Most companies are willing to do just about anything short of committing federal crimes to make a profit. Hell, even the crime part is up for grabs if they think they'll make more money than the fines cost. But there are a few lines that even massive corporations won't cross, and they're much weirder than you'd think ...
Sanrio, the global conglomerate behind Hello Kitty, Aggretsuko, and other emoji sets, is even better than Disney at slapping their mascots onto every product imaginable. Maybe the only place you wouldn't expect their iconic mouthless cat to turn up would be, ahem, mounted on a vibrator.
That's supposed to be a back massager, and not the type with winking quotation marks around it. But as back pain sufferers don't normally associate Japanese cartoons with healthcare efficacy, the device didn't do much business on the strength of its intended purpose. However, once someone tested a secondary application of its stimulating ability, it started flying off the shelves and directly into the shameful crevice between the mattress and the box spring.
The device was first introduced in the late '90s and was discontinued a few years later, even though New York sex store operators claimed it "sold like crazy," and customers mourned its loss. In 2007, it was briefly reintroduced -- again as a "healthcare product" -- to much rejoicing. But as the widely regarded Jezebel columnist Slut Machine noted of the plastic ears: "If you're not careful, they'll bruise you all up down there." Hopefully, Ms. Machine then medicated with the proper amount of Hello Kitty hooch.
Big Pharma may get you the cash, but it doesn't get you the street cred. Well, unless you're Actavis. They became the hippest pharmaceutical corporation this side of Dr. Reddy (it's all in the name, baby) when the humble cough syrup they produce was shanghaied to make drank -- aka purple stuff, aka sizzurp, aka lean, aka look at how out of touch you've become with pop culture, reader.
It doesn't take a master mixologist to pour codeine-laden syrup into soda, and soon all kinds of people one may not want associated with their health product -- from low-level street gangs to chart-topping rappers -- had become very loyal and extremely vocal Actavis customers. Alcohol brands are downright thirsty for that kind of free promotion, but adding what's essentially chill drug abuse to the equation makes it a sketchy association for a massive corporation. Especially when, say, 110 gallons of the drug are flat-out stolen to be repurposed recreationally.
By 2014, Justin Bieber was rumored to be developing a taste for the drank, and once popular white people get involved, the media dubs it a public health crisis and it's time to distance your brand. The cough syrup was discontinued, and Actavis thought they could move on. But pop culture cannot be dictated by The Man, unless The Man is also Disney. In the minds of users and boastful abusers, lean and Actavis were as indissoluble as gin and juice. In 2015, Soulja Boy and Migos dropped an ode to the cough syrup simply called "Actavis," which has racked up two million views so far.
So even though they haven't produced the product for several years, Actavis is still the unofficial relaxant of choice for hip-hop. Their name even bubbled to the surface again in 2017 in speculation over the fatal overdose of Lil Peep. Right now there's some terrified middle executive at Actavis frantically googling "how to become uncool." We wish you luck, Johnson. You're gonna need it.
The Ford Motor Company generally conjures up images of majestic pickup trucks frolicking on coastal rocks to a soundtrack of classic Dad Rock jams. Then on June 17, 1994, an estimated 95 million people watched the dramatic (albeit incredibly slow) police chase involving O.J. Simpson in a 1993 Ford Bronco.
No one wants their product to be seen as the getaway vehicle of choice for even the most famous of alleged criminals, but sales of the Bronco, which had been declining, saw a 7,000-unit increase in the year after the pursuit. Americans apparently looked at the Bronco and said, "It's an ungainly SUV with only two doors and a tangential association with famous murder? Where do I apply for the loan?" While the model was discontinued, the value of used Broncos has decreased little, suggesting an ongoing interest in the little truck that definitely could not.
Prismata is a sci-fi card game. Never heard of it? Well, in May of 2018, it was more popular than Grand Theft Auto and Rocket League combined. In fact, it was the fourth-most-played game in the world (... on Steam).
Why were so many people playing this game you'd never heard of? That's exactly what its developers, the three-person Lunarch Studios, were asking. This was like if your friend's travel blog about their vacation in Thailand suddenly became a New York Times bestseller.
It started when Lunarch advertised free copies of Prismata to anyone who retweeted them. They expected a few dozen responses, but got more. Several thousand more. Lunarch kept their word and started sending out game codes through DMs, but quickly hit the limit for DMs you can send. Did you know there's a Twitter DM limit? They sure didn't. They switched to Discord, but were again thwarted by anti-spam rules. Then they set up a public Google spreadsheet filled with free codes for people to take, but that almost immediately self-destructed from the sheer number of people trying to access it at once.
Exasperated, the developers went straight to the source and asked Steam to set their game as free for the weekend. So that explains a few thousand players, but the fourth-most-played in the world? That's where the Russian scammers come in!
Steam didn't set their game as "Free to Play," but rather as "100 Percent Off." Those may sound identical, but Free to Play games don't allow players to earn Steam trading cards, which are virtual collectibles. If you don't like to collect them, a typical card can be sold on Steam's marketplace for like eight cents to ... somebody, apparently? Right?
Anyway, you see where this is going: The majority of Prismata's 100,000+ active players were in fact spoof accounts operating out of Russia. Most of the accounts started playing at the exact same time, suggesting that somewhere in Russia, there's a single trading card baron swimming in a pool filled with countless shiny American nickels. But it wasn't all a waste for Lunarch. The bizarre affair gave Prismata free publicity, and they took their tiny developer commission on every trading card sold, and reinvested the money into community tournaments.
Sometimes Russian interference can actually be a good thing.
Well, this one time.
After the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, who was carrying a bag of Skittles when he was killed, the candy became a symbol of protest against the killings of unarmed black people, because that's the sort of thing that needs some serious protesting.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
People sold Skittles at fundraisers for the Martin family, and placed them at memorials. Somebody even made a portrait of George Zimmerman, who shot Martin, out of 12,000 Skittles.
All of that was really, really good for Skittles sales, but really, really dicey for their corporate owners, Wrigley. Some people demanded that Wrigley make donations to a relevant cause, while others called for a boycott to stop the inadvertent profiteering.
In response, Wrigley released a statement that was the corporate equivalent of "Oh, wow, this all sucks super hard. We're going to sit tight and wait for it to blow over." And it worked! It was generally agreed that Skittles handled the situation about as well as they could have, because sometimes you really just don't need to get involved in an issue. Plus it gave Wrigley good practice for when Donald Trump Jr. compared their candy to evil refugees four years later. Wow, Skittles, you have had an eventful past few years.
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