15 of the strangest marketing stunts

We’re getting ready to get our new website live and whilst on holiday in the south of France I was wondering what sort of whacky marketing stunts companies had come up with over the years to promote their companies. I thought i’d share some of the ones i’ve found. Some of these marketing ideas have had terrible outcomes while others have had great rewards;

1. Hoover, the vacuum cleaner company, came up with the idea of giving free return flights to anywhere in Europe with any purchase of £100 or more.  The response was minimal, until the marketing department decided to expand the offer to include tickets to the USA. The response was overwhelming and because the tickets cost more than the revenue generated, Hoover UK went into deep financial trouble, eventually being bought out by Candy.

2. JMP Creative, founded by magician Jim McCafferty, had an opening ceremony that included him escaping from metal box suspended from a height of 300ft. He had two minutes to perform this daring act, before the box was to be released and plummet to the ground below. McCafferty was too slow, he escaped the box and as he attempted to get into his safety harness he plummeted, but managed to clip his harness only 60ft from the ground. Spectators and potential customers made comment about the stunt “scaring the living daylights out of them”, to which Jim replied, “Imagine what I can do with your brand.” JMP is now a multi-million dollar marketing firm in Southern California.

3. The GoldenPalace.com online casino is prohibited from advertising in regular media and as a result has come up with great marketing ideas over the years. In 2004, they purchased a partially eaten cheese sandwich for $28000 that had the likeness of the Virgin Mary burnt onto it. Almost every news agency in the world covered the story, generating huge amounts of publicity. They subsequently sold and bought t-shirts and other paraphernalia linked to the cheese sandwich.

4. As an April fools joke, Taco Bell “purchased” the Liberty Bell. The controversy caused many complaints to the National Historic Park of Philadelphia, where the Liberty Bell resides. The result however increased Taco Bell revenues by over $500k for the two days following.

5. In 2008, Panasonic in Germany created a massive billboard showing off one of their latest television sets. The picture on the TV was an overhead shot of a tennis court. Suspended from ropes were 4 ladies who acted out a game of vertical tennis. This activity gained much publicity in Germany being televised on evening news slots.

6. Del Monte Foods have sponsored a “reality” show on AnimalPlanet, this show gets a different cat voted out each week. When a cat gets voted out, it gets adopted with one years supply of the Del Monte cat food Meow Mix. This ongoing venture is proving successful for the food producer as the good will being generated is being linked to its products.

7. In 1993, DC Comics killed off its most popular title, Superman. The idea generated so much press that the comic titled “The Death of Superman” was sold out in a single day, forcing multiple publishing runs that consequently sold out. The following subsequent titles in the series were huge sellers including “The Return of Superman”, thereby re-launching the line.

8. In 2007, Cartoon Network brought the city of Boston to a grinding halt as it had planted many strange devices across the city. The devices were lights that were supposed to be arranged to display a character from one of their shows. Unfortunately many of these devices were mistakenly taken as potential bombs.

9. Electronic Arts’ nine months of hell campaign, was set up to promote its new game Dante’s Inferno. Each month, EA released a new snip bit for the game under its various themes such as greed, treachery or gluttony. The campaign has apparently yielded 47 million impressions of coverage. EA rode a rollercoaster of public opinion for this marketing as it was accused of fakery and sexism as well as being lauded for creativity and intellect.

10. General Motors made a mistake when trying to piggy back off of Oprah Winfrey’s fame. To promote their new G6 Pontiac in 2004, they gave away a car to each member of the live audience. 276 cars at a cost of $8m were given away. The audience members got upset when they had to pay additional taxes on the gift, but everyone remembers the incident for Oprah Winfrey’s generosity rather than the GM promotion of Pontiac.

11. In 1954, Sir Hugh Beaver, Managing Director of the Arthur Guinness & Sons brewery, inadvertently created a bestseller hit book. In an effort to stop alcohol fuelled barroom debates he gave his stamp of approval for the Guinness Book of Records to be distributed to pubs in the British Isles. Within a few weeks of its release several reprints had to occur as book stores nationwide demanded copies.

12. Sir Richard Branson has been involved in many marketing stunts; in 1986 he broke the record for a transatlantic boat ride, followed the next year by the first air balloon crossing. He failed in his endeavours to be the first around the world in a balloon, but still generated huge publicity for his Virgin companies. Each new stunt seemed to endear him to the public and lift his brand further.

13. In June 2009, Hugo Boss had their hi-tech sailboat, filmed during the British Open. It was not a paid for sponsor of the tournament, but was often captured on camera by the BBC TV crew. The highly effective campaign was a prime example of successful ambush marketing.

14. Sasha Baron Cohen and Eminem teamed up and promoted Sasha’s movie Bruno. When he arrived at the 2009 MTV music awards in a thong and subsequently fell into Eminems lap. Eminem stormed off stage in a so called rage, the movie gained a huge awareness judging by the amount of hits YouTube received minutes after the incident, although both individuals owned up to it being pre-planned.

15. Burger King has released a word of mouth campaign, with no advertising involved at all. They created a website called subservientchicken.com which has a man in a chicken suit willing to perform actions that you type in. The site had over 20 million hits in its first few months.



  1. Anonymous

    In my opinion,  By using SMS Mobile Marketing, individuals that send out several text messaging to continue on their long promotional message could be considered as a little too aggressive or invasive by a client

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