The year in swag: 27 ridiculous promotional items we received in 2009
- Meddling Kids + Sidekick + Mysteries = Series: 13 Hanna-Barbera productions that recycled the Scooby-Doo format
- Jukebox superhero: 26 songs about Superman
- “No Such Agency”: 11 movies that tried to warn us about the NSA
- Heroes on trial: 16 superhero court cases
- Over there: 30 foreign series that need immediate legal import to the U.S.
1. A faux-fox-tail tie, promoting Fantastic Mr. Fox
In Wes Anderson’s stop-motion-animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, the titular smug adventurer gets his tail shot off by a nasty farmer. In a textbook case of adding insult to injury, the farmer then starts wearing the severed tail as a necktie, prompting the fox’s son to launch a dangerous quest to retrieve it. Thanks to the marketers at 20th Century Fox, one lucky slob here at The A.V. Club now has the daily opportunity to cosplay as that comically evil farmer by wearing this plush fox-tail tie around the office. (A label on the tie even assures us that it’s “100% Fantastic.”) As promotional gimmicks go, it’s oddly appropriate, if a little sick; still, we’re all kinda hoping it’ll start a trend. Who knows which protagonists’ body parts we’ll be wearing as neckties come the end of next year?
2. Paper zombie and sunflower masks, promoting Plants Vs. Zombies
PopCap’s addictive tower-defense game Plants Vs. Zombies has players defending their yards from increasingly tough hordes of cartoony, undead monsters by planting flowers and vegetables with various costs and attack styles. And the company apparently would like players to re-enact this scenario in real life, with the help of these cute paper masks representing the two factions. The letter that came with this promo package—which also included a T-shirt, a “no zombies” sticker, and the game itself—promises “It’s shaping up to be a truly fundead season!” Cheesy? Maybe, but the game itself is a blast, even for those who aren’t wearing paper masks for added fundead.
3. An IV bag of fake blood, promoting Thirst
Having finally wrapped up his revenge trilogy, Oldboy director Park Chan-wook moved along to tackle vampires, another subject that would still let him put a lot of blood on the screen. His horror film Thirst is unconventional, as vampire stories go, but even though his vamps are disease-carriers rather than the undead, they still need plenty of the red stuff to keep themselves going, and that often gets messy. So a bag of fake blood seems like the most effective possible reminder both of the film’s nature and of Park’s sensibilities. And as a twisted but perfectly apropos bonus, it comes with a straw. Granted, while Thirst’s protagonist spends plenty of time getting his blood-fix in hospitals, he doesn’t drink from donation bags—but apparently Focus Features decided there were some liability issues involved in providing each potential reviewer with a fat Korean guy in a coma, for movie-authentic bloodsucking purposes.
4. Transparent plastic fangs, promoting The Vampire Archives
You know, it occurred to us that these fake fangs might make drinking our fake blood much easier, and would render the straw superfluous. Josh Modell tried them on, but then was struck by the need to gel his hair up into spikes, dump glitter all over himself, whine that he has the skin of a monster, and go moping around the office for the next hundred years. Vampires have really lost a lot of their cool factor over the past decade or so.
5. A Dragonball bank and figure, promoting Dragonball, we assume
Frankly, there’s so much Dragonball out there—the massively extended animated series and animated movies, the videogames, the toy lines, the recent live-action movie—that we don’t even remember which aspect of the Dragonball universe this item is promoting. But we got a bunch of them. It’s an unstable plastic coin bank in the shape of a dragonball—a sphere with some cruddy gold-star stickers on it. And there’s a toy figure inside, in a box. In theory, the top and bottom screw apart, since they’re sort of vaguely threaded, but in practice, the whole thing is so cheap that the halves are stuck together as if welded. Which means any kid who gets one of these probably won’t have much fun playing with the toy inside, but at least little brother or sister won’t be sneaking those precious dimes out of the bank when no one’s watching; any money put into this thing is going to be pretty safe until the owner gets fed up and smashes it.
6. A whoopee cushion, promoting How To Be Inappropriate
It’s possible that Daniel Nester’s book How To Be Inappropriate is funnier than the oldest, lamest gag in the world—a cheap piece of rubber that makes fart noises—but given that the two things are now strictly conjoined in our mind, we decided not to risk it by actually reading the book.
7. An unmarked novelty bumblebee headband, promoting ???
This chintzy yellow headband festooned with pipe-cleaner-and-puffball antennae materialized on the swag shelf without explanatory text or accompanying promotional material. Maddeningly, there’s a plastic tag hanger clinging to the top, but whatever illuminating information might have once been attached to it is long gone. We’re at a loss as to what 2009 bee-related entertainment it might be associated with. (Who would dare try to top the boffo success of Bee Movie?) For all we know, it could very well be a rogue piece of Halloween costume left behind by a forgetful intern or member of the custodial staff. Anyone who can help us solve this mystery will be rewarded with one unmarked novelty bumblebee headband, slightly used.
8. A paper mask of porn star Lisa Ann, promoting Who's Nailin’ Paylin
Since what most porn connoisseurs really care about is the face, what better way to promote the infamous Sarah Palin parody porn Who's Nailin’ Paylin than with a cheap paper mask of Lisa Ann’s face, complete with the requisite updo, glasses, and collagen-frozen sexyface? The instructions on the back helpfully suggest placing the mask on a wife, girlfriend, mistress, or significant other, because nothing gets the blood pumping like a two-dimensional, airbrushed, dead-eyed stare. Admittedly, it is a pretty funny, self-aware piece of swag; just don’t actually strap it on, unless you want to experience the sheer terror of seeing tiny slits of your lover’s eyes peering out at you from behind Lisa Ann’s overly glossed rictus grin.
9. Striped dress socks, promoting Bones season five
It’s rare to receive swag that actually serves a purpose outside of cluttering up our desks with amusing curios, so these stripy socks automatically earn points in terms of fashion and function. But their significance as a promotional item requires a little insider knowledge of the Fox crime drama Bones. Luckily, the attached sticker provides a helpful quote reminding us that Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) has a penchant for dressing up his drab FBI monkey suit with vibrant ties and socks. He also apparently has rather small feet, as these socks appear to be a ladies’ medium size.
10. “I Am Klaus Kinski” T-shirt, promoting Elastic No-No Band
It’s more than likely that the members of Elastic No-No Band sent us some music along with these T-shirts—which read “I am Klaus Kinski and this is my shirt!”—but in all of our “Ooh-ooh, what the hell is that?” action, we misplaced it. Now, the chances of anybody here liking something by a band with a name like that are slim to begin with anyway, but points are due for this insane shirt. Who but the most ardent pop-culture geeks would feature a drawing of a crazy German actor best known for working with/tormenting Werner Herzog? Elastic No-No Band also has a song about Kinski called “I Am Klaus Kinski (And This Is My Song).” Guess we’ll have to look ’em up on MySpace. But for now—crazy yellow T-shirt!
11. A plastic bucket, promoting The Simpsons’ “Treehouse Of Horror XX”
In honor of The Simpsons’ 20th “Treehouse Of Horror” episode (it was so-so), Fox sent us a plastic bucket filled with shredded yellow paper and candy. Presumably the bucket could be used for trick-or-treating. It did not cause us to review the so-so episode any more favorably than we would have otherwise, but we do like receiving candy in the mail.
12. A mirror-cube/paperweight and Tabasco sauce, promoting Fringe
Fringe has been pretty damn entertaining in its second season, with the characters really taking shape and some of the deadweight storylines being shed. So what better way to remind journalists of the show’s continued existence than with a funky little cube featuring photos of stars Anna Torv, Josh Jackson, and John Noble? It’s supposed to be some sort of optical illusion—turn the cube, and you get different faces—but it’s pretty good at holding stray papers down. Fox also sent out promotional bottles of Tabasco sauce in anticipation of the episode “August,” which explained some of the mythology behind the show’s “observers.” (They need to eat hot peppers to survive.) Apparently, the company also had observers in major cities handing out free bottles of Tabasco prior to the airdate, which seems—like many year-in-swag items—to be an incredible waste of money. But they own a network and we don’t, so clearly we aren’t equipped to judge.
13. A bath set, promoting The Cleveland Show
The Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show stays pretty loyal to its forebear in terms of setup and humor, so it’s appropriate that this bit of swag references a joke that originated on Family Guy: The “bathtub gag,” in which Cleveland’s afternoon soak is interrupted in increasingly convoluted ways.
In the Cleveland Show pilot, one such moment of bathtime destruction finally drives Cleveland away from Quahog and off to Spin-off Land. Given that, this three-piece bath set (towel, brush, and bubble bath) is a pretty funny promotional tool, but without that insider knowledge, it’s fairly baffling. And even with that knowledge, who would choose to use or display the full-size bath towel, which is adorned with a gigantic image of a Speedo-clad Cleveland?
14. A black backpack, promoting Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Usually, swag is meant to call out a specific thing about the book, TV show, movie, or videogame it’s promoting—a little insider’s gift for critics. But every so often, swag goes the generic route, as it does with this backpack Nintendo sent over to promote the DS title Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. The bag is thin—like a freebie you’d get for opening a checking account at your college bank—though it does have a bunch of pockets, and it sports the nifty game logo, with Mario, Luigi, and Bowser. And given that a huge portion of the game takes place inside Bowser’s body, maybe the bag has some connection to the product.
15. A mini bulletproof vest, promoting Steven Seagal: Lawman
With the debut of this new A&E reality series, the world learned, and was subsequently not surprised, that for 20 years, Steven Seagal has been a deputy with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana. Yep. The man apparently found time between Under Siege and Under Siege 2 to get out and bust some real-life perps. And in honor of this momentous unveiling, A&E sent out its screener of the first two episodes nestled safely behind what might as well be Baby’s First Bulletproof Vest, but is probably more like a really cumbersome windbreaker-like bib with the show title across the front. Missing from action: the words, “Caution: Not actually bulletproof.”
16. A pharmacy-bottle pencil-holder and giant red and gray tennis ball, promoting House
Critics are fans of TV shows too (just like regular people!), so it’s nice when marketing departments cater both to casual viewers and to longtime devotees of the TV show they’re promoting. Take this House one-two punch. The more disposable of the two items was an orange-tinted plastic tube filled with House pencils, mocked up to look like a prescription bottle from Princeton Plainsboro Pharmacy, where House works. (It even came in a white paper bag with a receipt attached that read, among other things: “Total: Hours of entertainment. Cost: Free.”) The best part came later: A replica of the softball-sized tennis ball House plays with on the show when he gets bored. All that’s left is the cane, and the Halloween costume is complete.
17. A Christmas ornament, promoting Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian
What could better represent the shallow commercialism of the holidays than a promotional Christmas ornament for a movie nobody liked? How about a cheap blue glass ornament that merely states the movie title and its DVD/Blu-ray release date? No pictures from the film, no link to the holiday other than the method by which the promotional information is delivered. The ornament has a matte-blue finish, but sadness—and the creative bankruptcy of Twentieth Century Fox’s promotions department—radiates off it like the Christmas star.
18. A baby bib, promoting season one of Kendra on DVD
Kendra Wilkinson graduated from Hugh Hefner’s ostensible harem on E!’s The Girls Next Door to her own eponymous reality show this year. It’s on par with E!’s steady diet of televised junk food: It’s fun to watch when the network’s airing a marathon and you’re hungover on the sofa, but it’s hard to imagine someone buying the first season on DVD. To get the word out, though, E! offered this baby bib, as Wilkinson’s pregnancy with eventual husband Hank Baskett provided the show with its only semblance of thematic momentum.
19. A soft cooler, promoting Monsters Vs. Aliens
In the hit animated DreamWorks film from this spring, alien B.O.B. (voiced by Seth Rogen) has the ability to shape-shift into anything—including, presumably, a plush cooler with his cheery face visible on the side. Never mind the physiological questions of unzipping his head and stuffing drinks into the insulated storage area. (Where’s his brain? Would this hurt him?) For swag, the cooler is surprisingly nice and durable, with lots of pockets and even a bungee-cord closure on top. So recipients have to weigh its convenience vs. the slight indignity of carrying around a bright blue Monsters Vs. Aliens cooler. (Also included: 3-D glasses for watching the film’s 3-D commercials during the Super Bowl.)
20. A miniature water cooler, promoting Lopez Tonight
Perhaps the only thing more desperate than TBS’ “Very Funny” motto—if you have to tell people your comedies are funny, the game is already lost—is sending members of the press a miniature water cooler with a sticker promising “tomorrow’s water cooler talk” and adorned with the image of a suit-wearing George Lopez in a throne-like chair flashing a “Ain’t I a stinker?” shit-eating grin. The cooler’s miniature size inadvertently suggests that any Lopez Tonight-generated water-cooler banter will be on the brief side, the smallest of small talk. Sure enough, when this water cooler appeared in the A.V. Club office, it prompted observations ranging from “Does that actually work?” to “Eh, still never going to watch it.” The water cooler actually works—sort of. It dispenses water, albeit of the room-temperature variety. Considering that TBS motto, it’s strangely apt that the water does indeed taste funny (and gross), not unlike Lopez’s hilarious brand of observational comedy.
21. A Mad Libs book, promoting American Dad
You have to love promotional items that inadvertently insult the entertainment they’re ostensibly promoting. Critics and South Park have long accused Seth McFarlane of lazily plugging random pop-culture references and zany wackiness into the sturdy template of the family sitcom, as if he was using the Mad Libs template. So it seems both refreshingly candid and self-lacerating to send out promotional American Dad Mad Libs books that provide hours of hilarity and insight into how the average script for American Dad, Family Guy, and The Cleveland Show are assembled.
22. A paint can of popcorn, promoting The Informant!
We were initially puzzled by this tub of popcorn kernels adorned with a promotional DVD featuring the image of a wide-eyed, open-mouthed, unbecomingly mustachioed Matt Damon looking like the runner-up in a Ned Flanders look-alike contest. Then we remembered that Damon’s shady quasi-whistleblower in The Informant! works for an agribusiness giant that deals extensively in corn. Given the duplicity and shady ethics of Damon’s schemer, it’s appropriate that the tub isn’t what it appears to be: It isn’t actually full of popcorn, it’s an empty paint can with a cardboard tube on the inside holding a deceptively thin layer of popcorn up against the transparent sides of the container. It also bears a sticker reading, “**Do not open container** Popcorn kernels not for consumption.” They aren’t kidding: The intern we ordered to sample the kernels died instantly. On the plus side, we have an opening for a new intern!
23. Brownie mix and chocolate chips, promoting Taking Woodstock
The ’60s, man: if you remember them, then you probably weren’t there! That’s the cornball mindset behind the Taking Woodstock brownie mix, which comes with instructions on how to make “special” brownies—you know, the kind Alice B. Toklas used to make (wink wink, nudge nudge) and Wavy Gravy used to enjoy. The recipe encourages merry bakers to include a “special ingredient” of their choice. You know what that means, don’t you? Caramel. We’re pretty sure they mean caramel. Or possibly peanut butter. ’Cause we’re not too good with hints.
24. A corsage, promoting Prom Night
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect originality or creative thought from people promoting a remake of a film that wasn’t any good in the first place. Accordingly, this promotional item promotes the Prom Night remake in the most obvious manner imaginable: with a cheap-looking plastic corsage. You have to at least give the promo item credit for attention to detail; the fake dew on the fake leaves does look surprisingly convincing.
25. A bar of soap, promoting Prison Break
We’ll refrain from talking about the questionable tastefulness of promoting a prison drama with a don’t-drop-the-soap gag, and instead focus on the questionable effectiveness of sending out a promo item destined to sicken at least some of the people it’s supposed to charm. This seriously unpleasant soap smells like a combination of lye and long-dead marigolds. It made at least one A.V. Club writer’s eyes hurt simply by being in the same room. Sure, it effectively conveys the grim realities of prison life, but what crime did we commit to deserve this?
26. An inflatable punching bag, promoting Tekken 6
Apart from our tendency to be defeated instantly at the hands of 13-year-olds with nothing else to do (we’re guessing), we’re fans of Tekken 6 here at The A.V. Club. And while we’re especially fond of the adorable/deadly character of Panda and her deadly bear-hug fighting technique, it’s nice of Namco to send an opponent we can always defeat in the form of this miniature inflatable punching bag. Sure, it doesn’t provide that much competition, but it also doesn’t use the chat function to insult us after taking us down in less than 30 seconds.
27. A paper notebook and pen, promoting Paper Heart
Hey look, a twee little journal for all your twee little thoughts like those found in the grotesquely unpleasant semi-documentary Paper Heart! The nice thing about keeping a journal rather than making a film? You can keep all your obnoxious sentiments to yourself. But wait! There’s more: This set also includes a pen made out of paper. Get it wet, and you’ll find yourself getting nearly as annoyed as you would watching the movie Paper Heart.