25 Craziest Marketing Stunts of All Time

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Felix Baumgartner skydiving for Redbull
Photo credit: Red Bull/facebook.com

THEY DID WHAT?

IHOP's recent "name change" to IHOb is just the latest in the grand tradition of marketing stunts — that is, when companies do something completely 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 25 times companies stopped at nothing to get tongues wagging and sales soaring.

IHOB logo
Photo credit: IHOP/facebook.com

IHOP FAKES A NAME CHANGE (2018)

Everyone's still talking about this one. IHOP, the most ubiquitous pancake chain in America, announced this year 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.
Luke's Diner from Gilmore Girls
Photo credit: Gilmore Girls/facebook.com

NETFLIX COURTS 'GILMORE' FANS WITH LUKE'S DINER POP-UPS (2016)

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 common 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 and McDonalds McWhopper
Photo credit: InformOverload/youtube.com

BURGER KING PROPOSES A MCWHOPPER MASHUP (2015)

One of the best ways for companies to turn heads is by poking a rival. A few years ago, 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.
Cat in a box
Photo credit: Andypott/istockphoto

UBER BRINGS KITTENS TO YOUR DOOR (2013)

To mark National Cat Day, 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 expanded eventually 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.
Trafalgar Square sun
Photo credit: Greyworld/facebook.com

TROPICANA MAKES THE 'SUN' RISE OVER LONDON (2012)

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. Onlookers were given lounge chairs, sunglasses, and of course, free orange juice to enjoy while they "sunbathed."
Felix Baumgartner in the RedBull spaceship
Photo credit: Red Bull/facebook.com

RED BULL SENDS A SKYDIVER INTO SPACE (2012)

In a stunt 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 do so without a vehicle.
Taco Bell Doritos taco
Photo credit: Taco Bell/facebook.com

TACO BELL AIRLIFTS TACO TRUCK TO REMOTE ALASKA TOWN (2012)

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. "If we can feed people in Afghanistan and Iraq, we can feed people in Bethel," CEO Greg Creed deadpanned.
Morton's porterhouse steak
Photo credit: Morton's The Steakhouse/facebook.com

MORTON'S MAKES A CUSTOMER'S DREAMS COME TRUE (2011)

Advertising stunts don't have to be expensive. Exhibit A: 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.
Street light covered in bubble wrap
Photo credit: JohnnyWalker61/istockphoto

CONFUSED.COM BUBBLE WRAPS A STREET (2010)

U.K. insurance comparison site Confused.com 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. 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 bottles
Photo credit: Dr Pepper/facebook.com

DR. PEPPER PROVOKES GUNS 'N' ROSES (2008)

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.
LifeLock CEO and McGruff the Crime Dog
Photo credit: LifeLock/facebook.com

LIFELOCK'S CEO GIVES OUT HIS SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER (2007)

You have to hand it to LifeLock's CEO for putting his money where his mouth is. About 10 years ago, 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 logo in Nevada
Photo credit: FanMD/youtube.com

KFC TRIES ITS HAND AT 'SPACEVERTISING' (2006)

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. 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.
Snapple with Brooklyn bridge in background
Photo credit: Snapple/facebook.com

SNAPPLE FINDS ITSELF IN A STICKY SITUATION (2005)

Sometimes marketing stunts go terribly, horribly wrong. Just ask Snapple, which decided to mark the 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.
Oprah and the Pontiac car winners
Photo credit: Oprah Winfrey/facebook.com

OPRAH GIVES EVERYONE A FREE PONTIAC (2004)

"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, but the $7.7 million stunt ultimately did little to aid Pontiac itself, which shut its doors six years later in 2010. Audience members were also hit with taxes that sometimes totaled $6,000 or more per car.

Grilled cheese sandwich
Photo credit: BlakeDavidTaylor/istockphoto

GOLDENPALACE SPENDS $28,000 ON A GRILLED CHEESE (2004)

Online casino GoldenPalace made a splash by buying a grilled cheese sandwich on eBay for nearly $30,000. 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 Subservient Chicken
Photo credit: Courtesy of subservientchicken.com

BURGER KING PERPLEXES EVERYONE WITH ITS 'SUBSERVIENT CHICKEN' (2004)

In 2004, Burger King unveiled SubservientChicken.com, 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.
Vodafone New Zealand rugby team
Photo credit: Vodafone New Zealand/facebook.com

VODAFONE DEPLOYS STREAKERS AT RUGBY MATCH (2002)

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
Photo credit: Virgin Atlantic/facebook.com

VIRGIN ATLANTIC TROLLS BRITISH AIRWAYS WITH A BLIMP (2000)

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.
Halfway, Oregon
Photo credit: Finetooth/commons.wikimedia.org

HALF.COM BUYS AN ENTIRE TOWN (1999)

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 Half.com decided it was time to get on the map — literally. It convinced the tiny Oregon town of Halfway to change its name to Half.com 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.

Spooky forest
Photo credit: den-belitsky/istockphoto

'BLAIR WITCH PROJECT' FAKES ACTORS' DEATHS (1999)

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. 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.
Barbie on a pink background
Photo credit: ivanastar/istockphoto

MATTEL PAINTS AN ENTIRE STREET PINK (1997)

"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.
Liberty Bell
Photo credit: dszc/istockphoto

TACO BELL 'BUYS' THE LIBERTY BELL (1996)

In what may have been the most epic April Fools' marketing stunt of all time, Taco Bell used full-page ads in national newspapers 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 Jet
Photo credit: Richard Vandervord/commons.wikimedia.org

PEPSI REBRANDS A CONCORDE (1996)

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 HIStory statue
Photo credit: Sjors Provoost/commons.wikimedia.org

MICHAEL JACKSON FLOATS OWN STATUE DOWN THE THAMES (1995)

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.
Pint of Guinness beer
Photo credit: WaraJenny/istockphoto

GUINNESS SENDS A MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE — 200,000 TIMES (1954)

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.

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