Service of Traditional, Faux and Inadvertent Marketing: Mother’s Day, Gold Toilet & Promposal

April 25th, 2016

Categories: Art, Internet, Marketing, Promotions

MarketingMost marketing promotions are designed to push product, an organization or initiative and are created by those who benefit. Some are dressed up to look like art or charitable generosity but are really to raise the visibility of merchandise, an association, cause or person. And sometimes groups of people support a concept that, as luck would have it, benefits businesses.

Traditional Marketing

I must have had marketing in my veins when, as a kid, I didn’t get why Mother’s Day irritated my Mother's Daymom so much. She thought it was a fabrication to sell cards, candy, flowers and restaurant reservations. As an adult, I’ve helped countless clients to sell their products, services and concepts, which may be why I always appreciated the Mother’s Day ritual. I also love to give gifts and to celebrate occasions. With the exception of Father’s Day, I don’t think many of the offshoots such as secretary’s or boss’s day have done nearly as well.

Marketing in Sheep’s Clothing

Gold Toilet on NYT pageArtist Maurizio Cattelan or his handlers pulled off the second kind of marketing scheme with his sculpture of a gold working toilet that the Guggenheim Museum is installing. You couldn’t miss a giant shot of it on the front page of The New York Times’ “TheArts” section last week that topped serious copy about it. In fact it appeared all over the place. To pragmatist me, it’s ridiculous, has nothing to do with art and everything to do with getting the artist’s name front and center–but I’m clearly out of step.

Inadvertent Sales Windfalls

Nancie Steinberg, whose son Austen is a high school senior, shared info about a Promposal Austen 1phenomenon—promposals–that help sell pizzas, poster board, flowers, cake and more. I’m betting that unlike Mother’s Day, teens came up with this activity and that merchants benefit from it. Does it matter, as long as it’s all in good fun and everyone wins?

Promposals were new to me but not to Caitlin Dewey who wrote about them in The Washington Post in 2014 and tracked the first mention of the word to a Dallas Morning News article in 2001. She followed the movement to its “going mainstream” in 2002-2005. In “A Short History of the ‘promposal’” she defined it as “the eyebrow-raising high-school ritual wherein students go to elaborate, terribly public lengths to ask each other to prom.”

Austen presented his date of choice with a rose bedecked sheet cake decorated with “Will You Go To Prom With Me?” in orange frosting [photos right and below]. His friends videotaped and photographed the moment. She said “yes.”

Dewey wrote of boys in Arizona who laid trails of rose petals from a prospective date’s home to the school and a chap in Idaho who secretly set his girlfriend’s alarm to ring at 3 am with a message “Hope its not too late—will you go to the prom with me?” These and others such as hanging signs from highway overpasses, filling yards with balloons or wearing gorilla suits were all done in 2006, before high school kids had access to Facebook and pre Tumblr. YouTube was the place to be then as now. Dewey reports there are 40,000 promposal videos and 900,000 tagged “prom proposal” or “ask cute.”

What are some of your favorite marketing ideas? Any that annoy, surprise or fall flat?


Promposal Austen 2




Tags: , , ,

6 Responses to “Service of Traditional, Faux and Inadvertent Marketing: Mother’s Day, Gold Toilet & Promposal”

  1. Judy Schuster Said:

    The one thing I know for sure is that first marriage proposals, now prom dates have gotten more and more elaborate. My husband just asked me to marry him and in the days when I went to proms, the guy simply asked the girl. (Never the other way around as it is today.) I’ve heard of sky writing, billboard ads, even a screen at a baseball game that asked a young woman to marry a guy. And I’m sure I’ve just touched the surface. Maybe if people spent more time on the planning of the marriage and less on the planning of the proposal, the marriage would last longer … just a thought from an old married lady (52 years last December).

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Sage advice about planning the marriage over the proposal. Half a century +! You should give lessons on how to select a great husband.

    Your advice is especially important if money is an issue. There are too many people who go into debt to pay for their weddings and I imagine that similarly a young man or woman, faced with huge college tuition bills–or not–might be hard pressed to come up with the money for prom clothes, limo if in the suburbs [so nobody is hurt should there be drinking which there should not be but….] and other expenses.

    Pressure to post a creative proposal or promposal on social media spurs some of the antics, though as Washington Post reporter Caitlin Dewey pointed out, it wasn’t until after 2006 that high schoolers had access to Facebook. Clearly, YouTube is and always has been the promotional site of choice at least for promposals.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Everything in the US is based on selling, aka marketing, and one possible reason consumerism is (according to some) falling flat is because of a plethora of long & boring ads foisted upon an increasingly jaded public.

    “Promposals” are based on individual relationships, and as in the alarm clock message, are only directed towards one person, so don’t seem to fit in this category. Sounds like a great idea, demanding creativity, sadly lacking in the adult world.

    While blatant and self serving, can’t help smiling at the golden toilet. Smile vanished upon learning that it’s available to all who pay the museum entry fee. Visions of health problems arise….Perhaps it’s secretly sponsored by a medical group? Perhaps some ingenious thief steals that thing….huge headlines…..even happier artist!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Based on the number of promposal videos–40,000 and some 900,000 related ones–like Bernie Sanders’ donations, the amounts that individuals spend for pizzas [messages on the box], flowers, cakes, balloons, costumes, signs, begin to add up. People have only one mother…although I grant that there are more mothers than prom-goers. Therefore the number of cards, flowers and in the old days, long distance calls [which cost a lot] generated far more business than promposals currently do. I still think that they count as business generators except they are driven by consumers.

    As for the gold toilet, some would say that because the NY Times and countless other newspapers, magazines, TV newscasters and bloggers mention it, and it’s got the imprimatur of an artist and it’s in a museum—it must be art. That’s the model Mr. Trump has followed successfully—the press has made him a serious candidate by quoting his every word, relating him to the “President” word. It’s a proven marketing technique that masses of Americans have been trained to fall for.

  5. hb Said:

    My earliest memory of effective marketing was when I was about nine or ten. It was before TV, and, instead, I listened to kids’ soaps like “Tom Mix” and “The Lone Ranger,” “Terry and the Pirates,” “Captain Midnight” and “Jack Armstrong,” many of which were sponsored by cereal makers. One of these, I’ve forgotten which, except that I didn’t care much for their cereal, had the bright idea of running a juicy campaign pitched at kids like me.

    It was simple. If you cut ten box tops off of their cereal boxes and sent them in, they would send you a kit including a certificate, a tin badge and other stuff appointing you a genuine space ranger or whatever. I don’t remember what either, but I was hooked.

    What I do remember, vividly, was pleading with my mother to buy the cereal. She knew I didn’t like it, and smelled a rat. She asked me why I wanted it, and I lied for a while saying that I really did like it and gulped the darn stuff down. Eventually though, perhaps six boxes in, I told my mother the truth, and she took pity upon me. (We must have thrown away maybe three boxes of freaky flakes, or whatever they were, by the end.)

    I also remember, when the badge or whatever actually did arrive, how disappointed I was. “Caveat Emptor.”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am so sad that you didn’t love the badge–or whatever that arrived! What an example of bad marketing. Like a creepy PR person who spoils it for all the rest, that cereal company set the stage for you and all your children and grandchildren to never again fall for such a scheme.

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics