This has gone too far.
Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino — an overpriced sugar bomb dripping in unappetizing pink — was bad enough. It was far from the first (or the last) bad marketing scheme that left hungry and thirsty consumers groaning for the olden days, when coffee companies sold, y'know, coffee, and when advertising agencies weren't seemingly run by third-graders.
But then KFC announced it's launching a fried chicken sandwich into space this week and I realized: It could get worse. It has. KFC has partnered with a company called World View — one that Forbes said in 2016 is going to "revolutionize" the satellite industry — to send chicken into the stratosphere. Humans come later, The New York Times wrote. Chicken first, humans later.
"As you can imagine, when we first heard about it, we laughed our heads off," Jane Poynter, World View's chief executive, told the NYT. "And when we picked ourselves off the floor, we actually thought it was really, really cool."
It isn't. Billion-dollar fast-food companies can and should engage customers with clever marketing schemes. Sure, be a fun brand to follow on Twitter. Serve great food. Don't send chicken into space.
We need to take a cue from Val's Cheesecakes, the small Dallas company that sells brisket cheesecakes. It's a strange idea, mixing brisket and cheesecake, but its smart owners sell 'em for $60 a pop. And people buy them! There's nothing wrong with being inventive. But that line between inventive and idiotic is oh so thin.
I've been writing about products and ploys from food and beverage companies for years. And the irony's not lost: I shine a brighter light on these companies who are lazily trying to earn your buck.
We can't make a bad ad better. But we can muse on gimmicks that make us gag. Here's a list of my least-favorite product stunts in recent memory:
When Budweiser renamed its beer 'America'
It wasn't April Fools' Day. It was the middle of May when Budweiser announced it wouldn't be called Budweiser anymore. Please call it "America," Bud said. The idea was so asinine that we triple- and quadruple-checked we weren't getting punked.
We love America. We like Budweiser. We hate Budweiser nicknamed America. Especially since Bud's parent company AB InBev is headquartered in Belgium.
When Lay's started making gross chip flavors
Do you remember when you were "interesting" because you liked Lay's most exotic flavor, salt and vinegar? We miss those days. PepsiCo company Frito-Lay has officially gone bonkers over the past few years with the release of its newest, weirdest chips. We've taste-tested the cappuccino-flavored potato chips and Southern-biscuits-and-gravy-flavored potato chips. They're bad.
Frito-Lay — headquartered in Plano, Texas! — makes plenty of delicious products. Cheddar-flavored Wavy Lay's are the bomb. A handful of original barbecue-flavored Lay's should be at every Fourth of July party. Cut it out with the chocolate-dipped potato chips, Lay's.
When McDonald's made a fork out of french fries
In case you've had an awful french-fry-eating experience, McDonald's released a limited-time-only "frork." It's a utensil, but it's unusable until you insert fries into it. Then you eat the fries you just touched off of the frork.
Hands work well for eating fries, too.
When Starbucks released its Fruitcake Frappuccino
Frappuccino rhymes with crappuccino, and that can't be a coincidence. It's like Starbucks purposefully sics its icky new beverages on the frappuccino, specifically.
The Fruitcake Frappuccino was the most offensive to date, with its chunks of cherry clogging my straw as I tried not to gag on the lumpy sludge. The Unicorn Frappuccino, while more pleasing texturally, was, confusingly, mango flavored despite its hot pink coloring.
I have terrible news: "Stay tuned" for more weirdo drinks from Starbucks, former CEO Howard Schultz told CNBC. The Instagrammable Unicorn Frap sent customers into stores to discover how unmagical it was, and that means the company is likely to deliver more gimmicky drinks like it.
When KFC released chicken-flavored nail polish
KFC released chicken-flavored nail polish in May 2016 in Asia, and unfortunately, my first question was, "So, do we get chicken-flavored nail polish in the U.S.?" Thankfully, the answer was no.
KFC's slogan is "It's finger lickin' good," and stylish folks in Hong Kong could lick their chicken-painted fingers and taste meat. Like you do? No, you don't.