Fake gadgets put the ‘Gotcha!’ in giving
At first glance, it looks like an actual product: A “USB Toaster” that plugs into a laptop to toast a single slice of bread.
“Don’t be tethered to the kitchen! Take your toast ... to go!” reads the ad copy on the slickly designed box, which sports images of a pop-up toaster and a busy-looking guy in a motel room biting into a piece of toast.
You can just imagine some poor sap struggling to look excited on Christmas morning after unwrapping the oddly useless gadget. Once he or she opens the box, however, an inside flap reveals the joke. “Gotcha!” it taunts. “There is no USB Toaster in this box. Even the concept of such a toaster is silly and unrealistic. In reality, you, the gift recipient, have been duped.”
That’s the punch line of the GotchaBox, a series of decoy gift boxes sold through the online store of The Onion, the satirical fake-news outfit. Other GotchaBoxes have featured such nonexistent products as a 28-piece “professional” whisk set and a build-your-own-umbrella kit.
Pranksters are encouraged to put their real gifts inside the gag boxes, then keep a straight face—or better yet, ask sweetly, “How do you like it?”—as the recipient squirms with discomfort.
The boxes are the brainchild of Arik Nordby, a graphic designer from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who got the idea in 2004 after a birthday party for a friend’s young son. The boy was visibly dismayed when a toy came wrapped in a box for a coffee pot.
“A few days later, it sort of hit me,” said Nordby, who has designed boxes for bike accessories, exercise equipment and other real products. “I love doing Photoshop. I love doing package design. I love to play jokes on people. Why not play around with it?”
Nordby immediately set his sights on The Onion—whose products include a fake atlas, Our Dumb World—as a potential partner. Through persistent e-mails, he finagled a meeting with Sean Mills, The Onion’s president, and brought him a prototype box for a “home dentistry kit.”
In 2006, when The Onion launched its online store, Nordby’s GotchaBoxes were among the first products sold.
“There’s a lot of people who have ideas for goofy T-shirts and things. And they’re not always that funny. But he got The Onion’s sensibility. He just charmed us,” said Glenn Severance, The Onion’s marketing manager. “It makes for great business. Who wouldn’t want to sell empty boxes for a profit?”
The Onion sells the boxes for $7.99 apiece, or $19.99 for a set of four. Other GotchaBox “products” include: