There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
Oscar Wilde

The key to any marketing endeavour is to stand out. And as any art lover will tell you, nothing goes against the grain better than a good bit of surrealism.

Personally I love anything that dares to be strange. I love marketing too, so when a new weird and wonderful marketing campaign comes along, I’m in my element.

So let’s take a look at 5 awesome surreal marketing efforts, and see what we can learn from daring to be different.

NSFW WARNING: Depending on how cool your workplace is, some of these examples may be non-work-safe. There’s no sex or overt nudity, but there’s poop jokes, pectoral muscles and… pizza rolls. You have been warned.

5. Deezer

I really enjoyed Deezer’s crazy ad campaigns; they’re silly, colourful, and just that little bit awkward.

Ad Agency credit: PD3 [Please Note That Clicking Play Sends Usage Data to YouTube]

I love a good non-sequitur (as you will probably gather from this list) and Deezer’s got them in spades. Though their initial TV ad “The Geezer” was a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it affair (at least in my family), Deezer saw a 300% spike in downloads from the endeavour.

What this teaches us: Being a bit weird grabs people’s attention, sticks in an audience’s memory, and provides an undeniable stand-out factor.

4. The Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter Account

You would think that the official Twitter account of a beloved videogame character would be carefully managed by a PR team, resulting in a cheesy, sanitised projection of Sonic in 280 characters or fewer. But no.

Some @sonic_hedgehog tweets are kinda normal marketing-announcement fare:

A Tweet from Sonic the Hedgehog promoting The Sonic Mania Collector's Edition.

Some are mildly humourous references to the franchise and its characters:

A Tweet from Sonic the Hedgehog making a joke about Dr Robotnik's resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt.

And some tweets are examples of all-out irreverent memery:

Sonic the Hedgehog Tweet that reads "If you can dream it, you can do it. Except dreaming that the earth is flat, because that just makes you look silly."

This often surreal, refreshingly unconstrained, and sadly defunct as of 2020 Twitter jaunt was the brainchild of SEGA Director of Strategy, Studio & Community Relations, Aaron Webber – a name well known to the Sonic fanbase. Webber’s love of Sonic combined with his love of the jokes that have grown organically around the Sonic franchise to create something that added true value to the franchise and the fandom.

What this teaches us: Knowing your audience closely helps you create memorable content that speaks to them on their level.

3. Poo Pourri

This next campaign created a bit of a splash online a few years ago.

Ad Agency Credit: Ackerman Creative [Please Note That Clicking Play Sends Usage Data to YouTube]

These ads gladly fly in the face of the usual puritanically mealy-mouthed marketing that surrounds other toilet products. The fact that the character is a perfectly kempt, well-spoken lady only serves to confound the absurdity. It’s this kind of silliness that the the Internet loves, so of course the brand went viral – y’know, because poo jokes.

Poo Pourri’s ad scripts are among some of my favourite copywriting. It could be the careful timing and perfect delivery of the gags, or more likely because I’m a 7 year old in a 31 year old’s body.

What this teaches us: Sometimes it’s best not to pussy-foot around the heart of an issue. If you’re dealing with something that people generally avoid talking about, is there a way to make a good-humoured joke about it that shatters this polite facade?

2. Old Spice with Terry Crews

Here’s one that you might have seen before.

Ad Agency Credit: Wieden + Kennedy [Please Note That Clicking Play Sends Usage Data to YouTube]

Adverts for men’s fragrances and shower gel historically don’t allow for much variety. In the past they’ve been generally macho power-fantasy missives implying that their brand of dude-smell will transform its users into cool, confident lady-magnets. Nowadays, this approach is increasingly seen as problematic and exclusionary.

However Old Spice put a surreal spin on the traditional advertising machismo with help from musclebound actor Terry Crews and some awesomely strange animation work, directed by surrel comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.

What this teaches us: If the same marketing tack that you and your competitors are taking is becoming boring or falling out of favour, try parodying that same concept or taking it to an absurd and wacky conclusion. It may even be a good opportunity to poke fun at past campaigns of your own!

1. Totinos Pizza Rolls “Pizza Freaks Unite”

And at number 1 we have arguably the weirdest entry on this list; and as such, my own personal favourite.

Ad Agency Credit: Zeus Jones [Please Note That Clicking Play Sends Usage Data to YouTube]

This campaign comes to us thanks to surrealist comedy double act Tim & Eric, and is one of those ads where you can’t help but ask yourself “is this a real advert or did I stumble across that side of YouTube again?”

No, you didn’t. This is an actual video from the official Totinos YouTube channel. According to Contently, Totinos challenged the zany duo to use Totino’s pizza rolls in as many ways as possible in their ad spot, and the above video is the result.

Now, I’m well aware that Tim & Eric’s kind of comedy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; and most likely – so are those at Totinos. Being memorable sometimes means knowing you are going to confuse or annoy some people, but other people are going to love it. Knowing your audience and getting that balance of weirdness right is essential.

Side note: If this is your cup of tea and you want more Tim & Eric advertising goodness, check out “A Vodka Movie”; this trilogy of videos produced for Absolut Vodka; starring the pair alongside comedian Zach Galifianakis.

What this teaches us: Zany humour often gets shared around online, especially amongst younger audiences. Just Google “Gen Z humour” for a taste of how strange things can get. Though Totino’s aren’t available on UK shelves (or at least they haven’t made it up here to the Midlands) those who have seen the advert are now very much aware of their existence. Possibly even curious to know what they’re like. I know they’re one thing I’d like to try if I ever do find myself Stateside. Would I have known about them without seeing the video above? Probably not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a feminine pizza bag to make my very own.

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Note: This post was first published on the 3rd February 2017 and has since been edited.