Fake products make for real holiday fun

The Visorganizer is a carrying case "for everything you need to make it through your busy day. It can hold up to 7 lbs., and it clips on the front of your favorite hat."
Image courtesy of the Onion

They're called Gotcha Boxes. Basically it's a series of realistic looking gift boxes for fake products -- like a "make your own umbrella kit" or a subscription to the "Salt of the Month Club."

The gift recipients are left to form their reaction to these lame gifts, until they open the boxes and see the real presents.

Gotcha box
The satirical online newspaper, the Onion, is selling Gotcha Boxes -- gag gift boxes which can camouflage real gifts.
Image courtesy of the Onion

Graphic designer Arik Nordby says there were two inspirations for Gotcha Boxes.

"Part of my inspiration was the Pet Rock. I wanted to one-up that guy. He's had success in selling an empty cardboard box with a rock in it. Well, I wanted to just sell an empty box," Nordby says.

His second inspiration came from watching his 9-year-old nephew open a gift wrapped in a coffeemaker box.

"And he had this puzzled look on his face. And of course, all the adults in the room played it up and said, 'Oh look, it has a thermal carafe. It has an auto timer,'" and he really didn't know how to react," says Nordby. "When he opened that box and found out his real toy was in it, he was both relieved and overly excited."

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Rainforest smoke alarm
One Gotcha box features the Peaceful Progression Smoke Alarm, which allows you to "choose the perfect way for your family to wake up -- from the peaceful sounds of the rainforest, to the celebration of Dixieland jazz, or the hot pulse of the Caribbean."
Image courtesy of the Onion

According to Nordby, the initial confusion helps to heighten the excitement when the recipient discovers the real gift.

There are seven models of Gotcha Boxes available. Each has realistic looking graphics for products that don't really exist.

For example, the copy on one box states, "Awake to your next fire calm and refreshed with the Peaceful Progression Smoke Alarm. Gentle noises from the rain forest will alert your family to an impending inferno."

"It also comes with a remote control that includes a snooze feature," Nordby says.

Or imagine delighting someone with a 28-piece stainless steel whisk set.

Creator of Gotcha Boxes
Arik Nordby is the creator of Gotcha Boxes. His favorite product is the Visorganizer. The box for the fake gift item states you can use your head as an extra pocket.
MPR Photo/Greta Cunningham

"Because as we know, every kitchen needs 28 whisks," Nordby jokes.

Nordby's personal favorite is the Visorganizer. The box proclaims "You can use your head to stay organized!" It's basically a fanny pack that fits on a hat visor so you can pack seven pounds of stuff in it.

"As the box says, it turns your hat into another pocket," Nordby says.

When it came time to distribute his fake product boxes, Nordby turned to a fake newspaper, The Onion. Nordby admits he "stalked" the satirical newspaper and its writers to collaborate on his product.

USB toaster
This Gotcha Box features a USB Toaster, which allows you to make toast "anywhere" by plugging it into a USB port on your laptop.
Image courtesy of the Onion

Nordby regularly meets with the Onion staff in New York. They brainstorm 30 to 40 product ideas before settling on the three or four to launch as Gotcha Boxes.

The boxes came out in 2006 and are sold through the Onion's online store. Some 30,000 people have shelled out $8 to buy the Gotcha Boxes from the Onion's Web site.

"Last year they were their No. 1 selling item," Nordby says.

Nordby, a professional graphic artist, designs the boxes and makes the realistic looking fake products by using Photoshop on his computer, and parts he buys from The Axe Man surplus shop in St. Paul. He says the Gotcha Box has a simple purpose.

"When people open it and they're exposed to the fact that it's fake, there's generally laughter. And people start to pass the box around and point out different things that they see on it, and they're reading and it becomes this much more community event," Nordby says.

The Gotcha Box team is already working on new fake products for the 2008 holiday season. Nordby says next year they're planning to venture into the world of personal hygiene. Consider yourself warned.