Weirdest Ad Campaigns, Ranked
Advertising can be amazing. In rare cases, the best advertisements can leave you emotional. In the worst cases, they can leave you disgusted. Most leave you feeling nothing at all. But some of them make you pause, cause you to tilt your head and go, “Huh?” These ads are the latter — from commercials to print ads, these ad agencies skipped the traditional route and went down the road to the bizarre and the strange.
1. The Puppy Monkey Baby
Mountain Dew’s hypnotic Puppy Monkey Baby commercial was broadcast to millions of homes during Super Bowl 50, and it probably left more than one viewer thinking they just experienced a strange hallucination. The ad features a few guys hanging out on the couch shortly before a monkey/pug/baby thing from “The Island of Doctor Moreau” pops through the wall, plops down an ice bucket of Mountain Dew Kickstart drinks, and says “puppy monkey baby” over and over again.
2. Ikea’s Pregnancy Test Coupon
Are you pregnant? You could have received 50 percent off an Ikea crib in 2018. But you’d have to prove it first. Designed by Swedish ad agency Akestam Holst, this print ad had a pee strip pregnancy test, which also reveals a reduced crib price — but only if you’re a member of Ikea’s Family Club program.
3. Wendy’s Soviet Fashion Show
With the threat of nuclear annihilation waning during the later years of the Cold War, advertisers took aim at the Russians. In 1985, Wendy’s took a shot at the conformity of communism with a Soviet fashion show parody where a woman marches down the runway three times to model daywear, eveningwear and swimwear. Each time, she’s wearing the same unflattering, potato-sack-looking dress (although she carries a beach ball at the end). The entire 60-second commercial is weird and wonderful.
4. Grizzled Baby Sailors
These “Born to Fish” ads for Okuma, a fishing company headquartered in Taiwan, merged babies with old grizzled sailors. The New Zealand marketing agency Barnes Catmur & Friends designed these simple and strange print ads.
5. Paddy Power’s Blind Soccer
Paddy Power is an Irish booking site that enjoys drumming up controversy with its adverts. In 2010, it released a commercial depicting blindfolded soccer players fumbling with a football. A cat skips onto the field and is punted into a tree before the ref could blow his whistle. It was the most complained about commercial in the United Kingdom of 2010 and one of the most complained about commercials of all time. The Advertising Standards Authority, the UK’s advertising regulatory agency, received over 1,000 complaints about the ad because people thought it “was offensive to blind people and might encourage cruelty to animals,” according to the Guardian.
6. The Drink With Balls. Literally.
Weird products require weird advertising. Orbitz was an un-carbonated soft drink with tiny, edible gelatin balls that looked like a lava lamp and tasted like it, too. The drink was marketed as a “texturally enhanced alternative beverage,” “The drink with balls” and a drink from outer space. Its website (which is now owned by the travel company Orbitz, but the 1997 version can still kind of accessed via the Wayback Machine) told users to “Set gravity aside and prepare to embark on a tour into the bowels of the Orbiterium, where anything that matters is random and ultimately unintelligible.” Which, in retrospect, seems fitting.
The drink lasted about a year on the market before Clearly Canadian Beverage Company pulled the disastrous drink from shelves. But perhaps even weirder than the drink itself is the beverage’s cult following. People still sell and buy Orbitz on eBay, where a single bottle can be had for about $20.
7. Unicorn Poop, Softly Served
You’re pooping wrong. That’s what the Squatty Potty wants you to know, and they want to do something about it. See, thousands — or even hundreds — of years ago we weren’t sitting pretty on the porcelain throne, waiting for our final movement before going back to non-toilet life. We used to squat, with our knees above our hips. The makers of Squatty Potty had a stool-for-stools solution, but how could they get the message out?
How about a unicorn pooping multi-colored soft serve ice cream? “No, Squatty Potty is not a joke, and yes, it will give you the best poop of your life, guaranteed,” says its male mascot, dressed in 14th century clothes in a made-for-the-internet commercial. And it worked. The video went viral and by 2018, the company was flush with $33 million in sales.
8. Fighting the Newborn
In 2007, Europe-based razor manufacturer Wilkinson Sword launched an advertising campaign based on a man fighting his baby for his wife’s attention. Literally. See, the baby’s skin is soft, which has the wife caressing the baby. The jealous husband than discovers Wilkinson razors, which make his skin just as smooth, and the wife goes back to putting her face on his. The baby then montage trains to beat up the father.
The commercial itself is pretty wild, but there was more to this “Fight for Kisses” campaign than just television spots. The advertising companies behind it — JWT Paris and 5ème Gauche — also released a flash game where you could go toe-to-diaper with wife-stealing baby.
The game itself is gone, but there’s a YouTube video showing a match between the father and son, and it’s anticlimactic. Despite the baby busting out some kung fu moves in the commercial, the only thing the father and baby do is smack each other with pillows.
9. Quiznos’ Bizarre Commercial Blitz
The Quiznos ad campaigns in the early 2000s were bizarre and borderline unsettling. They were also amazing. In one commercial, a man is criticized for eating a non-Quiznos sub. “What were you, raised by wolves?” he asks the tiny-sandwich-eating man. The commercial then cuts to the same man suckling on a wolf’s teat in a forest. “Yes. I was,” he responds.
And of course, there were the misshapen rat-like animals in top hats with pronounced, human gums and mangled teeth. They were called “Spongmonkeys,” and people have described them as “gerbils with birth defects; Mr. Potato Rats; drug-addled, castrato hamsters; and ‘hell lemurs,’” according to Trey Hall, the then-chief marketing officer of Quiznos. According to Slate, Quiznos chose to go the bizarre-but-attention-grabbing route because of its small ad budget — which was $30 million.
Whether it helped or hurt Quiznos is up for debate, but it doesn’t really matter now. The restaurant chain went bankrupt in 2014 after overextending itself to 4,700 national locations by 2007. Today, there are fewer than 400 Quiznos locations in the United States and fewer than 800 worldwide.
10. Casper Mattress’ Sleep Hotline
In 2017, Casper Sleep released a 2 a.m. commercial aimed at insomniacs. The pitch? If you can’t sleep, call their “Can’t Sleep?” hotline. Do so, and a British man will give you eight options. You can travel back to the 1990s with the not-so-soothing sounds of dialup modems. You can also listen to wind chimes, the ocean, a brief and truly boring history of the cocktail wiener, or Jaleel White (Steve Urkel from “Family Matters”) sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Or you can hear a motivational speech where a very enthusiastic girl tells you how wonderful and successful you are, then promises to give you a super-secret tip for living a happy life before cutting off.
The whole thing is a trippy experience, and the number is still active.
11. Nintendo’s Game Boy Ads
Nintendo’s squeaky clean, family-friendly reputation wasn’t always reflected in its advertising during the 1990s. As you can see from these magazine adverts, Nintendo sometimes went with the “sex sells” and juvenile humor route to tout its new Game Boy and Game Boy Pocket systems. There was also a strange campaign which championed the Game Boy as being more fun than things that aren’t fun to begin with, like having a ferret stuffed down your pants.
12. Hitler and Chocolate Don’t Mix
It’s generally a good idea to keep Hitler far, far, far away from your brand. But Italian candy maker Ferrero-Kusschen didn’t get that memo.
In 2013, the company released a commercial featuring a sea of young people holding up red-and-white “Yes Weiss Can” signs, a riff on Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign slogan. Except Weiss means white in German. And everyone in the audience is white. And there’s a bag of chocolate angrily yelling at a podium. It ends with an unfurling “German Votes White” banner.
All of this was done to promote the company’s white chocolate. Understandably, some people weren’t happy, and Ferraro pulled the advert from television, but it lives in infamy on YouTube.
13. Information Obesity
We’re indiscriminate gluttons of information, absorbing whatever we read without fact checking or considering the source. That’s what French advertising company Glory Paris wants us to believe with this disturbing and eye-catching campaign that swaps out human faces for pudgy bodies. The slogan, "Musclez votre esprit” translates to “Muscle up your mind,” according to Adweek, and encourages viewers to visit the French publication Influencia.net.
14. Virtual Reality Farts
To drum up interest for an upcoming 2016 video game, “South Park: The Fractured But Whole,” Ubisoft had an entirely new piece of hardware developed: a VR device that lights up green and farts in your face when a character farts on screen. They dubbed it the Nosulus Rift, and reporters said it was just as foul as you might expect. “It smells like a burning toot that was kept in a balloon for some time, and then carefully sprayed directly into my nostrils,” wrote Niels Broekhuijsen for Tom’s Hardware. The smell is accompanied by a “light wind” for maximum fart simulation.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy the Nosulus Rift. Twenty of them were made and distributed to various locations for the press, and it only worked with a short demo of the game. The Nosulus hasn’t been showcased for any other game since, and has dissipated into obscurity.
15. MoonPie’s Trio of Strange Adverts
During the 2018 Super Bowl, snack manufacturer MoonPie's Twitter account tweeted scripts of bizarre commercials they would make if they had Super Bowl commercial money. After going viral with the ideas, MoonPie higher-ups opened up their wallet for a set of three online-only commercials based off the Adult Swim-esque scripts.
They were awesome. One featured an ominous owl statue in a library, and another featured a MoonPie twitter manager in a space station exchanging glances with an astronaut. But the best was "The Family," a skit where a family of four get a fifth family member — a big, walking MoonPie that emerges from the darkness.
"He's soft as a lamb! A real lamb!" the little boy exclaims as he hugs his new sibling.
16. OK Soda
This soda isn’t great. It’s not even good. It’s just OK. OK Soda was a short-lived canned soft drink produced by Coca-Cola from 1993 to 1995. The slogan was simply “Things are going to be OK,” and the product only ran in nine select test markets, as did the jaded post-modern advertising that targeted Generation X. The black-and-white cans were emblazoned with cartoon faces designed by “Ghost World” graphic novelist David Clowes and included tiny stories, which were dubbed “coincidences.”
There was even a 1-800-I-FEEL-OK hotline, where callers answered true or false prompts and could record their own stories — a disclaimer stated that “your comments may be used in advertising or exploited in some other way we haven’t figured out yet,” according to an article by Michael Shulman reprinted in a McSweeny’s book. And then there was a physical chain letter with coincidences, where OK-Soda lovers could write their own story and pass it on. Some of them appeared on one of OK Soda’s television commercials. Some vending machines with OK Soda included prize cans, which included a t-shirt or hat, along with some change for a real soda.
Everything about OK is weird, but also brilliant. It’s the kind of advertising that just doesn’t happen today, but would have a greater chance of succeeding if it did so. Had OK Soda come out 20 years later, it probably would have been more than OK.