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The 8 Most Ingenious Fast-Food Publicity Stunts of All Time

The 8 Most Ingenious Fast-Food Publicity Stunts of All Time


These fast-food publicity gambits were either really smart or really dumb, but they certainly had imagination

The 8 Most Ingenious Fast-Food Publicity Stunts of All Time

For as long as people have been running businesses, they’ve been attempting to draw attention to them. Most businesses take a rather traditional route — buying ad space in newspapers or magazines, for example, or shelling out for a TV commercial — but some take the quest for publicity a little too far.

Nathan’s: Hiring “Doctors” to Eat Hot Dogs

In what might be called the original fast food publicity stunt, hot dog impresario Nathan Handwerker’s attention-getting ploy also gave rise to a major chain. In 1916, Handwerker, a Polish immigrant and onetime employee of the sprawling Feltman’s Restaurant in Coney Island, decided to open his own hot dog stand just up the street from his former workplace and sell his hot dogs for half the price Feltman's charged: five cents. Because they were so inexpensive, however, potential customers questioned what was really going into them, and tended to stay away. But Nathan had an idea for a now-legendary stunt: He hired actors to stand outside his stand wearing lab coats and stethoscopes while eating the hot dogs. He later unveiled signs reading, “If doctors eat our hot dogs, you know they’re good!” It must have worked, because Nathans continues to thrive today, and you're probably saying, "Feltman who?"

KFC: Colonel Sanders Goes Rappelling

KFC wanted to prove that they were “talking lunch to new heights” in 2011, so they hired a man to dress up like Colonel Sanders and rappel down Chicago’s 40-story River Bend building. He also handed out $5 coupons to window washers.

El Pollo Loco: The World’s Largest Man-Made Fire

When hordes of people showed up to a Sunset Boulevard parking lot in 2011 to watch El Pollo Loco’s attempt to break the record for the world’s largest man-made fire (by using a 25-foot tall fire-starter called a bow drill), they thought that they were in for a spectacle of epic proportions. In reality, they were actually walking onto a set for a commercial shoot. That “giant fire” failed to ignite, so it was simulated by some smoking charcoal.

Starbucks: Car Roof Coffee Cups

To reward folks who get in on the holiday spirit, in 2005 Starbucks hired people to drive around with Venti-sized Starbucks cups attached to their car roofs. Whenever somebody stopped them to let them know about the stray cup, she or he was rewarded with a $5 gift card. Sometimes it pays to be a good Samaritan!

Burger King: The Left-Handed Whopper

As another witty fast food April Fools’ joke, in 1998 Burger King took out a full-page ad in USA Today to announce that they’d finally come up with a solution for the troubles faced by their left-handed customers: The Left-Handed Whopper, rotated 180 degrees to satisfy even the most finicky southpaws. Believe it or not, lefties turned out in droves to sample it, and righties made sure to tell workers that they weren’t interested in the new version. Were these people unaware of how circles work?

KFC: A Logo Visible from Space

KFC has undertaken some wacky publicity stunts in their day, but in 2006 they launched one that was quite possible the silliest of all. The company created an 87,500-square-foot logo of Colonel Sanders in the Nevada desert near the so-called Area 51 in an attempt to become the first brand visible from space. We’re not sure if it sold many drumsticks, but there may be some aliens who are now aware of the brand.

Taco Bell: Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell

“In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures,” the chain announced via a full-page ad in the New York Times on April Fools’ Day 1996. “It will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”

In an era before Twitter, lots of people took the company at their word and were very vocal about their outrage, prompting more than 650 print publications and 400 broadcast media outlets to pick up the story. It was a less cynical era; we’re shocked that anyone believed this.

Burger King: FLAME by BK Body Spray

Would you wear meat-scented cologne? During the height of Burger King’s attempts to attract that elusive 18 to 35 demographic in 2008, the chain made waves by creating and advertising a cologne called FLAME by BK that reportedly smelled like burgers (or, as they put it, “the scent of seduction”). While some stores in New York City actually sold the fragrance, it was all just intended to get a laugh, which it certainly did.