business but it’s more likely he gave free hot dogs to doctors and nurses who came in uniform. Nathan soon put up a sign to drive home the message: “If doctors eat our hot dogs, you know they’re good!”
Taco Bell's New-Old Bell
Fast-food company Taco Bell joined the fun on April Fool’s Day 1996 by taking out full-page advertisements in seven major U.S. newspapers claiming they bought the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to work towards lowering the national debt. An initial negative outcry from the public turned to amusement when it was revealed the advertisement was just a hoax.
Lion meat tacos
At Boca Tacos y Tequila in Tucson, Arizona, every Wednesday night is Exotic Taco Night where specialty meats like python, kangaroo, or frog legs make the menu. In 2011, they attempted to garner some free publicity and spice up their menu by featuring lion meat tacos. After drawing loads of interest but also major protests from animal rights groups, they decided to cancel the promotion. (NB: The lion meat would have been acquired legally from a farm which raises lions for their meat in California.)
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
There’s a small town in New Mexico called Truth or Consequences (colloquially T or C), all due to a popular quiz show in the 1950’s. “Truth or Consequences?” presenter Ralph Edwards announced on-air he would have a broadcast from the first town to name itself after the show. For the next 50 years, Edwards visited the town annually even after no longer presenting the show.
Halfway between the equator and North Pole, Halfway, Oregon, renamed itself Half.com in 1999 at the height of the dot-com bubble. Website Half.com promised $110,000 and 20 computers for a local school to the city which renamed itself after the company for a year.
A sticky situation
Snapple attempted to break the world record for largest popsicle in 2005 while simultaneously advertising the beverage company. The 17.5 ton popsicle was approved to be revealed despite an absurdly hot day in New York City. As the popsicle was unloaded from the tractor trailer, it spewed melted, sugary popsicle-liquid all over and around Union Square Park, coating the streets and commuters shoes and cars.
After plenty of push back from cities and a not-so-great passenger safety record, car-hire company Uber launched in the Hamptons in time for July 4th, 2013. Catering to the posher area, Uber offered flat-rate trips for riders from the Hamptons to New York City – via helicopter. A ride in the helicopter cost $3,000 and could seat up to five passengers.
Ellen's Oscars selfie
Remember Ellen Degeneres’s selfie taken at the 2013 Oscars? There’s more behind it than meets the eye. Cell phone maker Samsung paid $20 million for their products to be used throughout the show. Ellen’s selfie, they claim, was unplanned, but Ellen spoke about breaking the record during rehearsal.
Burger made with Pride
In another brilliant marketing campaign by Burger King, anybody who popped into a Burger King along the San Francisco Pride Parade route in 2014 received their burger with rainbow-colored wrapping. Upon opening it, eaters found the message “We are all the same inside.” Burger King’s marketing strategy was highly commended by the LGBT community and picked up by a host of news sources.
A Presidential endorsement
ProShade, makers of a visor which protects your face from the sun, offered the National Park Service $4 million to add a visor on top of the four Presidents’ heads of Mount Rushmore. As any recent visitor of Mount Rushmore can tell, the NPS declined their request.
Tricking your competitors
Package delivery service DHL used science and advertising to pull off a brilliant stunt. Wrapping packages in a foil which turns black in cold weather, the company subjected the packages to freezing temperatures and then gave them to rivals to deliver. When the packages arrived to their warmer locations, the message was revealed – “DHL is faster”.
Flying is rarely an easy endeavor, but Morton’s Steakhouse set out to make one passenger’s trip easier. Before taking off, author Peter Shankman tweeted at the steakhouse chain, “Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)” Morton’s sprung into action and when Shankman walked out of the arrivals area, a uniformed waiter greeted him with silver cutlery and a hot porterhouse steak.