The Craziest Marketing Stunts of All Time

Gwenyth Paltrow

Rachel Murray / Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images North America

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Diapers. Isolated. Baby care

They Did What?

Companies have a grand tradition of marketing stunts — that is, doing something off the wall to create buzz, often for a new product or service. Marketing stunts aren't without risk: Hype may obscure a painfully bad product, but it can also overshadow legitimately good ones. Here are some of the most notable ways companies stopped at nothing to get tongues wagging, including Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop "selling" the most luxurious diapers you've ever seen.

Related: Companies That Rebranded to Avoid Being Canceled

Goop Diaper
Goop / Baby2Baby

Goop Goes Bougie With a Baby Necessity

Gwyneth Paltrow's polarizing website Goop is known for selling outrageous items ($1,000 yoga mats and $125,000 gold dumbbells, for example) but did Goop take it too far when it debuted diapers for over a hundred bucks? Goop recently advertised The Diapér, which was supposedly lined with virgin alpaca wool, embellished with amber gemstones, and scented with jasmine and bergamot. Listed for $120, the luxurious nappies turned out to be — phew — an attention grab from Goop on behalf of Baby2Baby, a nonprofit diaper bank that provides  necessities for babies across America. The goal: Bring awareness to the fact that diapers are taxed despite being an essential item. (We're sure the predictable outrage and Internet buzz was just fine with Goop, too.)

Related: Wastes of Money Sold to You by Luxury Retailers

Dusty KFC Car
KFC Spain

KFC Gets Dusty

When a Saharan dust storm hit Western Europe in March, KFC in Spain decided to use the cars "breaded" in orange dust as a canvas for some cheap advertising. In a spur-of-the-moment marketing campaign, anyone who drew "KFC" into the dust on their car with their finger and came to a KFC drive-thru would get two free chicken strips. Considering writing on dirty cars is fun and people will do practically anything for free food, it was a success, and over 1,000 people scored their free chicken — and drove around advertising the chain. 

Related25 Chains Where Drink Refills Are Free

Burger King Brazil Poop Emoji Ice Cream
Burger King Brazil

Burger King Puts Poop on the Menu

Well, poop emoji ice cream, that is. Burger King in Brazil wants everyone to know about its efforts to remove artificial ingredients from its food. The rationale behind the campaign: "It's better to look like a poop on the outside than to be stuffed with lots of bad ingredients on the inside," said Rogério Chaves, creative director at advertising agency David São Paulo. Right now, Brazilians can only find the "treat" at a BK ice cream truck, but the company may yet make it permanent menu item, presumably if enough customers enjoy eating ... well, you know. 

Related: Fast-Food Menu Items You'll Only Find Abroad

Adidas sports bra

Adidas Bares it All to Sell Sports Bra

Adidas knows how to grab the Internet's attention: with a grid of 25 pairs of bare breasts. The brand is promoting its new sports bra collection, designed for all sizes and activities, so in February, it opted to show a range of real women's bodies to drive the point home. The ad appeared on Twitter, a billboard, and on the company’s Instagram page — with areas blurred out  — but it has yet to make an appearance on Facebook due to community guidelines. The brand released this statement: “The gallery was designed to show just how diverse breasts are, featuring different shapes and sizes that highlight why tailored support is paramount.” It has drawn mixed reviews, with some praising the body positivity, and others noting that actually seeing the bras might be a better marketing technique, to say nothing of the nudity. 

Related: KitchenAid, Adidas, and Other Brands With Outlet Shops on eBay

Emirates Airlines Burj Khalifa
The Emirates Group

'Flight Attendant' Climbs to New Heights

In August 2021, Emirates Airlines' video of a stuntwoman dressed as a flight attendant standing on top of Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 2,716 feet, went viral. While standing in heels at the very top of the Burj's spire seems crazy enough, Emirates recently took things up a notch. In new videos, the stuntwoman appears at the top of the Burj once more, this time with a colorful A380, the world's largest passenger jet, soaring past her only a half a mile away. The elaborate stunt was all in the name of promoting Expo 2020 Dubai (initially postponed because of the pandemic) with the aircraft flying directly over the expo site to finish things off. 

Related: Skyscraper Bucket List: America's 31 Tallest Buildings

Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Kraft Will Pay for Your Dessert

Thanks to pandemic-induced shortages, Kraft hasn't been able to keep up with demand for its Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Kraft's admittedly unorthodox solution: Call attention to the shortage by giving cream cheese-deprived customers a reward for getting any other dessert instead of making their normal cheesecake. In December, Kraft offered its Spread the Feeling deal by giving $20 to 18,000 people who bought another treat — they just needed to submit their receipt online to claim their reward. 

Related: The Secret Histories of Popular Brands

Heinz Rebrands Ketchup as Tomato Blood
The Kraft Heinz Company

Heinz Ketchup? Nope, 'Tomato Blood'

Ketchup has long had a useful double life around Halloween, so Kraft decided to embrace that this past year, relabeling Heinz ketchup "Tomato Blood." And so you don't destroy your own clothes, it also sold Halloween costumes that were blank canvases for ketchup — sorry, tomato blood — which, alas, was sold separately. 

1966... Star Trek 'Charlie X'
1966... Star Trek 'Charlie X' by James Vaughan (CC BY-NC-SA)

William Shatner Goes to Space

William Shatner, who famously played Captain Kirk on "Star Trek," actually went to space, thanks to Jeff Bezos. The Amazon founder's space travel company, Blue Origin, announced that Shatner would blast off in October, giving the nascent firm even more PR in the process. At age 90, Shatner became the oldest person to fly into space. “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle,” Shatner said in a statement. 

photo of a coffin car at a funeral

'Funeral Truck' Sends Ominous Message

With COVID-19 vaccination rates in North Carolina lagging the national average, one Charlotte ad agency decided polite pleas for residents to get the jab weren't cutting it. Instead, in September, it plastered a message on a funeral truck from "Wilmore Funeral Home" telling people not to get vaccinated.  The funeral home was fake, but curious observers could visit its website for an ominous message: Get vaccinated, or "see you soon." Clicking through brought visitors to the website of a local urgent care center offering the vaccine. 

Ford Mach-eau

Ford Debuts Gas-Scented Cologne

Electric vehicles are steadily gaining fans, and Ford has done its part to make sure they don't miss the unmistakable smell of gasoline. In a July stunt tied to the release of its all-electric Mustang Mach-E GT, the automaker debuted Mach-Eau (yes, really), a fragrance that smells not just like gas, but car interiors, rubber tires, and even some nebulous "animal element," according to The Verge. Unfortunately, Mach-Eau won't actually be sold, so electric-vehicle drivers may need to settle for one of those dangling tree-scented air fresheners instead. 

McDonalds Brazil Separate Golden Arches
McDonald's Brazil

McDonald's Separates Its Golden Arches

There's nothing like a global pandemic to bring a crashing halt to most brands' zaniest advertising ideas. Most companies played it safe in 2020, opting for schmaltzy commercials about "getting through this together" and the like, but McDonald's Brazil saw an opportunity to do something unprecedented. In a cheeky nod to social distancing, it separated the iconic Golden Arches. The move backfired on Twitter, where users slammed the stunt as insensitive.


For more fun trivia, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

IHOP Fakes a Name Change

IHOP, the most ubiquitous pancake chain in America, announced in 2018 that it would change its name to "IHOb." After leaving the internet to speculate wildly for several days, it finally announced the "b" would stand not for "breakfast," but "burgers" — all to promote its new line of Ultimate Steakburgers. A month later, it admitted the stunt was temporary and reverted back to IHOP.

Related: IHOP Debuts New Flip'd Restaurant Concept

"Gilmore Girls" Pop-Up
Sarah Morris/Getty Images

Netflix Courts 'Gilmore' Fans with Luke's Diner Pop-Ups

TV executives have been on the reboot bandwagon for a while, but Netflix really hit it out of the park with its marketing for 2016's "Gilmore Girls" revival. The network made more than 100 coffee shops across the country into Luke's Diner, one of the most memorable settings in the series. The shops gave out free coffee and put up Luke's décor, including the necessary "NO CELL PHONES" signs. Lines of excited fans stretched for blocks.


Burger King Proposes a McWhopper Mashup

One of the best ways for companies to turn heads is by poking a rival. In 2015, Burger King took to the airwaves, printed ads, and posted on social media to propose a "McWhopper" collaboration with McDonald's in honor of the International Day of Peace. McDonald's wasn't impressed with the idea of a cross-brand, double-decker burger mashup, and sourly dinged Burger King for not calling them with the idea first.

Related: Brand Mashups You Never Saw Coming

Uber Cat Delivery

Uber Brings Kittens to Your Door

To mark National Cat Day, in 2013, Uber started bringing kittens straight to users' doors for several minutes of cuddle time, donating the fee to local shelters. The stunt was so successful that it eventually expanded to nearly 60 cities from three, spurred countless media mentions, and resulted in hundreds of cat adoptions and thousands in donations. And don't worry: Uber prescreened for allergies.

Street view of Trafalgar Square

Tropicana Makes the 'Sun' Rise over London

London doesn't have a reputation for sunny weather, especially in the dead of winter. Tropicana saw the famously gloomy skies as a marketing opportunity, rigging up a giant 2.5-ton "sun" made with 60,000 lightbulbs to "rise" over Trafalgar Square one morning in 2012. Onlookers were given lounge chairs, sunglasses, and of course, free orange juice to enjoy while they "sunbathed."

Red Bull Stratos
Red Bull

Red Bull Sends a Skydiver into Space

In a stunt from 2012 that may simply never be topped, Red Bull sent Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner on a 24-mile freefall — that is, from the edge of outer space. The unbelievable feat was live streamed, drawing 8 million YouTube viewers as Baumgartner broke several records, including fastest freefall and highest jump. He also broke the sound barrier during his jump, the first human to do so without a vehicle.

The Doritos Locos Taco
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images

Taco Bell Airlifts Taco Truck to Alaska Town

There aren't a lot of restaurants in far-flung Bethel, Alaska, roughly 400 miles from Anchorage. So when a prankster put up fliers heralding the opening of a Taco Bell, residents got more than a little excited, only to have their hopes dashed. When Taco Bell learned of the cruel joke, it decided to step in with "Operation Alaska," using a massive helicopter to deliver a taco truck with enough ingredients to serve up 10,000 Doritos Locos tacos in 2012. "If we can feed people in Afghanistan and Iraq, we can feed people in Bethel," CEO Greg Creed deadpanned.

Related: Spicy Secrets Behind Taco Bell's Success

Indianapolis - Circa April 2017: Morton's The Steakhouse Downtown Restaurant. Morton's is a legendary steakhouse with its origins in Chicago I

Morton's Makes a Customer's Dreams Come True

Advertising stunts don't have to be expensive. Exhibit A: In 2011, a customer wistfully tweeted Morton's Steakhouse, asking them to meet him at Newark's airport with a porterhouse after his plane touched down. Lo and behold, Morton's delivered, dispatching a waiter in a tux to meet the man with a juicy steak and all the fixings — and spurring plenty of favorable press.
JohnnyWalker61/istockphoto Bubble Wraps a Street

U.K. insurance comparison site identified some of the most accident-prone streets in the nation, but it didn't stop there: It decided to bubble wrap one of them in 2010. Trees, parked cars, even garden gnomes were covered as the site dubbed it "Accident Avenue." Bonus points: It happened to be the 50th anniversary of bubble wrap.

Dr Pepper truck in Dallas downtown

Dr. Pepper Provokes Guns N' Roses

In 2008, Dr. Pepper decided to troll Guns N' Roses by promising free soda to everyone in the country if the band released its "Chinese Democracy" album after keeping fans waiting for 14 years. The band released the album. Dr. Pepper scrambled to modify its promotion, forcing people to sign up online to get a coupon, but there were still so many thirsty deal-seekers that its website crashed, leaving many empty-handed. 400
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

LifeLock CEO Advertises His Social Security Number

You have to hand it to LifeLock's CEO for putting his money where his mouth is. In 2007, LifeLock started running ads prominently featuring Todd Davis' Social Security number everywhere from its website to billboards. Though his service was supposed to make the data "useless to a criminal," Davis ultimately had his identity stolen at least 13 times. Oops.

KFC Advertisement Nevada
Google Maps

KFC Tries Its Hand at 'Spacevertising'

KFC has a long, proud history of crazy marketing, but it's hard to top the chicken chain's "spacevertising" stunt — that is, an ad that could be seen from space. KFC chose Rachel, Nevada, which is notable for its proximity to Area 51, for the giant image of Colonel Sanders in 2006. Pieced together over the course of three months, it measured 87,500 square feet and was viewable on Google Maps for years after it was removed.

Related: The Biggest Fast-Food Flops of All Time

Snapple Make Deal With NYC
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Snapple Finds Itself in a Sticky Situation

Sometimes marketing stunts go terribly, horribly wrong. Just ask Snapple, which decided to mark the 2005 launch of its Snapple on Ice pops by erecting the world's biggest popsicle in New York City's Union Square. Before the 25-foot creation was complete, 80-degree temperatures sent kiwi strawberry slush oozing onto sidewalks and streets. Firefighters had to close off several blocks so they could hose away the goo.

New car gift. New white car with red gift ribbon.
Vitali Laurentsik/istockphoto

Oprah Gives Everyone a Free Pontiac

"You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!" Those words have become pop-culture gold and the source of countless internet memes. Oprah famously gave all 276 members of her studio audience a shiny new Pontiac G6 in 2004, but the $7.7 million stunt ultimately did little to aid Pontiac itself, which shut its doors six years later. Audience members were also hit with taxes that sometimes totaled $6,000 or more per car.

GoldenPalace Spends $28,000 on a Grilled Cheese

Online casino GoldenPalace made a splash by buying a grilled cheese sandwich on eBay for nearly $30,000 in 2004. But it wasn't just any sandwich: It was a decade-old sandwich bearing the likeness of the Virgin Mary (or so the seller claimed). It was only one of GoldenPalace's buzz-building buys: The casino even paid $5,000 for a pregnancy test supposedly used by Britney Spears, and $65,000 on a "haunted" walking cane.

Burger King Promote New Chicken Website
Getty Images/ Getty Images

Burger King's 'Subservient Chicken' Puzzles Everyone

In 2004, Burger King unveiled, a website that let users tell a fully grown man in a chicken suit and garters what to do. Yeeeeeeah. It was vaguely kinky, it was kind of creepy, and it definitely set the internet abuzz. Burger King brought back the chicken 10 years later in a reboot that let the chicken "turn the tables" on its demanding fans, adding Dustin Diamond (Screech from "Saved By the Bell") for good measure.

Vodaphone Streaker Australia New Zealand Rugby Match
Ross Land/Getty Images

Vodafone Deploys Streakers at Rugby Match

Two streaking men painted with Vodafone logos stunned onlookers when they ran onto the field during a crucial moment in a rugby match between Australia and New Zealand in 2002. Vodafone later admitted to backing the law-breaking stunt by agreeing to pay any fines the streakers would face. But the company faced a lot of blowback from the stunt and was forced to publish apologies in major newspapers.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Boeing 747-443 cn 30885-1268 G-VROS.

Virgin Atlantic Trolls British Airways with a Blimp

Back in 2000, British Airways was the main sponsor during the construction of the London Eye, the now-iconic Ferris wheel that towers over the River Thames. Predictably, the project hit some snags, and Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic seized the opportunity to take a swipe at its rival in a big way. The airline sent a blimp to fly over the construction site with the message, "BA CAN'T GET IT UP!" The quick-thinking stunt drew chuckles from onlookers, and more importantly, stole the limelight from British Airways.

Related: Celebrity Businesses That Flopped by Finetooth (CC BY) Buys an Entire Town

It can be hard for start-ups to hold their own against established rivals with big advertising budgets, so now-defunct books and music sales platform decided it was time to get on the map — literally. In 1999, it convinced the tiny Oregon town of Halfway to change its name to in exchange for a package of economic incentives such as subsidized internet and a company call center. The town ended up getting only some money and computers, with other promises going unfulfilled.

Blair Witch Project

'Blair Witch Project' Fakes Actors' Deaths

Clever marketing can be the difference between box-office success and dismal failure for movies — especially ones without big budgets. "The Blair Witch Project" remains the gold standard. In 1999, the movie was preceded by obituaries, a fake documentary, and plenty of guerrilla marketing online. The actors were even listed as "missing, presumed dead" on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database site. The movie went on to make nearly $250 million — not bad for an original budget of around $60,000.


Mattel Paints an Entire Street Pink

"Barbie pink" has become downright iconic, and in 1997, Mattel decided to drum up some buzz by coating an entire street in the bubblegum-like color for a month. A street in Manchester, England, was chosen for the honor after residents agreed to the stunt in exchange for donations to local charities. Persistent rain almost scrubbed the effort, but a last-minute push left everything from lampposts, window frames, and even the street itself into the shocking shade.

Taco Bell Liberty Bell

Taco Bell 'Buys' the Liberty Bell

In what may have been the most epic April Fools' marketing stunt of all time, Taco Bell used full-page ads in national newspapers in 1996 to claim it had bought the Liberty Bell, henceforth to be known as the "Taco Liberty Bell." Duped readers spent the day flooding the National Park Service's phone lines to vent their outrage.

Pepsi Concorde
Pepsi Concorde by Richard Vandervord (CC BY)

Pepsi Rebrands a Concorde

Back in 1996, now-decommissioned Concorde turbojets were something special indeed — there were only 20, and they could sustain cruising speeds up to a whopping 1,350 mph. Pepsi decided it needed a piece of this prestige, paying a confidential amount to have a Concorde painted blue and emblazoned with its logo. The jet completed only 16 flights to 10 cities with the special paint — it turns out the blue paint couldn't reflect or radiate heat as well as white, which meant the plane couldn't sustain its signature top speeds for more than 20 minutes.

Michael Jackson Statue
Michael Jackson Statue by Sjors Provoost (CC BY)

Michael Jackson Floats Own Statue Down the Thames

Michael Jackson rarely shied from a spectacle, and the marketing for his "HIStory" album in 1995 is a perfect example. The star reportedly suggested executives "build a statue of me" to create buzz, and so they did — but not a small one, and not just one. Nine 32-foot Michael Jackson statues were placed in European cities, and one was even floated down the River Thames in London to promote the album.


Guinness Sends a Message in a Bottle — 200,000 Times

During a decades-old stunt that would never pass muster in today's more eco-conscious times, Guinness decided to dump 50,000 beer bottles with messages inside into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. In 1959, they did it again, sending 150,000 bottles with a message from "King Neptune" plummeting into the Atlantic. The bottles have turned up all over, from Nova Scotia to New Zealand.