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Blast from the past: Fast food’s strangest marketing campaigns

While they may not have been successful, they certainly were memorable

Ground beef -- Nearly 2 million pounds of ground beef has been recalled in four states over E. coli fears. Recalled cases of beef from Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit were shipped to distributors for restaurant use in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.
Ground beef -- Nearly 2 million pounds of ground beef has been recalled in four states over E. coli fears. Recalled cases of beef from Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit were shipped to distributors for restaurant use in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. (iStock)

ORLANDO, Fla. – In an ever-increasing attempt to drive up sales and make you their customer, fast food chains have taken risks with their marketing over the years.

While some of these commercials and advertising campaigns have been positively innovative, many were viewed as creepy, controversial or genuinely bizarre when released.

Just when you thought you could forget these quick-service calls to action, we’re bringing back some of the strangest, and most memorable fast food marketing campaigns from history.

Who could forget “The King” commercials of the 2000s? A man wearing an oversized plastic king mask randomly popping up in people’s lives, and trying to feed them Burger King. There were a lot of commercials featuring “The King” released, but who could forget this one.

There was a time when Subway was not the unchallenged purveyor of fast food subs. Quiznos, if you can remember it, took to the internet meme game earlier than most in the early 2000s and decided to use the popular “Spongemonkey” creatures created by British animator, Joel Veitch. The bizarre rat-looking creatures with large eyes and high-pitched voices played instruments and told viewers to purchase discount sandwiches from Quiznos.

Remember this strange attempt at selling burgers? Wendy’s 1987 “Give a Little Nibble” ad showed customers from different walks of life ripping off small chunks of beef from a car-sized hamburger. After poor reception, Wendy’s pulled the ad after a seven-week run.

Over the years, fast food chains have added new items to their menu, but in 2018, IHOP, known for its pancakes and breakfast, decided to join the quick-service burger game and went as far as renaming themselves. Switching to the International House of Burgers for a brief time, the new IHOB confused many on social media with the long-running breakfast chain’s change in service.

For some brands, a mascot isn’t the best route for advertising. Domino’s Pizza tried its hand at this with “The Noid,” a gremlin-like creature in red tights with rabbit ears that is supposed to represent the problems associated with pizza delivery at the time. The mascot went on to become popular enough to star in two video games and inspire a toy line.

Ronald McDonald is a household name among young children everywhere. Years of the kid-friendly clown that everyone loves spreading friendship and fun have helped to bring fast food to the tables and cars of many. While you may know what he looks like as today, his origins were less than sightly. In 1963, McDonald’s premiered a food and drink covered Ronald McDonald for the first time to customers.

Music is the most memorable aspect of any marketing campaign. Dairy Queen decided to delve into the strange with a 2011 commercial where a man plays a jingle for the restaurant on a guitar that produces dolphin noises. The performance is backed by promotional A cappella lyrics.

In the midst of vegetarian and vegan diets rising in popularity, Arby’s released its “Vegetarian Support Hotline” ad in 2015 to promote its brown sugar-glazed pepper bacon. The ad featured some glamour shots of sizzling bacon and told vegetarians to dial a provided number if they needed help converting to eating meat.

Have a favorite weird fast food marketing campaign that we missed? Make sure to comment with it below.