Odd Product Hall of Fame: The Tauntaun Sleeping Bag

To honor Star Wars Day 2014, the Odd Product Hall of Fame resolved to recognize a piece of Star Wars merchandise. Since the Star Wars movie franchise burst onto the scene in 1977, there have been untold numbers of merchandising tie-ins, many of which can certainly be described as odd products. Just a few examples include Kellogg’s C-3PO’s Cereal, the Darth Vader Toaster and Lightsaber Chopsticks. So, the challenge for the selection committee was not to find a suitably odd choice, but rather to select just one from the scads of potential honorees.

After poking around on Google for about 15 minutes a careful review of many such worthy candidates, we determined that the odd Star Wars product that stood head and shoulders above the others was ThinkGeek’s Tauntaun Sleeping Bag.

A few factors swayed the decision in favor of this sleeping bag. To our knowledge, this is the only product on the market that allows people to re-enact a movie scene that involves cutting open an animal and sleeping inside its stench-ridden carcass. So there’s that. We also like that this actually started out as an April Fool’s gag on the ThinkGeek website, which ultimately generated such public demand that it became a real product. That makes it the rare case where we know for sure that the producers of an odd product understood how weird their idea was from the very outset. Mostly, we voted for the sleeping bag because it’s just flat-out funny.

Be proud, Tauntaun Sleeping Bag. With almost forty years worth of merchandise to choose from, we selected you over all  your Star Wars-inspired brethren to be enshrined in the Odd Product Hall of Fame. Congratulations. And May the Fourth be with you.


Odd Product Hall of Fame: Jelly Bean Milk

Looking for the perfect beverage to serve with that big Easter Sunday feast? You might have dismissed milk as an option because it’s boring and it has no obvious holiday tie-in.  If so, you would be wrong on both counts.

Hiland Dairy has recently introduced three new Easter-themed milks: Easter Egg Nog, Chocolate Marshmallow and Jelly Bean. The first two seem like fairly predictable product extensions, but Jelly Bean flavored milk? That’s, um…a bold choice, to say the least.

The question is, what kind of jelly bean is the milk supposed to taste like? We at the Marketing Smart Aleck blog might sample something based on a red or orange jelly bean. Green or purple would be pushing it. We’d rather be waterboarded than drink milk that tasted like a black jelly bean. And don’t even get us started on those disgusting spiced jelly beans.

But of course, the Odd Product Hall of Fame doesn’t exist to pass judgment on how a product might taste. We’re here to recognize those products that go above and beyond when it comes to oddness. Based on that consideration, Hiland Dairy’s Jelly Bean Milk has more than earned its induction into the OPHOF. We happily drink a toast to their success! (As long as we don’t have to put their product in the goblet because, seriously, it sounds beyond gross.)

Odd Product Hall of Fame: DiedInHouse.com

My residence, the house in which I am sitting as I write this, is nearly a century old. Chances are good that at some point over the years, a previous owner died in this house. After all, most people would prefer to die at home as opposed to anywhere else. So, the idea that somebody, probably multiple somebodies, passed away in this house doesn’t bother me in the least. In fact, I never gave it much thought until I heard a recent radio ad for a website called DiedInHouse.com.

The logic behind this service is interesting, if a little cockeyed. The Died In House folks claim that if the public knows people have died in a house, the property value of the house goes down. (This sounds plausible on the face of it. I suspect the average person gets a little more freaked out about such things than I do.) Their solution? Make it easier for everybody to find out if people died in houses. From the perspective of a potential house buyer, the idea seems compelling — it might save you from investing in a flawed property.

Ah, but there’s the rub: the “flaw” only exists in the imagination of other potential buyers once they know the information. Objectively speaking, there’s nothing tangibly wrong with a house just because somebody died in it — even if it was a lurid, bloody murder like the examples given on the website. It’s truly a case where ignorance is bliss and you’re better off not even thinking about it, much less paying for a service that is ultimately sabotaging property values by sensationalizing a non-issue. (Unless of course, the house is haunted and one night the poltergeist of a deceased former resident pops out of your bedroom closet, grabs your face with its ghostly hand and sucks your soul out through your eye sockets. In that case, you’re probably going to wish you had consulted with DiedInHouse.com before buying the place.)

But hey, no one ever said an offering had to stand up to rational scrutiny to be voted into the Odd Product Hall of Fame. In fact, it helps if it doesn’t. So, with that said, congratulations on your induction, DiedInHouse.com. Try not to trip over that moldering skeleton in the doorway when you come here to pick up your plaque.


Backpfeifengesicht in Advertising

Advertising spokespeople are supposed to be likable. That’s one of the main qualifications for the job — to present the viewer/listener with someone they have positive feelings about in hopes that those feelings will rub off on the product. If you think about some of the great celebrity endorsers of the past such as Ed McMahon, Bill Cosby, Karl Malden, Michael Jordan, Florence Henderson, pre-double homicide O.J. Simpson, etc., most of them were highly charismatic, or at least affable. The same goes for the anonymous and not-yet-famous actors who tend to get cast in commercials. When it comes to putting disarming folks on our TV screens, in our magazines and so forth, the advertising industry usually gets it right. But not always.

Sometimes commercials are populated by people that just rub you the wrong way. The reasons we have for taking a dislike to somebody we don’t know based on a 30-second impression are wide-ranging. It could be their voice, the clothes they wear or their hair. Sometimes they have a face that you just want to smack. The German language actually has a word to describe that latter concept: Backpfeifengesicht. The word translates as “a face in need of a fist.” (Leave it to the Germans to invent a word to express this idea.)

It goes without saying that Backpfeifengesicht is largely in the eye of the beholder, but it’s something that we’ve all seen.  What follows is a look at some notable examples of Backpfeifengesicht rearing its oh-so-punchable head in advertising over the years. Please note that The Marketing Smart Aleck will not be held liable for any cracked computer screens, smashed smartphones or knuckle injuries that may result from you reading any further.

The guy in this 5-Hour Energy spot appears to be making an effort to contort his face into the most fist-worthy expressions after every statement he makes. Since he seems to be trying so hard to accomplish Backpfeifengesicht, we’re happy to show him first:

If there was a world championship awarded for Backpfeifengesicht, there can be no debate that Vanilla Ice would have owned the title belt for the past quarter-century*. The man has a face that makes you not just want to punch it, but to go after it the same way that an in-his-prime Muhammad Ali worked a speedbag.

We would not be surprised to learn that German dictionaries feature this photo along with the definition of Backpfeifengesicht.

Despite that, and despite (or probably because of) Vanilla Ice’s current status as a cultural joke, he has managed to find his way into some commercials. This spot for South African beer Castle Lite wisely does not feature any closeups of VI’s mug, but even from a distance, the infuriating glow of Backpfeifengesicht shines through.

The UPS “Whiteboard Guy” from a few years back is a borderline case. He’s definitely smug, a little too-cool-for-school (especially off-putting for a guy whose main talent appears to be drawing stick figures with a brown marker) and has a bit of Backpfeifengesicht going on in the screen capture below. But, ultimately, it was his ponderous hairstyle that made him unlikable. In the final analysis, more people would probably rather punch his barber than him.

Speaking of ridiculous hair, most people who watched TV in the late 1980s and early 1990s will probably remember these Encyclopædia Britannica commercials with the smarmy blond-headed guy who radiated Backpfeifengesicht:

Before anyone objects to citing a minor as someone people might want to punch, it should be pointed out that the “kid” in that ad was an actor named Donavan Freberg who was an adult when that spot was made. And even if his face weren’t enough to inspire rage, how about the pretentiousness of an encyclopedia publisher that insisted upon spelling part of the set’s name as “Encyclopædia?”

Of course, these examples just barely scratch the surface of the long history of Backpfeifengesicht in advertising. This could very well be the first post in an ongoing series. If you can think of any notable examples that were left out this time around, please let me know about them in the comments section. Until then, keep those fists clenched.

*The one name that comes to mind as a dark horse challenger to Vanilla Ice would be former MTV DJ Kevin Seal, but we’d still give Mr. Van Winkle the edge.

Odd Product Hall of Fame: The Flowbee

Most offerings of the type featured in the Odd Product Hall of Fame are obscure. Because they are so…well, odd, they are destined for ultimate failure or to appeal to a microscopically small niche market. But every now and then, a  product that is undeniably weird also manages to catch on with the public and have some staying power. Some prominent examples of this category are the Snuggie or the Chia Pet. Another prime example would be the latest inductee into the Odd Product Hall of Fame: the Flowbee.

To a person uninitiated to the Flowbee, the concept of combining hair clippers with a vacuum cleaner would probably seem like a non-starter. And that person would probably find nothing to allay their skepticism in this borderline-surreal official product instruction video:

Yet, despite the fact that on paper, the product should never have gone anywhere, Flowbees have been on the market since the late 1980s — over a quarter-century. Along the way, the “precision home haircutting system” has received some high-profile media attention, including this send-up in the hit movie “Wayne’s World”…

…and being demonstrated by syndicated talk show host Anderson Cooper:

In light of all that goofiness, it’s tempting to write off the Flowbee’s longevity to people buying them as gag gifts or just out of morbid impulse-buy curiosity. But with a list price of $149.95 on Amazon, it seems unlikely that consumers have been shelling out that kind of money on a lark or as a joke for more than 20 years. All sarcasm aside, somebody out there must be experiencing (or at least expecting) some legitimate benefits from this curious device.

And so we recognize the Flowbee not only as a new member of the Odd Product Hall of Fame, but also as an item on that rarest of lists: Things that make the Marketing Smart Aleck glad that he’s bald.

Odd Product Hall of Fame: Sauna Pants

The infomercial for this product pretty much speaks for itself…

Still, after watching it, the OPHOF voters were left with some lingering questions:

  1. Don’t the people in this commercial seem curiously happy while adjusting their control knobs?
  2. Is the woman looking in the mirror at 0:47 wearing the Sauna Pants under her dress? It kinda looks like she might be. That can’t be a good idea, can it?
  3. The guy at 1:09 makes us snicker every time. That’s not a question but it needed to be said.
  4. When the voice-over announcer says the word “sauna” does it remind anyone else of the chorus from this classic novelty song?…

So many unanswered questions. And perhaps becuse that sense of lingering mystery, Sauna Pants have earned a spot in the Odd Product Hall of Fame…just as long as they promise to not to wear those sweaty things to the induction ceremony.

Odd Product Hall of Fame: Instant Civil War Capsules

So many times I have found myself saying, “I need a Civil War fix and I need it instantly!” If I lived in northern Virginia or next-door to Ken Burns it wouldn’t be a problem. But as a New York resident, my options for reliving the American Civil War are both limited and time-consuming. The nearest significant battlefield historic site is Gettysburg, which is roughly a 5-hour drive away. Civil War movies are available on Netflix, but how many times can one suspend disbelief that the commanding officer in Glory is anything other than just Ferris Bueller with a silly hat and weird facial hair? Trolling fans of SEC football teams on message boards can be a fun way to sir up latent Southern animosity toward Yankees like me and hear echoes of the Confederate rhetoric of yesteryear but that takes a lot of time and, ultimately, you realize that the person on the other end of the flame war probably looks the guy pictured below and it all starts to feel very sad.

Stonewall Jackson he ain’t.

And so it was that for many years following 1865, people in my situation who wanted an immediate experience involving The War Between the States were simply out of luck. But then came Instant Civil War Capsules…

Finally, a non-toxic pill that allows the user to “drop the capsule in warm water and watch Civil War appear!” What could be more awesome than that?

Of course some of you are skeptical. You’re wondering if the product can actually deliver on such a grandiose promise. Here’s a YouTube video from a user that will put those doubts to rest:

After seeing those capsules transform, you can practically hear the boom of the cannons, the piercing Rebel Yells and the tragic drum beats beckoning brother to fight against brother, can’t you? All for just $5.00.

For helping Americans to understand their heritage through water-activated foam shapes that spring to life instantly (well, sort of), we humbly induct Instant Civil War, both the blue and the gray capsules alike, into the Odd Product Hall of Fame. And to celebrate, we leave you with a song — one that you will no doubt want to have playing in the background when you drop your capsules into the water…