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6 Marvelously Misguided Promotions

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I know, I know ... it's not easy launching a new product, or getting new customers to drop by your establishment for the first time, or advertising a movie. But if there's one lesson I've learned from these misguided promotions, it's that not all publicity is necessarily good publicity.

6. The CashTomato riot

Take, for example, the near-riot caused in NYC's Union Square when an upstart YouTube competitor called Cash Tomato started handing out tomatoes wrapped in dollar bills:

(By the way, I would've embedded Cashtomato.com's "top-rated" version of this video, but it wasn't loading ... does that qualify as ironic?)

5. Sam Adams Kids Night

My friend Phil spotted this in a Denver, CO bar. I guess it's possible they were just trying to save money by advertising two promotions on the same sign ...

4. Sony's Dead Goat Fiasco

The Daily Mail headline reads thusly: "Horror at Sony's depraved promotion stunt with decapitated goat."

"The corpse of the decapitated animal was the centrepiece of a party to celebrate the launch of the God Of War II game for the company's PlayStation 2 console. At the event, guests competed to see who could eat the most offal "“ procured elsewhere and intended to resemble the goat's intestines "“ from its stomach. They also threw knives at targets and pulled live snakes from a pit with their bare hands. Topless girls added to the louche atmosphere by dipping grapes into guests' mouths, while a male model portraying Kratos, the game's warrior hero, handed out garlands. The firm refused to say how the goat died. It is unusual for animals in modern Greece to be killed by having their throats cut, let alone by being decapitated."

Sounds like a helluva party. Here's a picture (with the goat's bloody stump tastefully pixelated):
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3. Thomas Edison Seance Night

Growing up in South Florida, I was often reminded that inventor Thomas Edison spent his waning years in the sleepy seaside community of Fort Myers -- though something those civic boosters never mentioned was that Edison was an avid spiritualist who many times tried to communicate with the dead. This oddity wasn't lost on baseball executive Mike Veeck, who exploited it as a truly weird promotion for Fort Myers' baseball team, the Miracle. He describes the result:

"My first year in Fort Myers, Fla., we tried to call up the ghost of Thomas Edison. I got the idea when I was driving around one day and saw a sign for a spiritual advisor. We negotiated with her and she agreed to do it. The night of the game she had a sky blue gown on and we took her to home plate and she started to channel. As you might imagine, the ballpark crowd was very tough on this lady. It became like a chain-gang spiritual. She would say in a guttural voice, 'I can't reach you.' And some guy would yell, 'Tom's over here, lady!' As people left the stadium I heard someone say something that I loved. 'That was the stupidest thing I ever saw, but boy, was it funny.'"

Not exactly a disaster, but definitely weird.

2. Harvard's Roman Orgy Dance Party

Dubbed the "Decadenza," it was a reference to Rome's wild orgies. The party's slogan was "Freshman girls free" (as in free admission, though this was left intentionally vague), and they were called "vestal virgins" for the evening. (This reminds me, in spirit at least, of a seriously misguided frat party at USC a few years ago: the theme was "run for the border," and decorations included razor wire and makeshift fences, and people came dressed as border guards. Nice.) Needless to say, there was much flap about the promotion, decried as sleazy and shameless in the Harvard Crimson and elsewhere. I mean really, how much work do you have to do to get college kids to come and drink at a party?

1. Mission: Impossible III

You've probably all heard about this, but it deserves a hallowed place in the pantheon of misguided promotions nonetheless. Just before the movie came out, 4,500 randomly selected LA Times newspaper boxes were fitted with devices that would play the Mission: Impossible theme song when the box's door was opened (which according to Paramount Pictures was "designed to turn the 'everyday news rack experience' into an 'extraordinary mission.'")
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Perhaps inevitably, some people found the newspaper boxes a little too extraordinary; see those guys in the picture above? They aren't movie fans ... they're the LA County bomb squad. Apparently, some of the 4,500 digital musical devices jarred loose from the inside of the door and fell onto the stack of newspapers. A little plastic box with red wires protruding ... not suspicious at all! Above is the last photo ever taken of the newspaper box in question -- it was blown up by the bomb squad minutes later. Mission accomplished.

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#TBT
Paw Enforcement: A History of McGruff the Crime Dog
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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Jack Keil, executive creative director of the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency, was stuck in a Kansas City airport at three in the morning when he started thinking about Smokey Bear. Smokey was the furred face of forest fire prevention, an amiable creature who cautioned against the hazards of unattended campfires or errant cigarette butts. Everyone, it seemed, knew Smokey and heeded his words.

In 1979, Keil’s agency had been tasked with coming up with a campaign for the recently-instituted National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), a nonprofit organization looking to educate the public about crime prevention. If Keil could create a Smokey for their mission, he figured he would have a hit. He considered an elephant who could stamp out crime, or a rabbit who was hopping mad about illegal activity.

A dog seemed to fit. Dogs bit things, and the NCPC was looking to take a bite out of crime. Keil sketched a dog reminiscent of Snoopy with a Keystone Cop-style hat.

Back at the agency, people loved the idea but hated the dog. In a week’s time, the cartoon animal would morph into McGruff, the world-weary detective who has raised awareness about everything from kidnapping to drug abuse. While he no longer looked like Snoopy, he was about to become just as famous.

In 1979, the public service advertising nonprofit the Ad Council held a meeting to discuss American paranoia. Crime was a hot button issue, with sensational reports about drugs, home invasions, and murders taking up the covers of major media outlets like Newsweek and TIME. Surveys reported that citizens were concerned about crime rates and neighborhood safety. Respondents felt helpless to do anything, since more law enforcement meant increased taxes.

To combat public perception, the Ad Council wanted to commit to an advertising campaign that would act as a preventive measure. Crime could not be stopped, but the feeling was that it could be dented with more informed communities. Maybe a clean park would be less inviting to criminals; people might need to be reminded to lock their doors.

What people did not need was a lecture. So the council enlisted Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to organize a campaign that promoted awareness in the most gentle way possible. Keil's colleagues weighed in on his dog idea; someone suggested that the canine be modeled after J. Edgar Hoover, another saw a Superman-esque dog that would fly in to interrupt crime. Sherry Nemmers and Ray Krivascy offered an alternative take: a dog wearing a trench coat and smoking a cigar, modeled in part after Peter Falk’s performance as the rumpled TV detective Columbo.

Keil had designs on getting Falk to voice the animated character, but the actor’s methodical delivery wasn’t suited to 30-second commercials, so Keil did it himself. His scratchy voice lent an authoritarian tone, but wasn't over-the-top.

The agency ran a contest on the back of cereal boxes to name the dog. “Sherlock Bones” was the most common submission, but "McGruff"—which was suggested by a New Orleans police officer—won out.

Armed with a look, a voice, and a name, Nemmers arranged for a series of ads to run in the fall of 1980. In the spots, McGruff was superimposed over scenes of a burglary and children wary of being kidnapped by men in weather-beaten cars. He advised people to call the police if they spotted something suspicious—like strangers taking off with the neighbor’s television or sofa—and to keep their doors locked. He sat at a piano and sang “users are losers” in reference to drug-abusing adolescents. (The cigar had been scrapped.)

Most importantly, the NCPC—which had taken over responsibility for McGruff's message—wanted the ads to have what the industry dubbed “fulfillment.” At the end, McGruff would advise viewers to write to a post office box for a booklet on how to prevent crime in their neck of the woods.

A lot of people did just that. More than 30,000 booklets went out during the first few months the ads aired. McGruff’s laconic presence was beginning to take off.

By 1988, an estimated 99 percent of children ages six to 12 recognized McGruff, putting him in Ronald McDonald territory. He appeared on the ABC series Webster, in parades, and in thousands of personal appearances around the country, typically with a local police officer under the suit. (The appearances were not without danger: Some dogs apparently didn't like McGruff and could get aggressive at the sight of him.)

As McGruff aged into the 1990s, his appearances grew more sporadic. The NCPC began targeting guns and drugs and wasn’t sure the cartoon dog was a good fit, so his appearances were limited to the end of some ad spots. By the 2000s, law enforcement cutbacks meant fewer cops in costume, and a reduced awareness of the crime-fighting canine. When Keil retired, an Iowa cop named Steve Parker took over McGruff's voice duties.

McGruff is still in action today, aiding in the NCPC’s efforts to raise awareness of elder abuse, internet crimes, and identity theft. The organization estimates that more than 4000 McGruffs are in circulation, though at least one of them failed to live up to the mantle. In 2014, a McGruff performer named John Morales pled guilty to possession of more than 1000 marijuana plants and a grenade launcher. He’s serving 16 years in prison.

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Animals
Watch a Panda Caretaker Cuddle With Baby Pandas While Dressed Up Like a Panda
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iStock

Some people wear suits to work—but at one Chinese nature reserve, a handful of lucky employees get to wear panda suits.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the People's Daily released a video in July of animal caretakers cuddling with baby pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The keepers dress in fuzzy black-and-white costumes—a sartorial choice that's equal parts adorable and imperative to the pandas' future success in the wild.

Researchers raise the pandas in captivity with the goal of eventually releasing them into their natural habitat. But according to The Atlantic, human attachment can hamper the pandas' survival chances, plus it can be stressful for the bears to interact with people. To keep the animals calm while acclimating them to forest life, the caretakers disguise their humanness with costumes, and even mask their smell by smearing the suits with panda urine and feces. Meanwhile, other keepers sometimes conceal themselves by dressing up as trees.

Below, you can watch the camouflaged panda caretakers as they cuddle baby pandas:

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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