MONEY Odd Spending

Top 10 Strangest Things Marketers Tried to Sell Us in 2014

Our look back at some of the year's strangest products may seem laughable or a sad source of embarrassment—depending on whether you actually bought any of them.

Check out 10 of the strangest things marketers tried to talk us into buying in 2014. A few of them, we’re sure you’ll agree, were quite literally hard to stomach.

  • Dewitos

    Doritos and Mountain Dew
    Scott M. Lacey

    Following on the heels of Doritos cheese sticks and Doritos tacos, this fall PepsiCo began doing taste tests of the most frightening Doritos mashup so far: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew, a.k.a. “Dewitos” or “Dewritos.” The innovation has been called a “new frontier for fast food,” with a flavor best described as “liquid cheese,” only with lots of caffeine.

  • Quarters for Doing Laundry

    rolls of quarters
    George Diebold—Getty Images

    Over the summer, a startup launched on the premise that people would pay a premium for a subscription service for quarters, which would be delivered so that you wouldn’t have to go round up up the on your way to the laundromat. The service charged $15 per month for a once-a-month delivery of a $10 roll of quarters. Needless to say, the site folded nicely and neatly—not unlike properly handled laundry—after about one week of existence.

  • Burgers for Breakfast

    Person holding BK Whopper
    Karl-Josef Hildenbrand—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    The battle for fast-food breakfast customers raged in 2014, with Taco Bell and McDonald’s launching ads, special promotions (like free coffee), and new products to beat out the competition. Burger King joined in the fracas with the laziest fast-food concept in recent memory: Burgers for Breakfast, in which BK made Whoppers and other burgers available during early morning hours. The idea reportedly flopped with customers; burgers were not on the restaurant’s national breakfast menu at last check.

  • A Fake “Mona Lisa”

    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood
    Is it real...or is it a Mark Landis? Fine Art Images—Getty Images

    No, no one actually tried to sell the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. But to celebrate the launch of a new documentary about Mark Landis, an infamous and prolific art forger, Landis’s forged version of the Mona Lisa was hung in a coffee shop in New York City with an asking price of $25,000. Apparently, no one wants to pay that much for a fake—not even a masterful fake by the likes of Landis. “After all the hype, there wasn’t much real interest or a sale,” a spokesperson for the coffee shop told us.

  • Derek Jeter’s Used Socks

    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3.
    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3. Tony Farlow—AP

    Throughout the course of Derek Jeter’s final season for the New York Yankees, ticket prices soared when #2 was in town, and an astonishing and varied amount of Jeter collectibles were marketed and sold. Among the oddest pitches: $400+ for one of Derek Jeter’s socks (game used, of course).

  • Seven Weeks of Unlimited Pasta

    Olive Garden pasta
    Joshua Lutz—Redux

    In September, the Olive Garden restaurant chain rolled out one seriously odd food offer: The Neverending Pasta Pass. The potentially cost-effective (also: potentially nauseating and potentially weight-altering) $100 passes gave users as many pasta dishes, breadsticks, and Coca-Cola soft drinks as they could stomach over the course of seven weeks. Only 1,000 of the passes were offered, and they were quickly snatched up by the masses—a few of whom recorded the good, bad, and ugly of eating at Olive Garden week after week.

  • Ebola Fashion

    man in hazmat suit in front of house
    PM Images—Getty Images

    The Ebola outbreak stoked fears around the globe, while also serving as a boost for an array of products, some understandable (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, anti-germ protective gear), others downright bizarre (Halloween costumes, fashionable masks that retailed for $20). Yet another entrepreneur was trying to sell Ebola.com for at least $150,000 this year; he’d purchased the web domain in 2008 and has been waiting for an opportune moment to sell.

  • Pot Edibles That Look Like Hershey’s Candy

    Marijuana leaf
    allOver images—Alamy

    Soon after the sale of recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, shops began selling a range of smokeable and ingestible products. Among the edibles was a brand of marijuana-infused candy called TinctureBelle, which made pot treats like Ganja Joy and Hasheath—with labels that looked eerily similar to traditional Hershey’s candies Almond Joy and Heath. Understandably, family values advocates and Hershey’s didn’t like the imitation versions, and the candy company sued last summer. The case was settled in October, and the pot candies that resembled Hershey bars have been recalled and destroyed.

     

  • Caffeinated Underwear

    caffeinated underwear
    iStock

    File this one under the category of products making outlandish claims that are just too good to be true: In 2014, the FTC ruled that a pair of companies that made and marketed caffeine-infused underwear must stop advertising that its products aided in weight loss. There was no scientific evidence to back up the claims, and customers who were coaxed into buying the caffeinated skivvies were granted refunds.

  • Bigger Butts

    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A.
    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Kevin Mazur—WireImage

    In 2014, marketers were more than happy to help convince women that they should try to enhance their physical assets to resemble Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez in one particular way. Hence the increase in butt implants and lift surgeries, as well as the sharp sales rise of products such as padded underwear, which give the appearance of a larger backside.

TIME Advertising

How Facebook Is Going to Battle With YouTube

Facebook Said to Plan IPO Filing for as Early as Coming Week
In this file photo the Facebook Inc. logo is reflected in the eyeglasses of a user in this arranged photo in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook is suddenly a serious player in video

Facebook is well on its way to developing its next big cash cow, and it has nothing to do with the social network’s splashy billion-dollar purchases of messaging and virtual reality startups.

This year, the company dusted off its oft-neglected video feature and quickly made auto-playing clips ubiquitous in users’ News Feeds (with a big assist from the wildly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge). People are now watching videos uploaded directly to Facebook one billion times per day — and that big number is starting to whet marketers’ appetites. As the social network ratchets up its plan to lure brands to place video ads on the site, its efforts could eventually threaten YouTube, which has dominated the online video space for nearly a decade.

This holiday season, Facebook is partnering with brands such as fashion design house Kate Spade and retailer Gap to develop targeted video ads that play automatically in users’ feeds. The Kate Spade spot, a two-and-half minute short starring Anna Kendrick, has managed to rack up 1.8 million views and 49,000 likes, comments and shares since launching in November. A YouTube version of the commercial released the same day has about 150,000 views. (Facebook’s view metrics automatically lean in the social network’s favor because videos auto-play by default and only have to be seen for three seconds to register as a view; a Google spokesperson says a YouTube video must be watched “many times longer” to count as a view).

Kate Spade’s new spot was the first time the brand used Facebook’s native video player instead just posting a YouTube link onto Facebook. Chief Marketing Officer Mary Beech says the company is happy with the results, which came from a mix of paid promotion and organic sharing by users. Kate Spade now intends to launch another video ad on Facebook in the spring. “Facebook has been wonderful in terms of the shares,” Beech says.

Facebook’s video pitch to marketers is much the same as it’s always been: thanks to the social network’s massive trove of user data, Facebook believes it can show video ads to precisely those people who will be most receptive to them. “[Marketers] are looking at Facebook to deliver very personalized messages,” says Nicolas Franchet, head of retail and e-commerce on Facebook’s global vertical marketing team. “Video is now one of the ways they can do that.”

Videos also give Facebook another key data point it can use to try to ferret out its users’ intent. For example, Kate Spade was able to serve ads for certain products featured in the Anna Kendrick commercial specifically to users who saw the video. “If you’ve viewed a video, you’ve certainly formed some sort of interest in the brand and so the brand can capitalize on that,” Franchet says.

While Facebook has found fast success with video, YouTube continues to lead in the space by many metrics. An analysis of 10 holiday ad campaigns by the advertising research firm Unruly found that that the commercials earned 13 million views on Facebook, but about 32 million on YouTube. The YouTube versions of the videos were also shared more across the Internet, gaining 630,000 shares compared to 530,000 shares for the Facebook versions. And in terms of raw usage, YouTube is still king—the video site had 4 billion views per day way back in 2012, compared to Facebook’s current 1 billion (YouTube no longer regularly discloses overall viewcounts, but the amount of content being uploaded per minute to the site has quintupled since 2012). Compared to Facebook’s videos, YouTube videos are easier to find weeks or months after they’ve been posted, and they’re easier to embed on websites or competing social networks.

“With YouTube watch time up 50% [year-over-year] and data showing that people are watching more ads than ever, advertisers are finding that their campaigns have staying power on YouTube,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

But Facebook’s video ambitions are still young, and the company has some key advantages that previous YouTube competitors lacked. With more than 1 billion monthly users each, Facebook and YouTube already boast similar scale globally. Facebook also drives some portion of YouTube’s traffic and could use its control of the News Feed to give its own videos preference over YouTube ones (Facebook videos are already the only ones that auto-play, and they appear as larger posts within the News Feed). And Facebook has reportedly been trying to use its substantial amount of cash (its annual revenue now exceeds $11 billion) to poach YouTube stars to get them to make Facebook-exclusive content.

Still, experts say the two sites currently offer different video viewing experiences. “If you go to YouTube, you’re kind of in a serach mode. You kind of want to sit back and watch something,” says Debra Aho Williamson, a social media analyst at eMarketer “On Facebook, it’s all about discovery–almost serendipity. It’s kind of a different mindset.”

Brands will likely continue to experiment on both platforms. Kate Spade, for instance, used portions of that Anna Kendrick ad to create pre-roll spots to place on YouTube. But with finite ad dollars available, companies will have to make a conscious decision about where they spend their online video ad money. And for the first time in a long time, the answer isn’t necessarily YouTube by default.

TIME Advertising

Apple’s New Winter Holiday Ad Will Hit You Right in the Feels

A young woman gives her grandmother a very personal gift

Apple often serves up its most heartwarming commercials just in time for the winter holidays, and this year is no different.

The company has just released a new ad in which a young girl discovers a love song that her grandmother wrote for her grandfather decades ago. After hearing the song, the girl decides to record her own version — using a MacBook, of course.

She mixes the two versions together and delivers the new song to her grandmother on an iPad Mini, complete with nostalgic photos of their family over the years.

Check out the full spot in the video above. Here’s Apple’s ad from last winter:

TIME Advertising

Watch Apple’s Black Friday iPhone Ads

See six ads from both sides of Apple’s — and America’s — cultural divide.

Having cut the cable TV cord before the busiest shopping day of the year, I had to go to YouTube to see how Apple was promoting its products in advance of Black Friday.

Here’s what I found: Six ads in two days, three for the iPhone and three for Beats by Dre, the headphone-and-streaming-music company acquired by Apple in May for $3 billion.

I liked them all. But they’re very different.

Two white comedians, Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon, are once again carrying the water for Apple.

Beats’ SoloSelfie-with-iPhone campaign taps into a different celebrity culture.

The iPhone ads

Nov. 24: Gamers

Nov. 24: Reservations

Nov. 26: Voice text

The Beats by Dre ads

Nov. 26: #SoloSelfie Kenan Thompson Tutorial

Nov. 26: #SoloSelfie

Nov. 26: #SoloSelfie – The Tutorial

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Advertising

No, Budweiser Isn’t Ditching Its Tear-Jerker Clydesdales Ads for ‘Jay Z and Zombies’

"Straight from the horse’s mouth: The Budweiser Clydesdales are here to stay"

What’s the only thing that will make you cry harder than Budweiser’s tear-jerker “Puppy Love” ad, in which a golden retriever and a Clydesdale horse form an interspecies friendship, set to a bittersweet Fleetwood Mac song? Reports that the beer titan is ditching its heartwarming Clydesdale campaign for Jay-Z, zombies, and other millennial-grabbing ephemera.

In a Monday piece about Budweiser’s reported millennial problem — 44% of 21-27 year-olds have never tried a Budthe Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s iconic “Clydesdales are out” and that “February’s Super Bowl ads will feature something more current than last year’s Fleetwood Mac.”

Luckily for you nostalgia lovers, that is actually not the case.

“Let me be clear,” Budweiser VP Brian Perkins said in a statement emailed to TIME. “Straight from the horse’s mouth: The Budweiser Clydesdales are here to stay and will continue to play a central role in our campaigns, including holidays and Super Bowl.”

Budweiser sent TIME its new holiday ad, which melds millennials and Clydesdales, which can be viewed above.

This isn’t just good news for puppy lovers. It benefits Budweiser, as well.

Currently clocking 53 million YouTube views and counting, “Puppy Love,” made by ad agency Anomaly, was a the most viral ad of the Super Bowl. And according to Unruly Media’s measurements, three of the four most shared Super Bowl ads of all time starred the Budweiser Clydesdale’s. (This includes “Puppy Love,” “Brotherhood,” and its 9/11 tribute.)

Co-founder and chief operating officer of Unruly Media, Sarah Wood, told TIME that when it comes to driving sharing and brand metrics, “It’s the strength of emotional connection, and the goal for all savvy advertisers in 2015 should be valuable virality.”

But if millennials aren’t drinking Budweiser, does the fact that the ads get shared even matter?

Let’s look at it this way. According to a 2014 Unruly report analyzing Super Bowl ad statistics, not only didn’t ads with celebrities drive online sharing, but they also didn’t provide for brand recall.

You might remember that Ben Kingsley was in a Super Bowl spot, but do you remember that he was selling a Jaguar? Chrysler might have made a beautiful ad starring Bob Dylan, but according to Unruly, only 7% of people who watched the ad realized that it was for Chrysler.

Budweiser’s Clydesdales, on the other hand, boasted 89% consumer recall.

“We are excited to see exactly how much the Clydesdales can still touch the hearts and minds of our passionate fan base,” Budweiser’s Perkins says. “There have never been any plans to remove our beloved Budweiser Clydesdales from our brand identity. In fact, we can confirm they will return to the Super Bowl in 2015.”

Of course, if Budweiser wanted to have Jay-Z and Beyoncé come in riding the Clydesdales in an upcoming tear-jerker Super Bowl ad, we won’t complain.

Here are some past Clydesdale Super Bowl ads:

TIME Video Games

Some PlayStation Vita Owners Will Get Refunds After FTC Settlement

Either a $50 voucher for select merchandise or a $25 cash or credit refund

Sony Computer Entertainment America will issue refunds to customers who bought its PlayStation Vita handheld video game system before June 2012 to settle false advertising claims brought by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency said Tuesday.

The FTC claims that Sony misled consumers about “game changing” features of the Vita, including the ability to seamlessly begin playing any PlayStation 3 game immediately on the handheld Vita. That feature only worked as advertised for certain games, the FTC acknowledged.

Customers who bought the Vita before June 1, 2012, are entitled to either a $50 voucher for select video game merchandise or $25 cash or credit refund. Given sales of the PS Vita in the U.S. at the time, total refunds paid out could reach $14 million. Sony will notify customers who qualify for the refunds via email.

The FTC also claimed that Sony’s advertising agency, Deutsch LA, deceived consumers by having its employees try to generate hype for the gaming system on Twitter without disclosing their association with the product. The agency is banned from such practices in the future.

Sony is the latest in a growing list of tech companies that have been accused of misleading customers by the FTC. Apple, Amazon, Google, AT&T and T-Mobile have all had to contend with FTC settlements or lawsuits this year. A Sony spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TIME Family

Old Spice’s Clingy Mom Will Make You Cringe

One small ad, one giant eye roll.

Old Spice sure has a low opinion of poor old mom.

In their new ad, mom has nothing to live for her, but her little baby boy. So when Junior starts hosing himself down in Old Spice-scented masculinity and becomes a man—which, of course, means dating attractive young women—in that straight-out-of-Sophocles way, mom just can’t handle it. She starts weeping and wailing her so-called “Momsong” like a Greek chorus in mom jeans and growing extra-long arms to cling to her precious baby boy.

“Where’s my little boy, I miss him so/Who’s this man living in our home?/My special guy has turned into a man,” she sings, before collapsing on the carpet in a heap of tear-swollen misery. That’s when good old dad comes rolling in on his riding lawnmower, as stereotypical suburban dads are wont to do, singing his ode to the joy that his son isn’t living in a van down by the river and is instead getting some action under the hash-marked tagline “#SmellcomeToManhood.” Hey ad: Gross.

The ad is actually a follow-up to another spot for Old Spice’s line of lady-luring body spray for young men. The first ad, titled “MomSong”, is more of the same, because apparently clingy mothers, wailing over the fact that their sons are developing at an age-appropriate rate, is never not funny. In “MomSong” the beleaguered mothers become creepy stalkers following their sons on dates while sniffing (literally) their former babies who now “smell like a man.” (Note to future self: Please refrain from sniffing grown son.)

It’s unfortunate that Old Spice and Weiden + Kennedy, the agency hired to make the ad, which features music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame, felt the need to peddle in stereotypes that would have been outdated even in the Mad Men era. (It’s also unfortunate that they think people want to “smell manhood.”)

While it’s clear that it’s all meant as one big joke, the whole ad is just a giant eye roll. While it’s clear that moms are not the target demographic for scented body spray with manly names like Bearglove and Lionpride, moms still have to live in a world where mothers are treated like nothing more than overbearing, emotionally unstable, clingy women, instead of, say, human beings wondering why their teenaged son spent his allowance on a male perfume called “Lionpride.” You can do better Old Spice.

Hopefully their own mothers will have a little talk with them over the Thanksgiving dinner table.

[H/T AdWeek.]

TIME Advertising

Watch the Sexist PlayStation Ad Sony Quickly Pulled From YouTube

Perpetuating all your least favorite stereotypes

Sony quickly and quietly pulled a PlayStation ad from its European YouTube account this weekend that bears a greater resemblance to soft-core porn than it does to a commercial for a piece of hardware.

“I know you’ve already done it today, and I bet you really enjoyed yourself, ” a sexy female British doctor coos, shortly prior to climbing on top of her office desk — you know, like serious doctors often do. “How many times did you do it yesterday? Are you afraid you’re doing it too often? In your bedroom under the blankets? Or perhaps you prefer the kitchen or the toilet? Or do you like it in the garden?”

The innuendo-laden ad is for a Remote Play feature rather than, well, you get the idea. While the world is used to blatantly sexist ads at this point, the Sony one is particularly depressing. And that is because, as the Verge puts it, “Sony might be trying to do a halfway good thing here.”

The ad ends with the revelation that the sexy doctor parody is actually a gamer, too. “You can even join me,” she says with a wink before pulling out her own gaming device.

But is the way to show that women also like to play video games to treat them as a sexualized fantasy for teenage boys?

While the ad is no longer on Sony’s official account, other YouTubers, however, have posted it.

Although Sony didn’t immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment, the ad does fall in line with past campaigns reportedly from 2012:

This isn’t the first video game ad that uses sexual innuendos. Business Insider references an XBox 360 ad that uses a similar “Everyone is doing it” mantra:

Somehow this new one feels different.

TIME Media

Google Takes Over North America’s Biggest Digital Billboard

Billed as Times Square's largest and most expensive digital billboard, a new megascreen is debuted in front of the Marriott Marquis hotel on Nov.18, 2014 in New York City.
Billed as Times Square's largest and most expensive digital billboard, a new megascreen is debuted in front of the Marriott Marquis hotel on Nov.18, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

And it's even higher-res than 4K displays

The lights of Times Square just got a little bit brighter, as Google is taking over a massive new digital billboard that spans an entire city block in the heart of New York.

The new screen is more than 25,000 square feet in size and has a pixel density even greater than high-definition 4K displays. Clear Channel, the company that built the ad space, says it’s the largest digital screen in North America.

Google is taking over the space just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. The search giant will use the screen to present an interactive mobile game this week in which people can “Androidify” themselves, becoming cartoon characters similar to the ones in Google’s new Android marketing campaign. Google hopes to present 25,000 personalized Android characters on the screen each day. In addition to pushing products like Android, Chrome and Nexus, Google will offer some billboard screen-time to nonprofits such as Charity Water and Khan Academy.

The new screen is located on Broadway between 45th Street and 46th Street. The price of the ad wasn’t disclosed.

 

TIME Companies

Facebook Will Remove ‘Overly Promotional’ Posts From News Feed

Paid ads are still fair game, however

Facebook will reduce the volume of promotional material that appears in users’ news feeds beginning early next year, the company announced Friday.

“Our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see,” said a statement on the company’s site. “People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.”

The effort will target promotional material posted by pages that a user likes, but not paid advertisements. The company said it would target three types of posts placed on the pages of companies and products: “posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app,” “posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context” and “posts that reuse the exact same content from ads.”

Facebook said that most pages will not be affected by the change, but provided a guide so that businesses with pages can adapt to the change. The move will force businesses to pay to reach Facebook’s 1.35 billion monthly active users and follows a previous News Feed tweak in September aimed at showing users more timely stories shared by their friends.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser