Seven Strange Yet Successful Promotions

Weirdest Promotions Ever
Scott Kalapos on Jul 13, 2022

Strange sells. Well, sometimes anyway. Whenever an organization comes up with a new product or offers their own spin on one that already exists, they need to find a way to make it stand out from the crowd. Getting inside of users' minds with a premium giveaway or ad campaign that can't be forgotten is one of the best ways to achieve this. When executed well, letting loose and pitching to the public from left field can be a winning tactic.

In this article, we're going to share seven instances where this was done. We're going to present a set of 7 advertisements, promotional giveaways, and publicity stunts that made their mark by marching to the beat of their own drum. Read on and get a look at the truly unconventional side of marketing!

Starburst Berries & Cream - The Little Lad

We'll start off with a 2007 TV commercial from Starburst. Advertising their new berries and cream flavor, this ad still lives on in meme culture today. The spot begins normally enough, with two friends waiting for a bus. One asks the other if he's tried the new berries and cream flavor. Before a response can be given, a small man dressed in 1600s era clothing bursts into the scene, pleading to know what kind of Starbursts were just referenced. When told that it was the berries and cream flavor, the man (who refers to himself as a little lad), breaks into song and dance.

While cavorting about in front of the two shocked men, the little lad belts out, "Berries and cream, berries and cream, I'm a little lad who loves berries and cream!" This draws stunned looks from the two friends, prompting the song to be repeated in a higher pitch. The little lad, portrayed by Jack Ferver, went on to produce a series of YouTube videos providing instructions on how to do his famous dance. Sales of the berries and cream flavor of Starburst were quite successful, with most everyone at the time being familiar with the ad. Though this flavor was eventually discontinued, it has a loyal following of fans pleading for its return.

Burger King - The "King" Campaign

During the early aughts, many fast food chains were starting to struggle a bit. Negative publicity and new attitudes toward what consumers were looking for in their dining experiences had several chains scratching their heads. While many recovered quickly, Burger King was lagging behind McDonald's, their arch rival. In 2004, Burger King's advertising executives decided that if McDonald's could be successful using a clown to promote their wares, introducing a creepy king just might work too. It was from this idea that the rather disturbing modern-day Burger King mascot was born.

In reality, Burger King had used a royal mascot in the past. An animated Burger King appeared in commercials in the 1960s and 1970s, while a live action character dressed up as a king took over in the early 1980s. In Burger King's early days, it was not uncommon for locations to have a magician on staff to entertain and interact with kids. While this concept was eventually retired, the whole theme of magic and royalty sort of stuck around.

This newest incarnation of the Burger King was quite a bit different from any of his predecessors. He was played by a man dressed up as a king, donning a distinctively creepy mask with an unsettling grin. This version of the King was almost entirely non-verbal, adding to his odd nature. He was seen in all manner of wacky situations, from showing up in NFL games to holding press conferences with Chester Cheetah, and even surprising random people by being in bed with them when they woke up. This last zany tactic was a move to market Burger King's breakfast selections. Perhaps even stranger was a commercial in which police chased the King down for reverse pick pocketing, as he was going around city streets and filling people's wallets with extra cash.

The new King had his day in the sun, being temporarily retired in 2011. He's made sporadic appearances since 2015. While this particular promotion may have run its course, it was highly successful in helping BK recover from its floundering years at the turn of the century.

South Park Video Games - Stick of Truth and Fractured but Whole

For most of its run, the adult animated series South Park has been known for its tendency to push the envelope and tread into uncharted waters. Its absurdist and often irreverent style has crossed over into a good deal of merchandising. Several video games based on the series have come out over the years, but Stick of Truth and Fractured but Whole are the two that were promoted in the most unusual fashion.

Stick of Truth was first introduced to the public in a three-part episode in which the kids in South Park were battling over which video game console they should buy. A strange and elaborate fantasy-style plot ensued, with the kids forming armies based on allegiance to the PlayStation 4 and XBox One. At the end of the story arc, Eric Cartman states he's through with video games and picks up a nearby stick. He says that with a little imagination, even a stick can become a great toy and all of the kids agree with him. Right after he swears off video games, an advertisement for Stick of Truth (presumably named for the stick Cartman is holding), flashes on the screen. A character by the name of Butters implies that the ad is simply a joke, but the game was actually released soon after.

This bit of clever marketing had fans of the series eager to give the game a try and sales figures were excellent. Though this was an unusual way to promote their video game, it can be argued that their next game was promoted in an even more bizarre manner. A rather unique device was offered to promote Fractured but Whole. This consisted of a VR nose mask that users would employ to give them the ability to… smell in-game flatulence.  It's an odd device to say the least, but it was successful in building up awareness and anticipation of the game, helping to propel demand and massive sales.

Miller Lite - Cantroller

Here's another video game related promotion. In 2019, the E3 Gaming Expo was held in Los Angeles. This was a highly anticipated event for gamers the world over, with everyone hoping to see the latest games and upcoming innovations. Though Miller Lite isn't a product that most people would tend to associate with video games, a unique and creative item sought to change this. Available as a promotional item for event attendees only, Miller created what they dubbed "The Cantroller".

The Cantroller was a 12 oz can of Miller Lite that was also a fully functional video game controller. Though it was a more simple controller than most (its layout was similar to controls from the 16-bit era), it was still quite an innovation. Compatible with multiple gaming systems, the Cantroller offered a 3 hour lithium-ion battery as well as Bluetooth capability. Only 200 were ever produced, with gamers having to defeat actor Eric Andre in a game of Street Fighter in order to take one home. The Cantroller was never made commercially available. Regardless, it's a highly sought after and very expensive item among the gaming community.

KFC - Colonel Sanders Pool Floats

Fried chicken and a refreshing dip in a pool are two of life's great pleasures. Under most circumstances, they have to be enjoyed separately. However, some kooky and creative thinking from the marketing minds at KFC flipped the script on this in 2018. As a Memorial Day promotion, KFC created and gave away hundreds of life-size pool floats in the shape of the Colonel. In addition to offering users a chance to float on the GOAT of fried chicken, these floats also had areas on either side to store a bucket of fried chicken and drinks.

Like the Cantroller, this is an item that was never sold in stores. They were acquired by lucky entrants in a sweepstakes. These eccentric promotional products were a hit, helping to drive sales of KFC's newly introduced chicken sandwich. This was an item that was added to the menu to compete with the out-of-control popularity of the Popeye's chicken sandwich that was cornering the market at the time. While the Colonel Sanders pool float was pretty weird, it's not the only creative promo KFC has come up with over the years. They've also given away fried chicken bath bombs, KFC sunscreen, and chicken bucket hats, among other oddities.

Major League Baseball - Assorted Fan Appreciation Giveaways

Promotional items for fan appreciation nights are something that have become somewhat of a tradition within the game of baseball.  Mini bats, caps, bobbleheads, and pennants have been among the mainstays. However, sometimes teams have decided to mix things up and offer something completely unexpected to fans. Some of these have been successful, while others were not so helpful.

One of the weirdest yet most beloved MLB promotions was the Don Zimmer teddy bear that was passed out by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. A lovably cantankerous fellow, Zimmer was a member of the Rays coaching staff at the time. The teddy bear sold looked normal enough from behind, but in the front, the bear's face was replaced by that of Zimmer. These quirky plush toys were a massive hit and still sell for high prices on auction sites to this day.

Another strange baseball promotion was a 24 page comic book released by the New York Mets in 2000. This comic book featured Mets players such as Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, Armando Benitez, and John Franco battling against a villain called Larcenous Vein. Vein sought to blow up the 7 train, the subway that takes fans directly to the Mets' stadium. Making this idea all the more odd is the fact that Vein was defeated by John Franco slugging him into space with a baseball bat. Franco had a 21-year career as a closing pitcher, meaning he almost never stepped up to the plate in games. In his 21 years in the MLB, Franco amassed just 34 at bats, with only 3 hits and a single RBI.

The last MLB promotion we'll cover isn't so weird in and of itself, but rather in the effects it had on opening day in 1997. At the time, the Milwaukee Brewers made their home in County Stadium. While opening their season there against the Texas rangers, the team gave out promotional baseballs to everyone in the crowd.

The game took place on an unusually cold day, with the wind chill sitting at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. A burst pipe in a skybox led to some uncomfortable fans casting baseballs out on the field while the teams were warming up. Though this was an unwanted distraction, the real trouble began in the bottom of the 2nd inning. The Brewers were batting and had 2 runners on with two outs. With Gerald Williams standing at the plate, a few stray balls were thrown on the field, followed by several others. This prompted the teams to return to their dugouts, with angry fans reacting by throwing even more balls onto the field. Once play resumed, Williams singled to load the bases. In the following at-bat, catcher Mike Matheny hit a grand slam to left field.

That's when things really went crazy. A blizzard of baseballs came down from the stands in a rowdy celebration, as the Brewers took a lead that they wouldn't relinquish for the rest of the game. Things got bad enough that the players once again had to leave the field. Security staff, managers, and even Brewers players spoke over the PA system, begging the crowd to stop. Order was finally restored when a forfeit was threatened. Though the Brewers won the game, many fans still few it as one of the biggest black eyes the organization has ever endured. At least they can be comfortable in knowing it wasn't as bad of a gaffe as Disco Demolition Night.

Stompin' Tom Connors - The Ketchup Song

Though Stompin' Tom Connors isn't exactly a household name in the USA, he was a well-known and much beloved country music star in Canada. Ever hear "The Hockey Song" while taking in an NHL game? Then you've heard Stompin' Tom, as he wrote and performed the tune.

Much of Stompin' Tom's appeal came from the fact that he sang about seemingly mundane topics that his fellow countrymen could relate to. Having traveled extensively throughout Canada and met people in nearly every town, Connors had no shortage of inspiration. When in the town of Leamington, Ontario, one resident suggested he write a song about ketchup. Stompin' Tom did just that, as can be seen in the video below.

While writing a country song about ketchup is a bit off-beat in and of itself, the way he chose to promote it is unique on another level. When shopping in a local grocery store, Connors saw a six foot tall inflatable bottle of Heinz ketchup in an advertising display. As soon as he saw the bottle, a plan formed in his mind. He convinced the owner of the store to sell it to him and then recruited a pilot to fly over Main Street in Leamington. When the pilot was hovering over Main Street, the ketchup bottle was dropped from the plane, slowly falling to Earth and bouncing about in the street.

Though this stunt left the local authorities a tad annoyed, it was certainly successful. Sales of ketchup were soon booming in the area, as were ticket sales for Stompin' Tom performances. Bud the Spud, the album on which "The Ketchup Song" was included, also saw phenomenal sales. This was definitely a case in which daring to be different paid off.

That concludes our list of seven of the weirdest, most unusual, and most effective product promotions. Did we leave out any of your favorites? Would you like to see a Part Two? Contact us today and let us know!

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