Questionable Marketing Gimmicks

Since my next book doesn’t come out until June (The Book Stops Here, preceded in May by the paperback reissue of A Cookbook Conspiracy… in case you were wondering…wink, wink), I thought it’d be fun to talk about some weird, slightly distasteful, but possibly very successful marketing gimmicks.

Heart Attack Grill

Heart Attack Grill menuDid you know there’s a restaurant in Las Vegas called Heart Attack Grill, which bills itself as a hospital themed restaurant that promotes an unhealthy diet? Seriously. They call customers “patients,” and they serve monster-sized hamburgers. And hey, if you’re over 350 pounds and willing to weigh yourself in front of a screaming crowd… you eat for FREE.

Some menu options: Single Bypass Burger up to Octuple Bypass Burger, Coronary Dog, Butterfat Milkshakes. The Octuple Bypass Burger has four pounds of beef – and the smallest burger you can order is a half-pounder! If you manage to finish the Quadruple Bypass Burger, they’ll wheel you to your car in a wheelchair.

In this case, what happens in Vegas stays on your hips!

Styx Underwear

No question, this ad would grab my attention, and I would read the card. But then I’d immediately feel compelled to wash my hands. Wouldn’t you? ‘Cause, really… ewwwwww!

(In case you can’t read it, the card says, “This is the only time, when we are getting into your ass.” The comma is poorly placed… as is the card itself. Snork!)

Old Spice

I’m a big fan of the Man My Man Could Smell Like, and I just cannot imagine that this year’s Old Spice commercials, featuring singing mothers filled with lament that their sons are growing up, can possibly sell more of the scent than the “Smell like a man, man” tactic. Really, who are they targeting with this video? Moms who buy cologne for their teenage sons? Because surely it’s not going to send said sons running to the stores! Still, it’s really, really funny.

What are some ad campaigns, past or present, that stick in your mind? Can you think of any really funny advertising successes or failures?

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  • Jane says:

    Hello Kate,
    I always remember the Visa commercials mainly for their tagline and because they’re narrated by Morgan Freeman. Other memorable ones include the flirty Taster’s Choice ads with Anthony Head. We don’t have Carl’s Jr. here so we don’t see the ads, but I always hear about them on the gossip sites.

  • Amy Conley says:

    The Taster’s Choice ads were wonderful. But honestly my mind is a blank. Otther than any and all of the Marolboro Man commercials cause he was hot!

  • flchen1 says:

    I loved the Got Milk ads–that first one with the trivia question is a classic, and I also loved the print ads with all the different athletes and other celebrities.

    • Caren Crane says:

      I love this commercial! Did you know it was directed by Michael Bay? He directed all those Transformers movies, but also “Armageddon’ and “The Rock.” Ha! And I love whoever that actor is in the commercial. I found him on IMBD: Sean Whalen! He is a riot.

      • I didn’t know that! I swear, some commercial directors are so talented. It’s amazing to me, how much emotion and suspense they can pack into a 30-second spot.

    • LOL!!!!! Can you imagine sitting around the table brainstorming that commercial? What a hoot! They had to figure out a way to make milk very, very, very important… and they did a spectacular job of it!!!

    • That’s hilarious!

  • Helen says:


    They are good LOL as I don’t watch much TV I guess I miss a lot of the comercials although we do have a great beer comercial that I see when watching the footy it is a Carlton Draught one but I can’t fin the links to it

    Have Fun

    • Watching the footy is how we see a lot of the biggest ad campaigns here in the U.S., too. A different footy, of course… The Super Bowl is when a lot of advertisers start new campaigns, always striving to shock us or amuse us. My favorites are always the funny ones that have an emotional tug. Like the little boy pretending to be Darth Vader, or this year’s puppy that was best friends with a horse.

  • Anna Sugden says:

    Nice one, Kate. I love the Mastercard ‘Priceless’ campaign – brilliant! From my childhood, I remember the old McDonald’s advert where they used to sing what was in a Big Mac – to this day, I can recite it verbatim!

    My favourite ad was a milk ad – – I don’t know if you’ll be able to understand the broad Liverpool accent. For those who can’t – the gist of it is that one lad is teasing the other for drinking milk instead of fizzy lemonade. The milk-drinking lad cites Ian Rush (famous Liverpool footballer) saying that if he doesn’t drink milk, he’ll only be able to play for Accrington Stanley (a small non-league club). When the first lad asks who Accrington Stanley are, the milk-drinker says “Exactly!”. The equivalent would be Peyton Manning telling the boy he could only play for some unheard of football team. 🙂

  • Caren Crane says:

    Kate, the restaurant ad made me want to hurl. WHY would anyone eat there?!? The underwear ad looks like it was designed by men, for men. As for the Old Spice ad, I have no idea to whom that is supposed to appeal. None! You’re right about the comedic value, but I guess that’s about it.

    The ads I find most tasteless (and not humorous at all) are the ones where women are made to look like objects. Literally. Like they are a car or a bottle of alcohol or something like that. I can’t imagine anything that tells both women and men more clearly that women are things to be admired and acquired, period. It makes me crazy!

    I do love the Old Spice ads with the man we want our man to smell like, though. I also love the Progressive commercials with Flo. She is so funny to me!

    • Debbie Oxier says:

      This is why I hate the Hardee’ s hamburger ads. Always have a half naked woman chomping down on some huge hamburger oozing condiments. It’s obvious they are targeting the guy’s with this one. Like women don’t eat hamburgers! Phft! Where is the shirtless guy in a tight pair of jeans eating a Big Mac! Lol!

    • I know! I wouldn’t want to eat at Heart Attack Grill, either, but I suppose we’re not their target audience. It just sounds like such obscene excess to me. But then, I suppose that is what Vegas is known for.

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    Love the e-trade baby commercials. Also the old Alka Seltzer ads from back in the sixties. Some of the Budweiser ads have been good. Hate Hardee’ s hamburger ads. Geico’s Gecko has some cute ones but the Geico commercial with the two idiots playing guitars or banjos or whatever, are downright annoying.

    • YES! Those e-trade commercials are genius. And they’re consistently funny through the years. Geico is hit or miss for me, too. They have such a wide range of commercials that don’t have anything to do with each other. I suppose they’re trying to hit different people with each campaign. Makes sense.

  • Diana Huffer says:

    I saw that Heart Attack Grill on a cooking show either on Food Network or the Cooking Channel! What a riot! I think I could feed a family of 4 for a week on just one of their entrees! Scary stuff… but still hilarious! Ohhhh, does that make me a bad person? 🙂

    I hate the new Old Spice commercials! Gives me an excuse to go get a bottle of water and/or visit the bathroom…

    My favorite commercials of all time are the Budweiser Clydesdales! The one that played during the Super Bowl this year was so adorable!

  • LOL, Kate…I find the Old Spice one a bit disturbing, but the best one in the series is where the mom is at the bowling alley and comes up through the ball return!! OMG!!!!!

    I love the AFLAC commercials, especially the one with Yogi Berra in the barbershop. There’s this sign with different men’s hair styles and the duck pops up under a pompador!!

  • Suz, I agree, the way they have the moms show up in the scenes is really clever! Or creepy, depending on your pov. LOL. One of them reminded me of a zombie mom. I think the one where she slides out of the couch and across the carpet. It gave me chills!!

    The AFLAC duck commercials are funny!

  • catslady says:

    I have to go with the Geico commercials – all of them seem funny to me. And the Budweiser horses are always so touching. But on a whole, I rarely remember what the commercials are for which is not what they want lol.

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Hey Kate! How funny! OMGosh, I’d have to wash my hands on that underwear ad too. Ewwww. Grins.

    The “tried to be funny but wasn’t” file has to include the Domino’s Droid commercials. ugh. So stupid.

    The good ones though were Litlle Ceasers PizzaPizza commercials w/ the blonde “I don’t eat meat, I’m a veterinarian”

    The SuperBowl ad are frequently funny. Last year’s with the Doritos and the missing cat was funny….

    And I love that old spice one. TOOO FUNNY!

    • LOL, Jeanne, that underwear ad is kind of bizarre and I’m not sure it’s cost-effective. But maybe that’s not their biggest concern. 😉

      Oh, I love the Little Caesar ads! So funny!!

  • Kate, that Old Spice ad is classic! I loved the one with that really good-looking dude who did the your man can smell like me campaign. I don’t think I was alone! One of the fun things about visiting America is checking out your ads – they’re often a lot funnier than ours.

    One that always raises a smile for me is this Toyota ad. Hope it comes through internationally – the videos don’t always work outside Australia for some reason. Anyway, give it a go:

  • Minna says:

    I remember the Geico commercial where the Gecko wanted to change his name into Comodo Dragon.
    And I really like this Finnair’s commercial:

    Here are a couple of others from Finland. Shouldn’t be hard to guess what they advertise: