Year in Weird: A Roundup of Some of 2022’s Most Bizarre Brand Experiences

From the quirky to the creepy, these activations turned heads and delivered engagement

Three-course hot dog dinner, anyone? This year was one for the experiential books. As the world reopened and a flood of events ensued, brands got weird to slice through a saturated landscape and earn consumers’ valuable time and attention. In a bid to inspire an “I’ve got to see this for myself” sentiment among their audiences, marketers poured their efforts into designing peculiar, often culinary-based, experiences that leaned into never-been-done-before territory.

And the trend is going strong. Case in point: Airbnb is investing $10 million in the construction of the world’s most outlandish property ideas, proposed by “existing and aspiring designers, architects, DIYers and makers.” The houses will be added to Airbnb’s OMG! category listings next year, which represent the most unique homes available on the platform (think: a 6-ton potato house). Ultimately, 100 people from 20 countries will craft their wacky builds, which include everything from an eco-igloo to a giant flower pot to a UFO. Meanwhile, in November, Pop-Tarts crafted a house made out of its gingerbread pastries and listed it on Zillow. Home, sweet home.

Evidently, the propensity for brands to let their freak flags fly—and invite consumers to do the same—will carry into 2023. And we’re here for it. In the meantime, steal some ideas from a collection of 2022’s most bizarre brand experiences.

More off-beat strategies:


Audible teased its newest Audible Originals Summer in Argyle murder comedy podcast series at SXSW with a three-course hot dog-themed dinner for fans hosted by the series’ co-creators and co-writers, Nate Odenkirk and his father, comedy writer, producer, actor and director Bob Odenkirk. Inspired by the show’s murder mystery that takes place during an annual hot dog eating contest in Argyle, OH, the dinner offered fans and the press a chance to meet Bob and Nate, enjoy live jazz music and network. Greeting them at the door was a 20-foot-tall statue of Bob as his character in the series.

To boot, the event took place at a restaurant that was transformed to look like one of the show’s popular small-town destinations—the Department of Motor Vehicles. And to generate even more buzz, Audible brand ambassadors wheeled around Austin with a branded hot dog cart serving complimentary hot dogs with promo cards to drive listenership. (Agency: Civic Entertainment Group)



The floating event trend evolved into strange waters this year. That included a campaign from Cap’n Crunch, which launched the “Cap’n’s Commute,” an activation produced on a branded ferry, complete with a ship mast featuring a giant cereal bowl installation at the top, that made stops at five commuter ports around New York City.

The goal was to add a little pep to commuters’ step and liven up morning routines through engagements aboard the vessel (which was inspired by Cap’n Crunch’s own S.S. Guppy), including photo ops, a dj, games and plenty of Cap’n Crunch products to fuel the day ahead. Fans who couldn’t get their float on in person could enter to win a limited-edition “Cap’n’s Commuter Capsule” collection developed in partnership with pop artist Chad Cantcolor. (Agencies: Motive, program; Pink Sparrow, build)

Cap'n's Commute_cap'n crunch 2022 bizarre brand experiences



After many years of unapologetically turning consumers’ hands orange, Cheetos eventually named the cheesy dust left on one’s fingertips after consuming its products: Cheetle. And at SXSW, the substance was fuel for an out-of-box experiential program: the Hands-Free House. In true Cheetos form, and with an appropriate theme, the brand designed its activation around the question, “Did Cheetle inspire hands-free technology?” Pointing to items like robotic vacuums and self-driving cars, the brand ran with the idea that its fans developed today’s top tech to ensure they could still complete daily tasks with Cheetle on their fingers.

Each room in the house was curated to showcase how technology can be used to power activities that typically require the use of your hands. Touchpoints on-site included tech-enabled entry, smudge-free TV remotes and voice-controlled experiences activated with the help of Amazon’s Alexa. After touring the house, attendees could head to the backyard for more hands-free fun, from Cheetos-inspired cuisine to a hands-free vending machine.


fancy feast_gatto bianco_Screen Shot 2022-10-03 at 10.34.57 AMFANCY FEAST

How’s this for a dining concept: an Italian trattoria in Manhattan where people eat meals inspired by cat food. Welcome to Gatto Bianco by Fancy Feast, a pop-up restaurant where the brand’s in-house chef, Amanda Hassner, and acclaimed Italian restaurateur Cesare Casella, delivered a human take on Fancy Feast Medleys canned cat food recipes while paying homage to Italian cuisine. What kind of brand would propose eating like a feline, you ask? It’s all part of Fancy Feast’s mission to show pet parents the TLC that goes into formulating its “gourmet” recipes for cats. The complimentary, limited-capacity experience even included a special appearance by the Fancy Feast kitty herself—social media gold for cat lovers. (Agency: Industria Creative)




FX Atlanta SXSW 2022 bizarre brand experiencesAhead of the highly anticipated return of FX Networks’ unconventional comedy series “Atlanta,” the brand hosted a trippy two-day activation designed to highlight season three’s European narrative. Attendees were invited to “The Trip: An Atlanta Café,” a multifloor experience inspired by the coffee shops typical of Amsterdam that offered a psychedelic journey through surrealistic and eccentric touchpoints, like tables and chairs slanted at unnatural angles and a dj spinning tracks from the top of a pipe organ. There were also “elevated” environmental elements incorporated into the space at 4:20 p.m. daily (wink, wink). And, of course, a variety of coffee drinks featuring foam art were available, each slung from behind a stylish branded counterspace. The (real) brand name of the brew being served: Dope Coffee. Naturally.

But it gets weirder. FX also honed in on a single frame from the season three trailer in which a harness-clad Dalmatian figure is revealed. For the activation, a brand ambassador dressed in a replica costume from head to toe, including a black leather chest harness, and moved through the café space as if they were a surrealist piece of art, intermittently striking strange poses, which fans were only too happy to capture for social media. (Agency: BMF)



For the launch of Henrick’s limited-edition Neptunia expression, which features coastal botanicals, the historically “peculiar” gin brand hosted an Undersea Imaginarium and Spa experience in New York City. Attendees were invited to take a plunge into an underwater fantasy world where mind and body spa treatments were provided by a cast of strange sea characters.

The journey began in a replica harbor environment where a sea captain and his crew took “land dwellers” below the water’s surface to engage in a series of activations designed to refresh and rejuvenate. Attendees could immerse themselves in the calming sounds of the ocean during a guided deep-sea hypnosis; catch a whiff of the Scottish sea breeze through an aromatherapy experience; sit down for a Mermaid Sensory Treatment that “enlightened the senses” and included a mermaid sea sponge scrub, cucumber-cryo and sea-inspired hydration remedy; and have their tarot cards read by an octopus.

There was also a vegan shark telling jokes; sea creatures giving foot massages; a ball pit occupied by an octopus holding a martini glass; custom artwork by Anna Chan, who creates sculptures from seashells and other beach materials; and plenty of Neptunia cocktails to go around. (Agencies: Momentum Worldwide; M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment)

Hendricks spa 2022



Right on brand, Lay’s twisted the concept of glamping by erecting a series of “Potadomes” during both weekends of Coachella for its Fresh 4D experience. Inside the golden-hued structures, attendees who reserved a spot ahead of time were treated to a seated, four-course meal featuring Lay’s chips that were baked less than 24 hours beforehand and sourced from nearby farms. The Potadomes also included “Speakeasy Spuds” stations inspired by different music genres, a Crunch Studios space where attendees could play dj, a Golden Glow dome showcasing lighting synced to electronic music, and a Flavor Pop area where Lay’s flavors were paired with pop songs.



Paramount nachos 2022_ bizarre brand experiencesTo celebrate the reboot of “Beavis and Butt-Head” (and the duo’s love of nachos), Paramount+ cooked up a 4,870-pound plateful and broke the Guinness World Records title for largest serving of nachos. The free event at Smorgasburg in Los Angeles took a village. The brand partnered with local organizations J&J Distributors, La Princesita Tortilleria, Saucy Chick Rotisserie and Los Cochinitos to source all of the dish’s ingredients, while Gastro Garage added the finishing touches with a blowtorch to melt the cheese on the nachos in front of a live audience. An official Guinness World Records adjudicator deemed the larger-than-life helping a record-breaker. The nachos were then dished out to Smorgasburg patrons.

The stunt wasn’t all spectacle, however. Paramount+ enlisted a team of culinary school students from the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program to make the nachos, and donated the leftovers to more than 10 organizations that serve people in need around L.A.



Oh yes, Paramount doubled down on the weird in 2022. The brand promoted its horror movie “Smile,” about a woman who investigates people who have died after seeing an entity with a disturbing grin, with a stunt that haunted America’s pastime. Actors were positioned behind home plate at multiple Major League Baseball games and either sat or stood completely motionless, bearing maniacal smiles directed straight at the broadcast cameras throughout the event.



Philadelphia cream cheese_feeladelphia cookbook bizarre brand experiencesWe’re all familiar with the concept of eating your feelings, but Philadelphia Cream Cheese took the concept to another level with Feeladelphia, a pop-up restaurant in New York City where diners didn’t order food—they ordered emotions. With the head chefs and owners of Contra and Wildair, Jeremiah Stone and Fabián Von Hauske Valtierra, at the helm, the brand took consumers on a multisensory, multi-course journey (tickets were $35 per person, with all proceeds donated to charity). While savoring curated cream cheese-infused dishes, with names like “allure,” “satisfaction” and “spontaneity,” diners experienced a variety of textures, temperatures, visuals and flavors, enhanced by stimulating sounds and a few “sensorial surprises.”

The idea of crafting a menu based on feelings, versus specific ingredients, was inspired by Philadelphia’s “You Don’t Just Taste It. You Feel It” messaging, and customer narratives describing how Philadelphia cream cheese goes beyond taste to stimulate the senses and evoke emotions. And to give consumers at home a taste of the experience, Philadelphia published “The Feeladelphia Experience: An Immersive Cookbook,” a limited-edition “experiential” cookbook (Unicorns & Unicorns handled) featuring edible pages, interactive scents and curated sonic experiences.



Subway isn’t exactly a luxurious brand, but it rolled out the red carpet for a VIP dining experience hosted on a yacht in London over the spring. The two-day pop-up drove awareness of the chain’s Meal Deal Millionaire sweepstakes, which offered one Subway Rewards member a chance to win 1 million rewards points, enough to buy 1,000 Footlong Subs—the length of 33 yachts, end-to-end.

Consumers could sign up for a one-hour slot that included a greeting from the captain and a glass of bubbly upon arrival, as well as a dj playing tunes inspired by jetsetter destinations like Ibiza and Saint-Tropez. The lunch included a choice of eight Footlong Subs, chips or a cookie and a glass of champagne. And get this: the food was literally served on a silver platter, or under a cloche, as it were in this case. Orders were taken by a yacht crewmember, and each table had a bell that attendees could ring for assistance. (Agency: Taylor Herring)

subway yacht 2022_credit Taylor Herring Agency

Photo credit: Taylor Herring


Featured photo credit: Airbnb

This story appeared in the Winter 2022-23 issue
Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
View all articles by Kait Shea →

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