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Whatever Happened to the Publicity Stunt?

Want your brand to go viral? How about a wildly memorable publicity stunt? As we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the notorious “War of the Worlds” broadcast that had thousands of US citizens in a panic about invaders from Mars, maybe it’s time to think about a high-profile, playful stunt to get your brand noticed. While there have been a few notable ones in the last few years—Red Bull’s jump from space, Sacha Baron Cohen’s staged mishap at the 2009 MTV Awards, and a rather dark stunt for the movie, “It”—the heyday of truly spectacular publicity stunts seems behind us.

Movies used to spur the most audacious stunts (and still do, sometimes), offering us lions appearing in New York hotel rooms, fake kidnappings of actresses, and a “Snow White” themed village that became the prototype of theme parks to come. But musicians made their mark too, not least Pink Floyd with that giant floating pig.

Is it time to get thinking big again? Certainly, you should be letting your imagination stray outside the social media box. It seems the more successful recent stunts have involved real-world (or other-worldly) events or environments. Sure, they ended up being discussed on Facebook or WhatsApp, but began with a physical experience. Cases in point are Volkswagen’s musical subway stairs, Heineken’s madcap adventure for journalists, and ASB’s canine ballboys. And Carlsberg rightly guessed  there’s little to beat free beer, delivered in a novel way.

Sure, stunts can go as wrong as any other marketing push, particularly when they were, arguably, lame to begin with—who cares if International House of Pancakes makes burgers? Technology can help, but the trick these days appears to be to emphasize the interactive.
What novel, compelling publicity stunt experience can you offer the general public to brighten your brand?




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