Some companies will stop at nothing to gain an edge on their competitors and this has led to some of the most outrageous marketing stunts the world has ever seen. The following highlights weird ways brands have marketed their businesses – sometimes successfully, others times not, and one horrible fail that will undoubtedly leave you shaking your head.
When he opened his hot dog stand at Coney Island in the 1920s, Nathan Handwerker struggled to find customers. Hot dogs were relatively new, and cheap meats were eyed with suspicion. Undercutting other vendors only made matters worse, as customers didn’t trust what Nathan was serving them. An idea he hatched was he would give hot dogs away to doctors and nurses (when there were none around, he would have bums dress up as doctors and nurses in exchange for hot dogs). Thus, the public would see what appeared to be medical professionals enjoying Nathan’s hot dogs, and Nathan instantly won their trust. The business prospered for decades.
Successful businesses require risks and Sonic Yoga’s Jonathan Fields took a huge one in 2001 when he pitched a story about the scientific health benefits of yoga to Self Magazine. Fields recruited a college to conduct the study and he pitched the story to multiple editors. When interviewed for Self, he was told that it was too bad Sonic Yoga didn’t have a yoga video to sell. Without missing a beat, Fields informed the reporter that they indeed have a video in post-production, so Self was free to put that information in the article.
The catch? There was no video in post-production. In fact, there was none at all. Knowing Self was going to publish an article that claimed there was a video, Fields rapidly had one created – and it sold out soon after the magazine hit the shelves. It was a brilliant marketing move that demonstrated the importance of jumping on opportunities.
Remember the LifeLock commercials in which CEO Todd Davis roamed around the country with his social security number boldly emblazoned on the side of a truck? The ones in which he dared anyone to try to steal his identity, because it was protected by LifeLock? Yeah, this was a big fail – Davis’ identity was stolen at least 13 times and his company was fined $12 million for deceptive advertising.
To promote its 75 different jeans sizes, Levi’s held an event where single women raced to a pile of different-sized men’s jeans. They each picked a pair of jeans, then matched it to the person it fit in a group of single men. The stunt was a hit, helped make Levi’s point, and was as entertaining a matchmaking event as it was a successful promotion.
Some marketing blunders are well-intentioned, gone awry on accident. Others are just really stupid ideas from the beginning. When Iron Man 3 hit the theaters, Capital 8 Theater decided to give its first audience a special show. It hired actors to play a gunman, a pair of police officers, and Iron Man, then directed the gunman to “open fire” in the theater. The stunt was to play out until Iron Man came to save the day – but movie-goers called the real cops, who quickly put an end to it. This just after a year of the real movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado – such a brainless idea!