4 Ads That Continued Long After the Product They Plugged Was Gone
Ads are pretty much the most ephemeral bit of art we have. Just to read this far on this page, you may have already seen an ad that you’ll never see again (instead, you’ll get to see different ads).
But sometimes, marketing lasts longer than intended. We’re not talking about when someone records a commercial and watches it later and says, “Yes, this was a well-produced ad.” We’re talking about weird stuff like how...
Parrots Were Trained to Say the (Wrong) Name of a Movie
In the 1930s, Mae West wrote a story called It Ain’t No Sin. It was about a singer named Ruby who falls in love with the Tiger Kid, who is sadly not half-human, half-tiger but a boxer. This results in robbery, match-fixing and arson, and it all ends with a wedding, like all good stories must. In 1934, Paramount Pictures made it into a movie, starring West herself.
Paramount came up with an unusual way of promoting the movie. They brought dozens of parrots into a studio room — 50 parrots, according to one account — and played for the birds a recording of a human voice saying, “It ain’t no sin,” over and over. They’d release the parrots at a few strategic location, where these birds would chirp out the movie title to potential customers. Get these influencers roosting near the box offices of major theaters, and maybe they’d convince a few people to buy tickets, and hopefully would avoid getting shot.
The year 1934 also saw the introduction of the Hays Code, Hollywood’s censorship tool that cracked down on (among other things) any depiction of lawbreaking unless the movie explicitly condemned it. The title “It ain’t no sin” comes from the phrase “It ain’t no sin to crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.” That’s a deeply immoral position that the Hays Code could not ever let a movie place right in the title, so Hollywood made the studio change the name.
It Ain’t No Sin was released under a different title, Belle of the Nineties, chosen because it took place during the Gay ’90s. The parrots, now useless, were released to South America, where they went on parroting words that now advertised nothing. This marketing stunt provided no return on investment. Still, it wouldn’t be the last time Hollywood tried to promote movies using tweets.
The Hollywood Sign Was Supposed to Stand for Only 18 Months
Speaking of Hollywood, you all know the below landmark, right? It’s the Hollywood Sign, a giant collection of letters erected to inform the people of Hollywood that they are in fact in Hollywood.
Except, no, cities don’t build their own names in letters that big, not unless they’re suffering from severe insecurity. Like, Miami doesn’t have a giant sign anywhere reading “Miami.” You might think Miami does if you’ve watched Michael Bay movies, but it doesn’t, trust us.
The Hollywood Sign was not created to be a city landmark but to be a temporary billboard. This billboard didn’t advertise the neighborhood of Hollywood but advertised one specific private housing development called “Hollywoodland” — originally, the sign spelled out “Hollywoodland” in full. Hollywood wasn’t quite an iconic location when the billboard went up in 1923. Then, the movie industry kicked into a higher gear, these movies became firmly associated with Hollywood and Hollywood took enough pride in itself to keep the sign from coming down.
The original housing development went bust by 1944, the year that its owner, Harry Chandler, died at the age of 80. The city now took over total possession of the sign. Even then, it took them another five years to get around to knocking down the “LAND” part — the part that now represented nothing.
Ecto Cooler Lasted So Long
When a product is related to a pop-culture franchise, it might be tie-in merchandise, or it might be a promo tool. To us, the random person in the store, those are the same thing, but the goal is different. With merchandise, the company says, “Hey, here’s a name you know. Maybe, thanks to that knowledge, you’ll buy the product, and make us money!” With promos, the company says, “Hey, here’s a product you want to buy. Maybe, thanks to buying it, you’ll know this name, and make us money!”
Which of these was Ecto Cooler, the citrus-flavored Ghostbuster-themed Hi-C drink? According to forensic philosophers, it was a promo tool, an investment that cost Universal marketing dollars but which sought to drum up interest for 1989’s Ghostbusters II. The movie left theaters by the start of autumn that year, but Ecto Cooler remained in stores. People now associated it with the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, and the packaging gained a cartoon version of Slimer.
The Real Ghostbusters lasted six years, with 140 episodes. That’s pretty impressive (The Jetsons lasted one year and 24 episodes in its original run, and got 75 episodes total when you count the revival). But when the show went off the air, that still was not the end for Ecto Cooler. The drink went on being sold for a full 10 more years, now definitely promoting nothing.
Later still, of course, we had new Ghostbusters media to promote, when they forced out yet another movie. Ecto Cooler, always dependable, returned to stores. And then, when the next movie came and exorcised its predecessor, the drink returned yet again.
Thousands of Trees Still Spell Out ‘Studebaker’
In 1938, Studebaker was doing pretty well. They’d weathered most of the Great Depression, a time when people really weren’t into buying cars, and World War II was around the corner, a time when they could make trucks for the army regardless of how many or how few cars anyone wanted to buy. As such, it was time for a monument to Studebaker’s might.
The site of this new creation would be South Bend, Indiana, where Studebaker had headquartered since the 19th century, back when they were a group of blacksmiths. The company arranged here 8,200 pine trees so they spelled the company name. From the ground, they just looked like trees. But you’d see the Studebaker name if you opted for air travel, which had become kind of a thing lately.
Thirty years later, Studebaker merged with another company. Ten years after that, yet another company swallowed them up. Six years later a different company swallowed that company, then another company ate that company up in 2012. This final company, called Eaton Corporation, is still in existence the last time we checked, and pulls in $20 billion every year, but as for Studebaker, that’s a name that today means nothing.
The Studebaker Tree Sign? It’s still around. No business uses it to promote anything, but nostalgic Hoosiers are committed to its maintenance. We have no idea why we were making fun of giant signs proclaiming the name of cities a few minutes ago. Signs labeling cities make perfect sense. This? This makes no sense and is why the trees will ultimately rise up against us.