6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

Apparently, some of the most iconic places and rituals in the world were started purely to create 'buzz.'
6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

In an age when getting famous for the sake of being famous is the name of the game, and where it's hard to tell genuine news from fake "viral" publicity stunts, it's easy to long for the old days. You know, back when people still had some dignity, and great things were built and accomplished for some reason other than self-promotion.

We're not exactly sure when that was, because some of the most iconic places and rituals in the world were started purely to create "buzz."

The Olympic Torch Relay Was Publicity for the Third Reich

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

The most iconic moment from any Olympic games is the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame. The torch is carried from Olympia, Greece, to the games' host city, and the journey across nations has become a symbol of the world uniting toward a single goal. Oh, also, it was originally instituted by the Nazis to gain a little exposure.

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To be fair, it beats pop-up ads.

The Publicity Stunt That Started It:

The tradition of the Olympic flame itself -- minus the runner carrying the torch cross-country -- dates back to the first Olympics in ancient Greece, where a fire burned throughout the games. Then the 1936 Berlin Olympics added a new twist to the torch ceremony. Carl Diem, the event's organizer, wanted to link the modern Olympics to the ancient games. Hitler's good friend Joseph Goebbels, aka the minister of Nazi propaganda, saw this as an excellent opportunity to promote the Aryan race to the world.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

Nothing makes the race look good like tight shorts and pasty white legs.

The Nazis believed that ancient Greece was the forerunner of the Aryan race. So naturally, having one of their Nazi supermen carrying the flame from Olympia to the European countries where Germany wanted to increase its influence made perfect sense. And Goebbels spared no expense in making sure that every second of the relay was broadcast through radio and dramatic photographs taken for the benefit of their future subjects.

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"Boy, those Nazis sure do know how to stand in huge blocks underneath giant flags."

So as you watch the Olympic torch wind its way to London this summer, just remember that the worldwide event uniting every country for the sake of sport was originally designed to show the world the superiority of a few white guys.

The Public Ten Commandments Monuments Were Created to Promote the Movie

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You may remember a few years back there was a huge controversy over a stone Ten Commandments monument in an Alabama courthouse, including a lawsuit to get it taken down. But if you're anything like us and have spent a lot of your free time in courthouses, you've noticed that similar Ten Commandments monuments appear on and around public edifices all over the United States.


We can't help but notice that these say nothing about speeding, doing drugs or stealing cable.

They are intended as a reminder of the core principles on which our laws were built, and hell, they've probably been sitting there since the 1700s, right?

The Publicity Stunt That Started It:

In 1955, a movie was due for release. Maybe you've heard of it.

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He-Man got kinda lame in his old age.

While Cecil B. DeMille was working on the movie, he learned that a judge from Minnesota had been working with a Christian fraternal organization to send framed copies of the Ten Commandments to schools and public buildings for display. Not in anticipation of a big epic movie coming out, but because he thought America needed reminding of God's laws before those filthy beatniks could corrupt the nation.

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We've always preferred a slightly amended version of the Ten Commandments.

Eager for publicity, DeMille contacted the judge and suggested that they replace the framed certificates with bronze tablets, but the judge said no way. Moses' tablets were in granite, so bronze wouldn't do (apparently no one bothered pointing out that framed paper certificates were just fine for the judge before DeMille and Paramount got involved).

So, with DeMille's backing, around 150 granite tablets were made and distributed across the country, with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner dedicating a few of them in person.

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Thorn in Paw

I, Yul Brynner, dedicate this monument. Now go see my movie!

Having Heston and Brynner on a faux religious tour was great publicity for the film, which grossed around $80 million. When the movie was out of theaters, the monuments stayed, and the group that helped the judge at the beginning of the story kept right on sending them out into the mid-'80s.

Of course, it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would say, "Hang on a second, what about the separation of church and state?" and the lawsuits ignited like a burning bush. In fact, the Ten Commandments monument that was the focus of the 2005 Supreme Court case Van Orden v. Perry was one of Cecil B. DeMille's very first attempts at viral marketing.


Heston's irresistibly doe-y eyes were another.

In other words, the Supreme Court handed down a decision as a result of a movie publicity stunt.

The Hollywood Sign Was a Billboard for a Housing Development


It has to be one of the five most recognizable landmarks in the world -- the big white "Hollywood" sign that transformed one Southern California suburb into the magical place where dreams are made.



The symbolism behind the sign is pretty profound: If a dirty town in the desert could become iconic through the power of movies, then why can't you? So come live out your dreams, talentless teenager! We need waiters!

The Publicity Stunt That Started It:

The Hollywood sign was created as a gigantic billboard for an expensive housing development in 1923.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts
The Hollywood Sign

Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler built a really fancy subdivided housing development called Hollywoodland, and when the time came to advertise his new venture, he had to think long and hard for a way to catch everyone's eye. After considering print, radio and even those newfangled motion pictures, he settled instead on building a 50-foot colossal billboard on the hills behind his homes. Just so we're clear, the sign that's become a symbol of movie-stardom was actually created because movies sucked at generating publicity.

The original sign, which read "Hollywoodland," cost $21,000 to make, and it lit up at night to attract the artsy, sophisticated types that Chandler wanted to live in his mansions. For the most part, things worked out. Then the Great Depression came along and ruined everything for Chandler. People couldn't afford to live in his subdivision, and his Hollywoodland sign crumbled from lack of maintenance.


What's wrong? The Hullywod sign looks fine!

By the 1970s, the Hollywoodland sign was completely unrecognizable. The "H" had blown away, and the city of Los Angeles decided to drop the "LAND" from the sign. But the good news was that this problem, like most other problems, could be solved with porn! In 1978, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner held a fundraiser to save the sign. Celebrities such as Alice Cooper and Gene Autry participated in an auction that won them individual letters to restore. This whole procedure actually started the Hollywood revitalization movement of the 1980s that allowed the city to flourish into the sticky, grimy Hollywood you know and love today.

Guinness World Records Was Invented by the Beer Company to Sell in Bars

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Since the 1950s, Guinness World Records has been the authoritative record keeper on the tallest, fastest, heaviest, highest and every other "-est" in the world. The book is updated every year, and thousands of people dedicate their lives to making it into the pages by way of shooting milk out of their eyes or owning the most ducks.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts
Guinness World Records

Congratulations, ma'am, you've won at life.

The Publicity Stunt That Started It:

Raise your hand if you thought that the "Guinness" in "Guinness World Records" had absolutely nothing to do with the makers of the Irish beer. Because you're wrong.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

You'd be surprised how much of the modern world we owe to this beer.

In 1951, the managing director of Guinness Brewery took a bird-hunting trip in Ireland, and while it's not crucial to the story, we feel compelled to point out that his name was Sir Hugh Beaver.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts
St. Ibars N.S. Castlebridge

Somehow we pictured him with more facial hair.

He was hunting the golden plover, and after failing to shoot even one, he declared that the bird must be the fastest in Europe. Obviously. Beaver's friends called bullshit, but they had no reliable source to turn to for bird speeds, as no one had thought of the Internet yet.

So Sir Beaver had an idea. He decided the public needed an official book of records that could be used to settle bar bets.


"Just think of how close mankind came to losing all this knowledge."

In 1954, he hired a fact-finding agency to put together a definitive book of facts. A year later, a 198-page book with the Guinness name on the cover was printed and handed out in bars as a giveaway to increase the sales of Guinness. But it also brought temporary peace to the pubs, since drunks could look up answers to their disputes instead of punching each other until one person was right. The Guinness Book of Records was in such demand that Guinness immediately reprinted 50,000 copies and started selling them, and they've been in print ever since.

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Bathroom reading has never been the same.

The Rose Bowl Was a Stunt to Promote Tourism to Pasadena

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

Of all the college football bowl games, the Rose Bowl is one of the most prestigious and definitely the oldest. It was first played in 1902 and is nicknamed "the granddaddy of them all" because it's so steeped in college tradition.

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"Tradition" here means "cheap alcohol."

The only trouble is that the whole event began as one big advertisement for Southern California tourism.

The Publicity Stunt That Started It:

Back in 1890, the city of Pasadena wanted to showcase how their winter was soooo much better than yours. And in 1890, there were only two ways to accomplish that: by commissioning an artist to paint scenes of local wintertime fun and then just nonchalantly leaving the paintings all around the country, or by holding a festival. Pasadena went with the second one.

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Subtlety not being California's strong suit.

The idea was to drive vacationers to the city by offering them a glimpse of this magical heaven where the skies shit sunshine on the blessed people who lived there 365 days a year. So Pasadena settled on hosting the Tournament of Roses, a parade that would not only show off blooming flowers in January (JANUARY!) but also rub the rest of the country's face in the idea of perpetual summer.

The spectacle became a point of interest, but not quite the rousing success the city was hoping for. In an attempt to draw a bigger crowd, they tried several novelty events over the next 10 years, such as an elephant/camel race and ostrich chariot races.

Experiencing L.A.

You heard us.

After the full parade was added to the lineup, the Tournament Council finally figured out what would be a big draw: a good old-fashioned football game. The first Rose Bowl Game, officially called Tournament East-West football game, was played on January 1, 1902. The University of Michigan beat the living shit out of Stanford 49-0 and forced Stanford to forfeit the game.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts
Michigan in Pictures

This sucks. Wanna bail?

Not surprisingly, football had nothing on ostriches pulling chariots, and the whole football thing was abandoned for 14 years. It wasn't until 1916 that Californians had their fill of novelty animal bullshit and were ready to give human sports another go. And by that time the audience had grown enough that they eventually needed a new, custom-built stadium -- the Tournament of Roses Bowl, or, as it was later known, the Rose Bowl.

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Rose Bowl Stadium

And that's where the name comes from!

The World's Most Famous Cemetery Got That Way by Moving Celebrity Corpses


If you think hanging out with the jet set will be just as important to your rotting corpse as it was to your living flesh, then French cemetery Pere Lachaise is the graveyard for you. It has provided dirt holes for some of the most famous musicians, artists, writers and war heroes from around the world. The remains of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein and literally handfuls of other celebrities have all turned an ordinary cemetery into a destination of reverence -- it's said to be the most-visited cemetery in the world.

Francois Trazzi, Wikipedia Commons

If you can think of a better spot for a blind date, we'd like to hear it.

The Publicity Stunt That Started It:

Back in the 19th century, Paris' church cemeteries were as full as a morning diaper, which is an apt analogy, stench-wise. So new cemeteries, including Pere Lachaise, were opened on the outskirts of Paris. The trouble was that Pere Lachaise was on the unfashionable east side and no one from the western side of Paris wanted to be buried there.

6 Iconic Things You Won't Believe Began as Publicity Stunts

West Siiiiiiide!

Nicolas Frochot, the urban planner who designed Pere Lachaise, had to quickly come up with a way to attract more people who were insistent on being so damned French about everything. His solution: He convinced the government to let him dig up famous French luminaries, like the playwright Moliere, and rebury them in Pere Lachaise.

Frochot's ploy worked like a dream: Once rich Parisians heard they could be buried next to famous people, they started buying up plots, and Pere Lachaise quickly became the place to rot for eternity. As French songwriter Georges Brassens put it, "People had their hearts set to die higher than their asses."

Find A Grave

Pictured: Dignity.

Erik Germ is the owner of hugefrigginarms.com and would love for you to follow him on Twitter.

For more ridiculous publicity stunts, check out 6 Retarded Publicity Stunts (That Fooled Everyone) and The 6 Most Wildly Irresponsible Publicity Stunts in History.

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