Publicity stunts are a commonly used experiential marketing tactic, driving attention to a cause or brand. We’ve already discussed experiential marketing’s value as a PR tool, as well as the capacity for publicity stunts to generate awareness in previous article. In this article we take a different approach, outlining our 8 favourite publicity stunts, and what takeaways can be applied when planning your own events.
What are they?
From Taco Bell “buying the liberty bell” to the Goodyear blimp, brands are always looking for ways to break the mold and stand out amongst ever-increasing competition. But before we take a look at some of our favourite stunts, it’s important to clarify what publicity stunts are in the context of experiential marketing. Wikipedia defines a publicity stunt as:
“A planned event designed to attract the public’s attention to the event’s organizers or their cause. Publicity stunts can be professionally organized, or set up by amateurs. Such events are frequently utilized by advertisers, celebrities, athletes, and politicians.”
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on publicity stunt events, held on behalf of brands looking to draw attention to themselves or their products. The beauty of the medium is its virtually limitless scope for creativity; as long as a campaign draws the public’s attention, it has fulfilled its purpose in driving brand awareness.
Why use them?
To channel the voice of Event Magazine’s Sibilla Foxton, “The answer is simple… the ‘free’ attention.” When executed well, publicity stunts generate levels of exposure unheard of with other tactics. Local, national and potentially global media coverage, myriad social media commentary and rising above the noise of traditional marketing channels are all achievable results for a publicity stunt, it all comes down to the creative and the execution.
Two classic, creative examples of first class publicity stunts are: the inception of the ‘Tour De France’, promoting ‘The Car’ newspaper (previously known as ‘The Bicycle’) in 1903; and Half.com, bought by eBay for $300 million dollars after convincing the town of Halfway Oregon to change their name to Half.com for a year. These campaigns demonstrate perfectly the broad scope available for publicity stunts and tee us up nicely to move on to our 8 favourite publicity stunt events.
8 Of The Best
Snap Inc., owners of Snapchat, decided to do something a little bit different for the release of their Spectacles, the brand’s first wearable device allowing hands-free live image capture. Instead of releasing in stores across the US, Snap dropped vending machines filled with glasses at random locations across the country. This was the only way to purchase the glasses and once the machine was empty, it stayed empty.
The result was volumes of social media video and images of people waiting in line to buy their spectacles, followed by disappointed faces once the stock was gone. At $130 each, the brand may have struggled to generate the level of sales required to make a large margin at retail, however, the publicity effect from the perceived demand and exclusivity of the product was far more valuable, culminating in pairs being sold on eBay for up to $2000. This stellar campaign gave Snap a boost, heading into a crucial period leading up to their IPO.
By selling exclusivity, rather than the product, the perceived downsides of the product (in this case the $130 price tag) are often ignored by consumers who want to be ‘part of the club’.
Red Bull Stratos
The purpose of Red Bull Stratos, according to Red Bull themselves, was to transcend human limits. The event, which saw Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner ascended to 128,000 ft in a stratospheric balloon before hurtling to the ground at an estimated speed of 833.9 mph, was groundbreaking for both mankind and the Red Bull brand. Although it took place in the desert of New Mexico, with virtually 0 viewers present, the stunt received over 8 million live views, and the resulting highlights video, over 41 million.
There is no doubt that this event is the most successful publicity stunt of our time, with the highest-ever concurrent viewing figures in YouTube’s history, and around 3.1 million tweets relating to the event, as well as global press coverage.
People want their breath taken, they want to see boundaries pushed so when planning a publicity stunt, the ability to turn heads should be high on the list
If Carlsberg Did Cases
Carlsberg are always on the lookout for publicity opportunities, previously creating a beer-dispensing billboard, as well as, a drone delivery service for beer, sort of. However, we chose this campaign, not because it has all the bells and whistles, or the highest budget, in fact, the opposite; it’s a clever idea executed well.
The stunt, featuring airline passengers in London City Airport, greeted off the plane by a free case of Carlsberg served via luggage carousel, is a perfect example of a low-budget, well thought experiential event. The brand identified the hassle 99% of us endure when waiting for luggage after a long flight, easing that pain with a simple free gift. The resulting video footage has since received over 500,000 views on YouTube. Not bad at the cost of a few crates of beer.
The success of a publicity stunt is rarely dependent on the budget. A solid creative idea, executed well, will always win the day.
Pepsi Max Unbelievable Bus Shelter
As part of their #LiveForNow campaign, Pepsi Max took over a London bus shelter, installing the latest augmented reality technology, which apparently transformed the street behind the shelter into a series of unexpected scenes, including aliens, meteorites and even a tiger. The unnerving realism of the experience provoked some priceless reactions from the helpless commuters using the shelter that day.
In 2014, augmented reality was at a far more rudimentary stage in its life-cycle, however it was a new exciting technology, which (clearly) took people by surprise. By staying informed on emerging technologies, you may well discover the perfect vehicle to deliver your creative idea.
WestJet Christmas Miracle
In December 2013, Canadian airline WestJet dreamed up a publicity stunt for the ages, a true Christmas miracle. With the help of 175 volunteers, three airports and apparently Santa himself, WestJet provided a Christmas miracle for over 250 passengers on two Calgary-bound flights. Speaking via live-stream, Santa asked each of the passengers travelling from Toronto and Hamilton what was on their Christmas wish lists this year, and once the planes were boarded, the magic began. Volunteers went on a shopping spree, wrapping personalised presents which were distributed upon arrival, again via luggage carousel.
The subsequent video has received over 47 million views as part of a campaign so successful, the airline has re-imagined it in a new format every year since.
Emotion is a powerful motivation and people feel naturally drawn to content that makes them truly laugh or cry. It’s difficult to fake. An effective publicity stunt elicits uncontrollable emotion, whether it’s awe, humour, embarrassment, or in this case tears of joy.
UBER Ice Cream
Taxi app UBER are experts at delivering perfectly-timed, highly-engaging publicity stunts generating masses of conversations both socially and in the press. UBER ice cream is one such example of this.
Each year, on the hottest day of that year, UBER delivers free ice cream to the doors of over 1 million people in 400 cities worldwide. This campaign isn’t alone, last year the brand ran a similar campaign delivering rescue puppies across Singapore to raise awareness for SOSD, a stray dogs shelter. UBER are seemingly the masters of agile, topical campaigns, demonstrating an acute awareness for customers’ needs and wants.
UBER builds the essence of its brand into all its campaigns. The common theme throughout is that the experience will be delivered to you, whether it’s ice cream, puppies or stand-up comedy. What we can learn from this is that publicity stunts should always incorporate at least some of your brand’s core values, as it is your brand you are attempting to ingratiate them to.
T Mobile Sing Along
Bringing karaoke out of the traditional pub circuit and onto an altogether grander stage, in the words of creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi, T-Mobile’s 13,500 strong rendition of “Hey Jude” and other classics is perhaps one of the most awe inspiring examples of creative planning, and mass organisation, to date.
Following up from the famous Liverpool St Station flash mob of 2009, T-Mobile drew more than 13,000 customers to London’s Trafalgar Square through the power of social media and promotion. The brand distributed 2,000 microphones, installing a giant screen for those who didn’t know the words. The resulting video has received over 7.4 million views and even includes a guest appearance from pop sensation Pink.
We live in the age of constant social interaction; this is a powerful tool for drawing in the masses and generating a buzz. You don’t need to give everything away, often you’ll find a sense of mystery is enough to pull in the crowds.
Panda’s In Paris.
Activating in Paris in 2008, the WWF created a powerful campaign, installing 1,600 papier mache pandas in front of the iconic Eiffel Tower. Each panda represented one of the 1,600 pandas existing in the world, and, whilst they looked similar, each sculpture had its own expressions to highlight the individuality of the beautiful creatures. The campaign went on to tour major cities around the world, including Lyon, Berlin, Bordeux, Frankfurt, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei; delivering a powerful visual warning on the state of the planet and those with whom we share it.
It can often be difficult to conceptualise an issue when you’re just told the facts and figures. This campaign showed, in stark reality, just how few pandas were left in the world. If you’re aiming to make a statement with your campaign, make it visually striking. People can ignore numbers on a screen, they can’t ignore what’s in front of them.
- Exclusivity can sell products better than their own merits.
- People want to be shown what they haven’t seen before.
- The quality of publicity stunt is based on creativity and execution, not budget.
- New technology is always around the corner, you need to be looking for it.
- Emotion is a powerful thing, people want to be made to feel.
- The publicity stunt is raising awareness for your brand, it should stick to your brand’s values.
- Social media is the perfect tool for drawing a crowd.
- Big issues can be hard to conceptualise, avoid confusion with strong visual messages.