PR stunts are designed to raise eyebrows with the general public. However, despite all the great work out there, there’s no real formula – apart from sheer creative genius – for what makes a stunt work.
The idea could be simple. It may have been planned for months, or perhaps it involves a skydive from the edge of space. There’s no limit to the lengths public relations agencies and creative teams will go to for column inches or to create a positive buzz on social media.
I’ve put together a few examples of PR campaigns which have made a real impact, whether the stunts were designed to promote charitable causes, pop-up restaurants or were quick, reactive ad spots such as the example below from Carlsberg.
New digital technologies have enabled reactive PR stunts to be rolled out almost instantaneously. Just take a look at Carlsberg’s response to Protein World’s controversial ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign in May 2015.
The drinks company displayed its ‘Beer Body Ready’ ad across London’s Underground network adjacent to the original in the days after it was first displayed and in doing so, joined the body type debate; which saw an online petition reach 60,000+ signatures calling for the withdrawal of the original campaign.
Despite being instrumental in making the idea a success, Dolmio chose to deride technology with its ‘Pepper Hacker’ campaign in 2015 in which a prototype gadget was developed inside a pepper grinder.
Whilst looking like an everyday pepper grinder, it actually contained technology which allowed parents to turn off household technology – including WiFi – for 30 minutes at a time.
The ad took a satirical view of contemporary family mealtimes and the fact this once shared – and sacred – experience is being lost to technology, as children and parents are both increasingly distracted by mobile phones, tablets and television.
The accompanying TV spot resulted in plenty of distraught children throwing tantrums. Unfortunately the pepper hacker isn’t real and the stunt was an April Fools joke, however the point was well made.
In 2015 the €2 t-shirt campaign placed a real vending machine filled with cheap clothing in the middle of a busy Berlin shopping street and promised passers-by ‘fashion for a bargain’.
After trying to make a purchase, a video appeared which confronted them with the terrible conditions where the clothes are made, revealing the suffering felt by children who are taken advantage of by big fashion corporations in sweatshops across the world.
The stunt was devised in a bid to test consumers, and see if they would decide to buy the products, or opt out. Eight of the ten shoppers in the video chose not to buy when the video revealed some hard truths.
The campaign was put together in an attempt to increase transparency and make consumers think about where their clothes are from and start a ‘fashion revolution’, with the stunt coinciding with Fashion Revolution Day which takes place on 24 April every year, in memory of 1,133 workers who were killed when a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed.
Social media is now almost entirely intertwined with our daily lives, whether that’s by sharing thoughts about the TV show we’re watching on Twitter, or connecting with business associates on LinkedIn.
On that theme… in 2014 Birds Eye opened pop-up restaurants in London, Manchester and Leeds which tapped into the ongoing trend for people to upload photos of their food onto social media or ‘food porn’ as it’s known.
By snapping a photo of their food at the store and uploading it on to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, with the #BirdsEyeInspirations hashtag, they could get a free meal.
The three Picture House restaurants were opened to help promote a new range of meals from Birds Eye, while the campaign helped add to the 90 million photos of food which were on Instagram at the time.
Finally, the big one and by far the most extreme example on the list as we head into outer space.
In 2012, for their Stratos stunt, Red Bull arranged for the now world famous BASE jumper, Felix Baumgartner to skydive back down to earth from the edge of the atmosphere.
On 12 October he donned his spacesuit and freefell 39 kilometres over four minutes from a helium-elevated capsule above the desert of New Mexico.
This stratospheric PR stunt was out of this world and further increased Red Bull’s strong ties with extreme sports, adding to the Red Bull Air Race, Red Bull Racing Formula One team and niche events such as the Red Bull Soapbox Race and Red Bull Cliff Diving.
If marketing didn’t exist, Red Bull would just be a canned energy drink. However, it does exist and the drinks company is now synonymous with adventure and is able to pull off incredible PR stunts that enable the brand to lend its name to maximal living.