Four Totally Insane Marketing Campaigns That Actually Worked

Marketing takes on a lot of different meanings around the world. Here are a few wild campaigns that caught on globally and turned into advertising gold.

Every marketer’s dream is to get the Internet buzzing with their latest campaign. Some use cuteness, some use nostalgia, some use slick graphics or beautiful people. And some think up the craziest stunt they can imagine to get their message shared. I’ve rounded up the four best examples of unconventional marketing campaigns from around the world to make you laugh, make you gasp, and, hopefully, to inspire you.

Samsung’s useless auction.
This Indian campaign from Samsung promotes the company’s new 7-inch Tab2 310, which the company claims makes other technology, such as TVs, phones, laptops, cameras, and video cameras, redundant. So what else are you going to do with all those useless devices, but auction them off for the lowest bid possible? When you click on the ad, you can place a bid on the ("useless") gadgets and be entered for the chance to win a Tab2. Not only does the boldness of the claim that all your existing technology is now useless get your attention, but the seamless way Samsung has connected the ad, the microsite, and social media gives the campaign a real buzz.

What would you do with £5,000 to spend on fun?
Volvo U.K. asked Facebook fans what they would do with £5,000 cash to spend on fun… then showed up at the houses of their five favorites to film the results. Goats, planes, Elvis: Nothing was too crazy for these five finalists. Volvo put the films online, and fans who voted were put in the draw to win a £5,000 hijack-style experience for themselves. The overall winner won the all-new Volvo V-40 R-Design.

Zombies attack? No problem.
When zombies attack, you want to be ready for them. American company OpticsPlanet developed a Zero Zombie Kit: For a mere $23,000, you got "everything you need to combat the undead." Of course, this whole campaign was a stunt to bring attention to the range of products OpticsPlanet manufacture, including the weaponry, first aid, protective gear, batteries, and lab equipment that would no doubt be useful in a zombie apocalypse—but work just as well in more mundane situations. The campaign caught the imagination of Internet users, with spoof reviews posted as the ad went viral.

Red Bull gives you wings—to jump from space.
Forget global campaigns: Red Bull went stratospheric in their mission to break records. The company's YouTube video of Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall from the edge of space has now had more than 33 million views, and the jump broke the record for breaking the sound barrier without engine power. The Red Bull logo can be seen across the suit and equipment, surely one of the highest profile—and highest altitude—marketing campaigns ever.

Four takeaways for marketers:
It doesn’t matter that these campaigns had very little to do with the actual product: Red Bull drinkers aren’t likely to jump from space, people don’t usually buy batteries because of the walking dead, bidding low on TVs doesn’t make you think of phones or tablets, and spending cash on a day of fun has very little to do with cars. But these stunts are creative, entertaining, and get people talking.

Getting your fans involved helps spread your message. Volvo’s voting button gets people interacting with the campaign—and gives them a chance to win a prize, which is great motivation for getting involved. Samsung’s idea of getting people to bid the lowest amount is a great way of getting fans to join in the joke, as well as giving them the chance to win a Tab2 of their own.

Humor is a great tool for getting your campaign to go viral. The Samsung, OpticsPlanet, and Volvo campaigns all use humor to reach a wide audience: People like to share what makes them laugh.

Originality is key to all these campaigns. The combination of the surprising, the inventive, and the just plain crazy get people talking and sharing, and might even break a world—or even out-of-this-world—record.

What creative marketing campaigns have you seen recently? Have any of them inspired you to try something off-the-wall to publicize your own products? Tell us about it in the comments.

[Image: Flickr user Umberto Salvagnin]

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  • Jackie at Paragon Digital

    I don't think a useful takeaway is that "It doesn't matter that these campaigns had very little to do with the actual product." These are large companies that can toss around some money for viral campaigns. But after making everybody laugh, did consumers stick around? I'd guess that when the campaign has little to do with the products the answer would be 'no'. I agree with Chris - you have to measure success by some other metric like sales.

  • starshiplove

    Viral and insane marketing campaigns are worth doing, but they shouldn't take the place of the basics. And the real important thing is to show some empathy towards your customers. If you're not interacting with customers honestly and answering their questions in a timely manner first you can forget anything else. Too many companies are focusing on things like viral marketing stunts and even buying fans (just check out the large number of firms at http://www.buyfacebookfansrevi... to see how common that practice is) when they really should be focused first and foremost on satisfying customers. I don't think that some of these marketing stunts are a bad idea - they're actually an awesome idea if they're brilliantly executed, but you should always focus on the basics first.

  • Chris Reich

    SALES SALES SALES! While the ads might well have gone "viral", did they sell anything or just infect our time? That's the only question that matters---

    Chris Reich, TeachU

  • Brian Coughlin

    Hey Chris, this is Brian from the Marketing Department of, and I did a lot of work on the Zombie Kit, including writing the caption, helping with the video and performing the outreach that helped launch it.  The campaign did help with sales, though the bulk of the help was on the side, as the increased brand mentions and general awareness helped us in search engine rankings and increased customer interaction.  All of that led to an incredible winter season.  The Zombie Kit was just one factor, but it was, without question, useful for bringing in revenue.

  • Nadia Birdi

    Two older campaigns that I think were very effective were "the man your man could smell like" campaign by Old Spice and "the best job in the world" contest by Tourism Queensland. They were both able to successfully connect with their audience.