The 6 Weirdest Ad Campaigns and PR Stunts of 2021
If you want your advertising to stand out, you have to be prepared to go elsewhere. Many companies have done just that this year, jumping on trends like the Metaverse and NFTs to promote their products. Others ventured into unconventional public service announcements or co-opted imagery from hit TV shows for door-to-door guerrilla marketing. Some of those efforts worked, while a few decidedly didn’t.
HHere are six of the weirdest ad campaigns and PR stunts of 2021.
1. Rescue squid game competitor
In October, Miamians and New Yorkers might have found one of 10,000 business cards in the style of those seen on Netflix. squid game. In the show, brown cards with a circle, a triangle and a square are an invitation to indebted South Koreans to play deadly games for big money. Those scattered in New York and Miami were promoting Relief, an app that helps users reduce credit card debt.
The Miami-based startup didn’t partner with Netflix for the stunt, nor did it explicitly mention squid game on the map. But the design is instantly recognizable even to casual viewers of the bloody hit series. Tucked under windshield wipers and door frames, the back of the business cards clearly stated the link: “There’s a better way out of debt.”
2. Burger King’s “Keep It Real” NFT
To promote the removal of 120 artificial ingredients from the fast food giant’s menu, Burger King launched its “Keep It Real Meals” campaign in September. Time-limited combo meals, each named after a celebrity, came with a QR code that customers could scan to redeem collectibles NFTs – non-fungible tokens – representing ownership of digital assets that can be traded or auctioned on blockchain networks. In partnership with NFT e-marketplace Sweet, Burger King gave away six million digital tokens across 28 designs featuring Nelly, Anitta and LilHuddy.
Burger King isn’t the only food company experimenting with NFTs. Taco Bell did a similar promotion in March after adding potatoes to its menu, as did Pizza Hut Canada. Coca-Cola has also joined the token movement, auctioning off NFT “loot boxes” in late June to celebrate International Friendship Day.
3. Chipotle x Roblox
Chipotle has been offering discounted burritos to Halloween customers for more than two decades with the annual “Boorito” promotion. This year, the fast-casual chain tried something different: it teamed up with the online multiplayer game Roblox and invited the public to “discover Boorito in the metaverse for the first time”.
For three days, the first 30,000 Roblox users to visit a virtual Chipotle restaurant and speak to the virtual cashier received a coupon for a free burrito – as long as they wore a virtual costume, of course, like “Guacenstein” or ” Ghost Bag Chip.” The site once crashed the promotion, but Roblox insisted the outage was unrelated.
4. Samuel Adams PSA Vaccine
This year’s coronavirus vaccine rollout used mascots, influencer partnerships and corporate endorsements to persuade unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated. In April, Boston Beer Company flagship brand Samuel Adams did his part with a 30-second spot titled “Your Boston Cousin Gets The Shot.”
In the short public service announcement, a Boston man is reveling in his “I Got Vaccinated” pin and enjoying drinking Samuel Adams beer indoors with friends. Then he wakes up from the dream sequence on the floor of the vaccination clinic, having pulled down his pants and fainting at the sight of a needle. As the logos roll, he casually reassures people queuing for their shots that there’s nothing to worry about, under the slogan “Don’t miss your shot”.
5. The 850-pound edible
To celebrate National Chocolate Brownie Day in December, Massachusetts-based cannabis company MariMed unveiled an incredibly large, record-breaking 850-pound marijuana brownie. The three-foot-by-three-foot brownie shattered the record previously held by the 234-pound Something Sweet Bake Shop potless contestant.
The stunt launched MariMed’s new line of “Bubby’s Baked” edibles and used three pounds of salt, 212 pounds of butter, over 1,300 eggs, and 20,000 milligrams of THC. (A standard dose is 10 milligrams, by the way.) A spokesperson told the AP that the brownie will eventually be sold to a medical marijuana patient in Middleborough, though the purchase price is still at take into consideration.
6. Voltswagen of America
Unlike the classic PT Barnum line, not all press is good press.
In preparation for the release of Volkswagen’s new ID.4 line of electric cars, the company “accidentally” issued a press release March 29 announcing that it would change the name of its American subsidiary to Voltswagen of America. VW officials confirmed the leak on Twitter and sent the news directly to reporters. After the ad was picked up by mainstream media, VW made it clear that the name change was an elaborate (and premature) April Fool’s joke.
For many consumers, the fake report was an unintended reminder of how the German automaker lied for years about its diesel fuel efficiency and cheated on emissions tests. Before speaking plainly about “Voltswagen,” VW called the name change “a public statement of the company’s future investment in electric mobility.” The announcement sent its stock price up as much as 12%, prompting an SEC investigation into whether the company’s bizarre prank violated securities laws.