It was Christmas of 2004, and Arik Nordby was watching his nephew open a present. His family had gotten the boy a Nintendo, but since they had also bought a game and thought it might be easier to consolidate both gifts, decided to wrap the console and disc in a larger box that once belonged to a breadmaker. "You got a breadmaker!" they said as the crestfallen boy unwrapped his gift. "Pretty nice!"
In that moment of comic gold, Nordby had the germ of an idea that would later hit stores nationwide, with a little help from the folks at The Onion. Nordby makes fake gift boxes, and his newly independent company 30Watt is releasing three new "Prank Packs." The idea: buy your loved one something they actually want, put it in the fake box, and savor the moment of awkwardness under the Christmas tree. For example the iArm, above, should particularly puzzle your gadget geek who really wanted an iPad. Check out the back of the box:
Though Nordby says his work is partly about "making fun of consumerism," he also has "nothing but good things to say about Apple," as a loyal customer of 20 years. "I wanted a really awkward accessory that both looked functional but also looked moronic," he says.
Also new this year: The Family Blankeez.
And here are a few other Prank Packs highlights from over the years.
When Nordby first collaborated with The Onion back in 2005, his prank packs quickly became bestsellers. It wasn't until last year that he formed an independent company (and three ex-Onion employees joined him). The joke gift boxes first hit brick-and-mortar stores for a trial run last year; for Bed Bath and Beyond, Urban Outfitters, and several other stores, the trials were a success. They have coming back for more prank packs this year.
Though he declines to comment on exact sales figures, Nordby says the company is doing well. "Our 2009 sales fell 'just short' of the iPhone 3GS, but were 'well past' Eggo brand salmon waffles," he wrote in an e-mail.
Several retailers have gone so far as to say that they'd like one of the fake products. A few have told Nordby that if he actually produces the "beer beard," above, they'd stock it.
Nordby is looking into it, though that really goes beyond his stated mission. "All I'm after with these boxes, is I want your mom to unwrap something and look at you with a what-the-hell look on her face."