The Freakiest Campaign Ever (Hint: There's a 2-Headed Calf)

Ripley's Uses Skull Bowls, Other Odd Images to Push Its Weirdness to the World

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Believe it. Ripley Entertainment, owner of Ripley's Believe It or Not, has been around for almost 90 years, and to celebrate it's kicking off an advertising campaign, appropriately named "Freaking Out," in the U.S., Denmark and Canada.
Weird is universal: Ads are running in five languages so far.
Weird is universal: Ads are running in five languages so far.

The campaign made its debut in New York City and is the company's first integrated, multiplatform endeavor. The push includes online ads, webisodes, billboards and T-shirts and is handled by MacLaren McCann, Toronto.

The real deal
"Freaking Out" aims to create a consistent face for the company, which is viewed worldwide though its museums (called Odditoriums), daily comics, website and syndicated TV show. Now that Ripley's is expanding, it wants to "ensure viewers all over the world that they are receiving the true Ripley's and not some imitator," according to Steve Glum, VP-marketing.

Most of the ads are uncomplicated, consisting of an image from the Ripley archives, such as a two-headed calf or a skull bowl, with a variation of the tagline and the company's logo. The versions include: "Proudly Freaking Out Families for 90 Years," "Actually, It's Rude Not to Stare," "Come See What Noah Left Behind" and "All the Things Mother Nature Swept Under the Rug."

The spirit is in keeping with the brand. "Ripley's is weird," Mr. Glum said." But we're proud of it."

The freakish ads are running in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Croatian and will expand into other languages as the company opens two Odditoriums, in China and India, in the coming years.

Rachel Fox, VP-group accounts at MacLaren McCann, said the agency worked with McCann offices worldwide to create the different versions. Of course, Ripley's signature, which is recognizable worldwide, was not changed. "The last thing we would ever do is start tampering with something we have recognized for over 90 years," Ms. Fox said.

'We're all voyeurs'
Important to this campaign was the universality of oddness. "The key consumer insight is that it's human nature for us to want to consume life's essential oddities. We're all voyeurs," Ms. Fox said, pointing to obsessions with the internet, YouTube and reality programming as examples. Mr. Glum noted that everyone loves Ripley's, "from a 5-year-old kid who just got the latest book or a 75-year-old man doing research on something that happened to a friend in 1931." The ads are supposed to reach the "typical tourist family."

"Freaking Out" is not merely a celebration of the oddities Ripley's has provided during the past nine decades, but also a way to protect the brand in the future as Mr. Glum believes more imitators are entering the market. "My goal here was to really prepare Ripley's for the future, make sure that we have a brand that is still viable when we are 100 and beyond."

Ripley's began in 1918 when Robert Ripley, a sports cartoonist, published his first Believe It or Not cartoon. Since then the brand has expanded to include Robert Ripley's travel journals, books, Odditoriums, radio shows and TV series. After his death, the cartoons were continued and the museums were expanded and opened in several other cities. The brand is also looking for a boost with a movie based on the founder's life starring Jim Carrey set to premiere in 2009.

Ripley's is owned by Jim Pattison Group, a privately held Vancouver, British Columbia, a conglomerate that reported more than $6.1 billion in sales in 2005 across the packaging, food-sales and -distribution, magazine-distribution, entertainment, export, and financial industries. In addition to the Odditoriums it also operates under the Ripley's name sightseeing trains, miniature-golf courses and aquariums and owns Guinness World Record Museums.

The parent company claims to have grown from a single car dealership in 1961 to the world's No. 1 small-attractions company -- believe it or not.
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