Publicity stunts are a double-edged sword for a startup impact. PR stunts can enhance a company's financial stability and visibility. Poorly organized PR stunts can negatively impact the brand's image. This article aims to explain what is a PR stunt and reveal the worst and best publicity stunt examples.
A PR stunt is an event designed to grab public attention or generate media coverage.
The purpose of a publicity stunt is to raise awareness about a business or person. A public relations stunt can take many forms and is not restricted to conventional marketing campaigns. originality is the key.
An effective publicity stunt can significantly increase brand recognition and elevate the company's name to various levels of prominence. Additionally, these stunts attract the interest of external media sources, allowing companies to reach out to a target audience that may not have been aware of them otherwise. If your curiosity on the topic goes beyond the definition of a PR stunt, check out our article.
PR stunts can be extremely effective and positively attention-grabbing when properly and professionally organized and executed. However, because of the multiple risks they entail and the frequently occurring unpredictability of events, they are only considered risk-worthy by some companies.
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For a PR stunt to be successful, the company should conduct in-depth research and consider multiple factors such as location, timeframe, and target media coverage. In this section, we outline 15 examples of companies that did their homework diligently and secured the success of their publicity stunts. Explore some of the most famous publicity stunts.
A poster dubbed the 'best poster in the world' was unveiled in 2015 by Carlsberg in Brick Lane, London. It came equipped with a Carlsberg tap and glasses so that the public could help themselves to a refreshing beer dispensed from the poster. Despite its simplicity, the concept perfectly captured the brand's essence.
Ryan Newey and creative director John Yorke were the masterminds behind the poster. As expected, the stunt garnered a lot of attention on social media, with the hashtag #probablythebest generating over 3 million Twitter impressions in just one day.
In early 2018, a store named 'Deisel' popped up on Canal Street in New York City, appearing to sell counterfeit clothes from the popular fashion brand Diesel. As part of Diesel's clever PR stunt, the bootleg store was opened just before New York Fashion Week.
All the items, including DEISEL-branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, denim, and lifestyle products, were crafted by Diesel's design team and featured a misspelled logo. The store quickly became an event when rapper Gucci Mane invited his Instagram followers to meet him there, resulting in a massive line outside.
In 2015, Sketch and Premier devised a PR stunt to promote The National Geographic Channel's upcoming show, "T. Rex Autopsy" in central London. It was intended to convey the illusion that a replica T. Rex would be on its way to National Geographic headquarters by transporting it through the city center.
In order to accomplish this, the team meticulously planned and coordinated the logistics to move the dinosaur during rush hour, which included mapping out the best routes for the T.Rex and its 18-tonne delivery system.
ASB Bank has been a key sponsor of the ASB Classic, a major tennis event in New Zealand, for more than two decades. A friendly match between Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova was organized for the ASB Classic in Auckland in 2015 as part of the promotional activities leading up to the Australian Open.
On the court, cute dogs wearing sweatbands served as ball boys to make the event more engaging and memorable. Their participation in the event helped promote the ASB Classic tournament, as Oscar, Ted, and Super Teddy were trained to fetch loose balls during the match. Dogs are not only humans' best friends but also PRs.
To commemorate its 100th anniversary, Frank's RedHot organized a unique Spin the Bottle party with exclusive prizes on offer. The fans were surprised with challenges, truths, and surprises instead of kissing. The event was live-streamed on February 2, 2020, during the Super Bowl, with the aim of reaching out to viewers who were either not watching the game or were second screening.
Participants from anywhere could join in by responding to prompts using the competition's official hashtag. Frank's RedHot offered a grand prize of $36,500, equivalent to one dollar for every day of the brand's existence.
Sky Atlantic came up with a unique marketing strategy to promote its new crime drama, Fortitude, in 2015. In unexpected places such as the underground, parks in London, and landmarks, the brand unleashed an animated polar bear that was 8 feet tall. The polar bear was made to look as realistic as possible.
The stunt gained even more impact by juxtaposing the urban setting with the natural animal. The bear was constructed over two months by 19 designers, and it was operated by two War Horse character actors who studied the natural movements of the animals and practiced for five days.
Back in 2014, Tinder collaborated with an American animal rescue group to use its dating platform to connect singles with dogs available for adoption. The campaign was a success, resulting in over 2,000 matches in its first week. This showed that Tindercould be used to promote charitable causes and have a positive impact.
In fact, "Dog Lover" has been one of the top 10 most popular interests added to Tinder profiles. The campaign involved arranging casual "walk dates" with the dogs of users' choice while also providing information on adoption and volunteering opportunities at the organization taking care of the pets.
As part of a marketing campaign in Times Square, New York, in 2016, Epson collaborated with Triflare, a sportswear company. US synchronized swim team members performed hourly in a 17,000-gallon tank broadcasted live on giant LED screens.
This "Swimming in Ink" event featured Epson's new printers with two years' worth of ink. The event aimed to promote Epson's Ecotank printers, but Triflare also showcased its special swimsuits printed with Epson's dye-sublimation transfer printing technology.
To celebrate the Super Bowl in January 2020, a competition was held to create the world's biggest chocolate nut bar. Snickers initially claimed the record with a 4,700-pound chocolate bar, but Hershey's broke this record two weeks later with a massive 5,900-pound Reese's Take 5 chocolate bar.
Hershey's record-setting candy bar was created by Michael Nolt, a member of the research and development department, who worked with 40 other employees over the course of five days to create it. Moreover, Hershey's employees received the massive candy bar as part of Guinness World Records' guidelines for donating or consuming all food-related records.
In 2016, Warner Leisure Hotels collaborated with food and drink experts Bompas & Parr to create the world's first 'anti-aging gin.' The drink, Anti-aGin, contained gin with skin-boosting ingredients like collagen, antioxidants, and botanicals that are claimed to help reduce cellulite and sun damage.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support the drink's purported benefits, the collaboration generated buzz and publicity for Warner Leisure Hotels and likely resulted in increased sales of the product at its hotel bars in the UK.
In an innovative move back in 2016, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) created the first-ever advertisement visible from space. The food chain company built a massive mosaic of Colonel Sanders' head. After being spotted on Google Maps and the associated Google Sightseeing Blog, the ad generated a buzz, even though most people couldn't view it in person.
This advertisement was located in Rachel, Nevada, which hosts Area 51, a secret military base. Gregg Dedrick, KFC's then-president, quipped that if extraterrestrial beings existed, they would probably choose KFC as their first dining destination following the advertisement.
Deliveroo, in celebration of the 14th anniversary of the final episode of Friends, decided to pay tribute to the show by creating a replica of one of its most famous meals. The dish is the trifle dessert, which consists of ladyfingers, jam, custard, raspberries, and beef sautéed with peas and onions, bananas, and whipped cream. There was also a vegetarian version of the dish, substituting tofu for beef. They were sold for £6 through Deliveroo's 'Regina Philange' pop-up shop for a limited time.
The replica closely resembled the recipe mix-up by Rachel's character in the show. As for Deliveroo's trifle dessert, according to Friends' fans, it was actually very tasty.
In March 2018, Red Bull organized a spectacular PR stunt in Los Angeles called the New Moon Party. At sunset, participants equipped with sparkler mechanisms descended on the city, giving the impression that comets or UFOs were approaching. This party commemorated the last supermoon of the decade and celebrated the vernal equinox.
Members of the Red Bull Air Force, the brand's team of aerial stuntmen, jumped from a helicopter 4,000 feet above the city while wearing branded suits inspired by flying squirrels. Before landing in the street, the jumpers flew past the city's tallest building equipped with LED lights and pyrotechnics, creating a stunning effect against the night sky.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the movie "Jurassic Park" in 2018, a huge statue was placed on the banks of the River Thames near London's Tower Bridge. The statue, commissioned by the publicity team of Now TV, depicted the movie's star Jeff Goldblum in the iconic all-black outfit of his character Dr. Ian Malcolm, with his shirt completely unbuttoned and in the famous pose from the film.
A total of 250 hours of work were put into the construction of the statue, which took over six weeks. London's south bank was flooded with fans who rushed to take pictures with the 25-foot-long installation.
Oral-B devised a PR strategy during the initial phase of the global pandemic to guarantee that the latest high-tech toothbrush, the Oral-B iO, would be delivered securely. To ensure the toothbrushes were distributed without human interaction, the company dispatched a fleet of specially designed drones and robots in August 2020.
As a part of their iO series, Oral-B introduced the iO toothbrush, which comes with Wi-Fi capabilities, a digital screen interface, and 3D tooth mapping. The new toothbrushes were introduced to their new owners via drones and robots - the future of technology. During the four-day operation, the drone and robot fleet successfully delivered 50 iO toothbrushes across the UK.
The results of publicity stunts are not always positive. When done poorly, they can destroy the brand’s reputation. Knowledge is power, and in order to avoid mistakes, we outline the most damaging 15 PR stunts of all time in this section.
In 2009, fast-food chain Burger King launched a Facebook app called "Whopper Sacrifice," which offered users a free hamburger coupon in exchange for deleting ten friends from their list. The app caused controversy as it publicly displayed the sacrificed friends' names on the users' activity feed, leading to arguments and negative reactions from some users. Although some found the app amusing, the majority of users were taken aback by the unexpected activity feed updates and the ensuing disputes with their friends.
The advertising campaign included slogans like "The Whopper is stronger than friendship" and boasted about successfully persuading over 200,000 people to remove friends from their Facebook list.
Cartoon Network devised a promotion strategy for the movie "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" by placing metal LED signs featuring the show's characters in various cities. However, when the citizens of Boston came across these devices, they mistook them for explosive devices and contacted the police and fire departments.
The authorities blocked off several important routes, such as the Longfellow Bridge, Boston University Bridge, Red and Orange subway lines, and Northbound traffic on I-93, causing long delays during rush hour. As a result of the stunt, Turner Broadcasting and Interference Inc. were forced to pay $2 million in compensation.
The practice of public relations stunts is nothing new; companies have been performing them for decades. During the 1960s, United Airlines initiated a marketing campaign called "Take Me Along" to incentivize businessmen to bring their wives on business trips. The airline offered discounted tickets for wives, and the reduction was from a quarter to a third.
United Airlines sent "thank you" letters to the wives of business travelers who had availed of the promotion after their trip. However, many wives received these letters despite not accompanying their husbands on the trip, inadvertently revealing a significant number of extramarital affairs.
On a summer day in 2005, Snapple had an ambitious plan to gain publicity for its new line of frozen treats by creating the world's largest popsicle in the heart of New York City. However, things didn't go as planned as the 25-foot-tall, 17½-ton frozen Snapple juice treat started melting much faster than anticipated, causing kiwi-strawberry-flavored fluid to flood Union Square and spill onto East 17th Street.
This led to the fire department's intervention and the police department shutting down several streets, creating serious consequences for Snapple's promotion.
In 2009, the Department of Defense authorized a low-altitude flight of a Boeing 747 close to the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan. The plane was escorted by two F-16 fighters, allowing Air Force photographers to capture images of the event.
As a result of the flight not being announced in advance, panic, fear, and anger were caused among the general public. It even led to some buildings in Manhattan being evacuated. Afterward, the White House apologized for the incident, and the Air Force estimated that the flyover would cost $328,835. This figure included expenses related to fuel, personnel, and maintenance.
In 1974, the Cleveland Indians organized a beer promotion during their game against the Texas Rangers. As part of the promotion, fans could purchase beer for 10 cents each as opposed to 65 cents at the regular price. A maximum of six beers could be purchased per customer, but there was no limit to how many could be purchased during the game.
As a result of the promotion, fans became highly intoxicated and even started rioting during the ninth inning. It was Cleveland's inability to control the crowd that led to the forfeit. The chaotic situation lasted for approximately 15 minutes and resulted in at least one injury to Mike Hargrove, an outfielder for the Rangers, struck by a beer bottle on the head.
In 1996, Pepsi launched a marketing campaign called "Pepsi Stuff" to encourage people to buy more soda. Various items, such as t-shirts, sunglasses, and leather jackets, were available for different points values. In one of the ads, a teenager landed a Harrier Jet outside a school and stated that it could be traded for 7 million Pepsi points.
The points could be purchased for 10 cents each, and John Leonard and Todd Hoffman used $700,000 worth of them to purchase the jet. However, Pepsi rejected their attempt, claiming the advertisement was a joke. Ultimately, the case ended up in court in 1999.
A campaign IBM launched to encourage girls to pursue careers in science and engineering faced criticism in 2015. The campaign asked girls to come up with creative uses for hair dryers beyond just drying hair and submit their ideas to IBM. The accompanying video showed women in lab coats using hair dryers to power Rube Goldberg machines, which some found sexist and demeaning.
It was not until female scientists discovered the campaign that it was brought to light. Eventually, IBM apologized and stated that the hair dryer campaign was just a small part of its STEM career promotion effort.
In 2001, BRMB, a Birmingham radio station, held a contest called "Coolest Seats in Town," where participants sat on solid carbon dioxide, also known as dry ice, for the chance to win gig tickets. However, the organizers failed to consider the potential danger of dry ice, and the stunt resulted in several people suffering serious injuries, including loss of skin, fat, and muscle tissue.
Four participants suffered severe frostbite after coming in contact with the -78C (-108F) dry ice. Three of them took up to 10 weeks to recover from their injuries. A $15,000 fine was levied against the radio station as a result.
Dr. Pepper soda's owner Cadbury Schweppes organized a treasure hunt in 2007 in which participants had to find coins worth varying amounts of money hidden throughout the city. A clue led to a graveyard in Boston that was 347 years old.
As people converged on the burial site, city authorities were forced to halt the hunt out of concern for potential damage to the cemetery. Later, Dr. Pepper apologized for placing the coin in such a revered location and for not exercising better judgment to prevent people from digging into the cemetery with shovels.
A peculiar marketing campaign was launched by Domino's in Russia in 2018 in which fans were invited to get tattoos of the brand's logo. The company promised to award a lifetime supply of pizza to those who shared an image of the tattoo on social media.
The promotion was originally scheduled to run for two months and promised 100 years of free pizza to every winner. Within five days, however, the response exceeded their expectations, and the campaign was modified so that the reward would only be offered to the first 350 people who shared their tattoo images on the Russian social media platform VKontakte.
During the 2015 promotional campaign for "The Man in the High Castle," Amazon decorated subway cars with themes related to the show. While the designs featured symbols and insignia of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, they refer to an alternate reality in which these nations controlled the USA after World War II.
The decorations covered seats and walls, including a reimagined American flag with the German Eagle and Iron Cross replacing the stars. From December 6 to 14th, 260 subway posters advertising the campaign were displayed on the 42nd Street shuttle.
As part of an event they organized in 2013, LG released 100 helium balloons, each containing a voucher for a free expensive smartphone worth over $850. The event, however, was not properly thought out, and attendees were not adequately screened for weapons. Following the release of the balloons, the crowd below started shooting BB guns and using knives attached to sticks to grab vouchers.
This resulted in a chaotic situation where twenty people were injured. In response to the situation, LG canceled similar events planned. They also offered to cover the medical costs for those injured in the incident.
As part of their 1994 marketing campaign in Spain, Fiat sent 50,000 letters to women claiming to be from a secret admirer. The letters had no signature or indication of who was behind them, and they included creepy messages about wanting to be with the women for a couple of minutes.
The recipients were understandably frightened and felt like they were being stalked. Several of them remained at home in fear until a second letter arrived two weeks later, revealing that the first letter was a marketing ploy. The women were angry and, pursuing justice, decided to sue Fiat instead of accepting the offer.
McDonald's created a promotion for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles where customers could receive free food items based on the medals won by Team USA. The promotion offered a Big Mac for a gold medal, free French fries for a silver medal, and a free soft drink for a bronze medal.
The promotion, however, ran into a major problem when the USSR decided not to compete, meaning that Team USA had few competitors. This was because the US had boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow due to Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. A total of 94 medals were won by the US at the 1976 Olympics, including 34 gold.
Publicity stunt examples that work and don't teach us about this marketing approach's risks and the potential for growth it offers. Black and white is not an option in the 21st century, and in order to make the right decisions, companies should be well-informed and prepared before planning and executing a PR stunt. As outlined through the examples of the best PR stunts of all time as well as the worst ones, publicity stunts should be handled carefully.
However, this does not imply not handled at all.
Public relations stunts can be highly effective when planned and executed correctly, regardless of the skepticism some companies approach them with.
By implementing a well-prepared PR stunt, companies can increase brand visibility, open doors to new partnerships, and expand into new markets.