It’s been another year for the books. Avengers: Endgame dominated at the box office, a bunch of people wanted to invade Area 51, and “Old Town Road” couldn’t get out of our heads.

On the business side of things, many brands were pretty darn creative with their advertising. Whether it was pop-up shops or fun social media posts, companies of all sizes really made some crazy and inventive marketing moves this year.  

You’ll also see all that in action when looking at the all-time greatest promotional products of 2019! Here they are in no particular order.

#1:  Starbucks Color-Changing Tumblers

Source: businessinsider.com

Starbucks has an enormous fanbase, so it’s no surprise that these color-changing tumblers sold out in less than a week. In fact, people loved them so much, sellers were posting them for three times their worth online! The tumblers are not only trendy enough for Instagram, but they’re also way better for the environment than the disposable cups.

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  A Starbucks cup had a lead role in Game of Thrones when it accidentally appeared on a table during the final season. This resulted in an estimated $2.3 billion in free advertising!

#2:  Dunkin’ Gym Shoes

Source: garage.vice.com

Right on time for the Boston Marathon, Dunkin’ partnered with shoe brand Saucony to release limited edition sneakers. The $110 pair sold out in less than a day, with people lining up outside the store and waiting in the rain for their chance to score some. And who could blame them? These kicks are as sweet as a box of Munchkins!

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Dunkin’ released eight nail polish colors inspired by their signature lattes and seasonal Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavored coffees. These were available for a limited time at select salons in Philadelphia.

#3:  McDonald’s Couch

Source: delish.com

A Twitter contest asked people to share the McDonald’s menu item they’d enjoy the most while reclining on a La-Z-Boy. They also had to tag the restaurant and Uber Eats in their post. One lucky winner would then be selected to receive this big comfy couch. Did I mention it has a built-in McFlurry cooler?

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  A McDonald’s billboard in Sweden was converted to a “hotel for bees.” The eco-friendly sign was designed to help the country’s bee population from going extinct.

#4:  Red Lobster Fanny Packs

Source: rachelraymag.com

Everyone knows the best part about Red Lobster is their cheddar biscuits. That’s exactly why the seafood restaurant released insulated fanny packs for fans to fill up. To get one, you had to Tweet at Red Lobster in 280 characters or less and tell them what you love most about their cheesy appetizer. Fingers crossed a lobster tank drawstring bag is in our future!

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  For National Lobster Day on September 25th, the seafood chain offered patrons over a pound of lobster for only $20.

#5:  Portillo’s Pop-Up Shop Merch

The Portillo’s Experience at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL was an exclusive pop-up shop that ran from Nov. 6th to Dec. 31st. You could lounge on a couch with pickle and tomato pillows, scratch-and-sniff a hot dog wall, sit in a giant onion ring, and of course, shop a selection of exclusive merch like t-shirts, Portillo’s cup keychains, snow globes, hats, hoodies, plush dogs, and even bibs!

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  A Portillo’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana released a food truck known as “The Beef Bus.” It was a 2019 Ford F59 that was full of all your favorite menu items.

#6:  Oreo Xbox One X

Source: onmsft.com

For their 30-day “The Stuf Inside” promotion, Oreo gave fans the opportunity to score a bunch of cool merch. To play, you had to simply open an animated cookie and see what waited inside. You could win an iRobot Roomba Vacuum, snowboard, cookie jar, leggings, headphones, or one of these super cool Oreo Xbox One X’s.

#7:  KFC Animal-Skin Rug

Source: usmagazine.com

The lush Colonel Sanders rug made its debut right in time for Valentine’s Day. You could enter an online contest for the chance to curl up with your significant other and the KFC Date Night Package – a prize that also included two pairs of fried chicken pajamas and a KFC gift card for two. After all, nothing is crispier than a night in with a bottle of wine and a bucket of chicken.

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  It’s been a weird year of love for KFC. Aside from this luxurious rug, you could also try and woo the Colonel via a mobile dating simulator app.

#8:  Vue Cinema Comfort Kits

Source: dailyrecord.co.uk

IT, the remake based on the Stephen King novel, is currently the highest grossing horror movie of all time. Vue Cinema wisely made their theater the one to go to for the sequel by offering moviegoers a comfort kit to use during the film. This included a squishy stress ball, blanket, and earplugs, all housed inside a Vue Cinema bag. Bring in the clown!

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Vue Cinema takes new releases very seriously. For the debut of the Downton Abbey film, the theater hired a full-blown string quartet to greet guests in the lobby.

#9:  Arby’s Subscription Boxes

Source: thrillist.com

In Georgia, fans could sign up for the Arby’s of the Month Club and score 6 months of branded surprises delivered right to their door for only a one-time fee of $25. The first month’s edition included a knit beanie, bacon scarf, serving tray, and temporary tattoos. This deal was so good, it sold out in just under an hour!

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Arby’s celebrated Oktoberfest with the release of lederhosen decorated with sandwiches. These were fittingly referred to as “Meaterhosen.”

#10:  Hidden Valley Summer Gear

Source: hidden.valley, Instagram

Do you need a way to show your love of ranch at your next pool party? Well, you’re in luck! Hidden Valley released a line of swimsuits, beach towels, floaties, and other summer wear for ranch lovers everywhere. And the best part is you can still get all this fun gear in their online shop!

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Hidden Valley was part of the festival circuit in 2019 with their Coast-to-Coast Ranch Dressing Tour. It wasn’t music, but an opportunity for restaurants all over the United States to submit creations using Hidden Valley seasonings.

#11:  Allstate Disaster Preparedness Kits

Source: auburn-reporter.com

Promotional products are more than just t-shirts, stress balls, and quirky fanny packs. They can also be used for good. Take for instance the Allstate Foundation’s disaster preparedness kits. 2,000 drawstring bags were filled with custom sanitizer wipes, whistles, and other items. These were then handed out in Oregon to help families in that area prepare for wildfires or flooding.  

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Actor Dean Winters, you know that guy from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and 30 Rock,  pretended to be a cat in the wildly popular Allstate Mayhem home insurance commercials. 

#12:  Taco Bell Back to School Merch

Source: delish.com

It’s been a big year for Taco Bell. Not only did they start offering exclusive shirts, bodysuits, and leggings at Forever 21 stores, they also released awesome back to school gear like backpacks, travel mugs, notebooks, flash drives, pens, and pencil cases. Prices on this merch ranged from anywhere between $5 and $85.

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Reservations for the Taco Bell pop-up hotel in Palm Springs, Florida sold out in less than two minutes!

#13:  Chicago Blackhawks Margaritaville Merch

Source: chicago.suntimes.com

You might not immediately think Jimmy Buffet and hockey go together. However, that didn’t stop the Chicago Blackhawks from releasing Caribbean inspired merch for National Margarita Day. The first 1,500 fans who came to the United Center received an “Escape to Margaritaville” t-shirt with the Blackhawks logo. One lucky winner was also able to ride away on a Margaritaville-themed bicycle.

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  The Blackhawks held an exclusive event for Día de los Muertos on October 14th. There was a live Mariachi band, face painters, themed characters, limited edition sugar skull bobbleheads, and exclusive hats for first 2,000 fans to come to the game.

#14:  Wendy’s Role Playing Game

Source: adweek.com

Wendy’s did what they do best and took to Twitter to announce the debut of the 97-page roleplaying game, Feasts of Legends. It’s like Dungeons & Dragons, only you fight McDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food rivals in epic battles. You also have to eat Wendy’s chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and French fries in order to survive.

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Chance the Rapper got Wendy’s to bring back spicy chicken nuggets simply by tweeting at the restaurant. Over two million users liked the post, and just like that, the nuggets were back on the menu.

#15:  Ozzy Osbourne’s Plush Bats

Source: @OzzyOsbourne, Twitter

Ozzy Osbourne marketed this truly one-of-a-kind plush bat to his fans on Twitter in a way only Ozzy could:  Today marks the 37th anniversary since I bit a head off a f*cking bat! Celebrate with this commemorative plush with detachable head. Are you a metalhead? Grab yours for $40 through Ozzy’s online store.

Other 2019 Marketing Moment:  Ozzy Osbourne didn’t have any other marketing moments in 2019. He’s been leaving the bats alone and focusing on his health.

Final Thoughts

People are no longer happy with simple giveaways and the occasional social media contest. They really want to experience a brand, whether it’s through a Hidden Valley bikini, giant Portillo’s pickle pillow, or a Colonel Sanders bearskin rug.

The marketing this year has been nothing short of fun, and it’ll be exciting to see what 2020 has in store!

References

Taylor, K. (2019, May 2). Starbucks’ Color-Changing Cups are Selling Out, Sparking Panic and Massively Inflated Markups – But the Coffee Giant is Restocking Them Next Week. Retrieved from, https://www.businessinsider.com/starbucks-color-changing-cup-to-be-restocked-2019-5

Jeffrey, C. (2019, September 10). KFC is Making a Wacky and Slighting Creepy Dating Simulator. Retrieved from, https://www.techspot.com/news/81834-kfc-making-wacky-slightly-creepy-dating-simulator.html

Schaltegger, M. (2019, March 19). McDonald’s is Giving Away a La-Z-Boy Couch tha has a Built-in McFlurry Chiller. Retrieved from, https://www.delish.com/food-news/a26871817/mcdonalds-mcdelivery-couch/

Glencross, N. (2019, September 4). Scottish Cinema Introduces Stephen King It ‘Comfort Kits’ for Terrified Viewers. Retrieved from, https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/scottish-cinema-introduces-screening-comfort-19449621

Avery, D. (2019, September 16). McDonald’s in Sweden Converting Billboards Into ‘Hotels’ for Bees. Retrieved from, https://www.newsweek.com/mcdonalds-sweden-bee-hotels-1459333

Meechan, S. (2019, September 12). Vue Cinema Hires Edwardian String Quartet to Welcome Downton Abbey Film Fans. Retrieved from, https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/film-news/vue-cinema-hires-edwardian-string-16907157

CBS News Philly. Dunkin’ Introduces Nail Polish Inspired By Lattes, Ice Cream-Flavored Coffees at Select Philadelphia Nail Salons. Retrieved from, https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2019/05/15/dunkin-donuts-introduces-eight-nail-polish-colors/

Gumport, E. (2018, April 16). Can a Piping Hot Dunkin’ Donuts Collab Make Sneakerheads of Us All? Retrieved from, https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/xw7m9w/dunkin-donuts-sneakers

Fox News. (2019, September 25). Get More Than a Pound of Lobster for $20 at Red Lobster for ‘National Lobster Day’. Retrieved from, https://www.fox13news.com/news/get-more-than-a-pound-of-lobster-for-20-at-red-lobster-for-national-lobster-day

Menapace, B. (2019, May 1). Red Lobster Gave Out Insulated, Branded Fanny Packs for Fans to Fill with Cheddar Biscuits. Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/red-lobster-giving-insulated-branded-fanny-packs-fans-fill-cheddar-biscuits/

Myers, J. (2019, February 5). Oreo’s Big New Promotional Campaign Involves Branded Roombas, Tons of Other Merch. Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/oreos-big-new-promotional-campaign-involves-branded-roombas-tons-merch/

Gant, M. (2019, September 13). Oreo’s New Mystery Flavor is Here! Here’s What it Tastes Like. Retrieved from, https://www.today.com/food/oreo-s-new-mystery-flavor-here-here-s-what-it-t162527

Leffler, S. (2019, February 5). KFC Created a Rug with a Colonel Sanders’ Head, Hands, and Feet for Valentine’s Day. Retrieved from, https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/kfc-debuts-valentines-day-rug-with-colonel-sanders-head/

Whitten, S. (2019, May 7). Starbucks Got an Estimated $2.3 Billion in Free Advertising from ‘Game of Thrones’ Gaffe, and It Wasn’t Even its Coffee Cup. Retrieved from, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/07/starbucks-got-2point3-billion-in-free-advertising-from-game-of-thrones-gaffe.html

Myers, J. (2019, January 15). Arby’s Launches Subscription Box, Sells Out in Minutes. Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/arbys-launches-subscription-box-sells-out-in-minutes/

Salaky, K. (2019, September 4). Hidden Valley is Launching a Coast-to-Coast Ranch Dressing Tour, and I Want to Hit Every Stop. Retrieved from, https://www.delish.com/food-news/a28914617/hidden-valley-ranch-dressing-tour/

ABC 6 Action News. (2019, May 24). Hidden Valley Launches Lines of Ranch-Themed Summer Gear. Retrieved from, https://6abc.com/fashion/hidden-valley-launches-line-of-ranch-themed-summer-gear/5315786/

Thompson, L. (2019, April 15). Allstate Handing Out 2,000 Disaster Preparedness Kits in Oregon. Retrieved from, https://www.kdrv.com/content/video/508621942.html

Ramos, M. Allstate Mayhem Goes Cat Crazy in New Commercial. Retrieved from, https://coleandmarmalade.com/2019/09/19/allstate-mayhem-goes-cat-crazy-in-new-commercial/

Kenney, M. (2019, February 20). Blackhawks to Celebrate National Margarita Day with Jimmy Buffett-inspired Night. Retrieved from, https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/2/20/18355078/blackhawks-to-celebrate-national-margarita-day-with-jimmy-buffett-inspired-night

Semple, S. (2019, August 27). New Taco Bell Merch Collection Shows How Any Brand Can Get In on Back-to-School. Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/new-taco-bell-merch-collection-shows-brand-can-get-back-school/

Myers, J. Arby’s Launches Oktoberfest Merch Line Featuring ‘Meaterhosen.’ Retrieved from, http://www.promomarkit.com/article/3304/

NHL.com. Blackhawks Día De Los Muertos. Retrieved from, https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks/tickets/dia-de-los-muertos

NBC Chicago. (2019, November 5). See Inside the Portillo’s Pop-Up at Woodfield Mall. Retrieved from, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/see-inside-the-portillos-pop-up-at-woodfield-mall/2079296/

KPC News. (2019, October 9). Portillo’s Launches Food Truck, Hiring for Restaurant. Retrieved from, https://www.kpcnews.com/infortwayne/article_048cbb7d-01c1-5f2c-99f7-2c4b29c18133.html

Vincent, B. (2019, October 7). Wendy’s First Tabletop RPG Feast of Legends is Free to Download. Retrieved from, https://www.shacknews.com/article/114371/wendys-first-tabletop-rpg-feast-of-legends-is-free-to-download

Wicker, J. (2019, May 6). Chance the Rapper Got Wendy’s to Bring Back Spicy Chicken Nuggets. Retrieved from, https://www.thefader.com/2019/05/06/chance-the-rapper-wendys-bring-back-spicy-chicken-nuggets

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.