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Publicity Stunts and Positive PR

I’ve always been fascinated by publicity stunts. Publicity stunts usually represent the coming together of three things that reach people on a fundamental level: the spectacle, semiotics, and coolness. They’re tangible. They attract crowds. They blur the line between advertising and entertainment. They’re an innovative avenue for disseminating messaging and raising brand profiles.
Publicity stunts can be a secret weapon for generating or sustaining positive public relations, but only when the brand’s messaging is central, rather than secondary. The ultimate goal of a publicity stunt is to stimulate positive media coverage about the message behind the stunt; however, publicity stunts are risky because it is difficult to know what will work.

With that, I present you with Interkom’s top 5 list of notable publicity stunts.

1. Red Bull’s out of this world publicity stunt

When a publicity stunt is logistically supported by the U.S. Air Force and NASA, you know it’s going to be huge. Felix Baumgatner’s Red Bull-sponsored freefall from the edge of space was the most major publicity stunt in recent years. This was spectacle in its purest form. At its peak, the jump was watched by eight million streaming it live. Within the 24 hours following the great leap, the footage attracted an additional two million views on YouTube. Red Bull garnered tens of millions of dollars’ worth of global exposure with this stunt and brought its “Red Bull gives you wings” slogan to life in the most extravagant and exciting way.

2. Harley Davidson’s blessed publicity stunt

To celebrate Harley Davidson’s 110th anniversary, Harley lovers will embark on a European road trip between June 13-16, 2013, hitting Central Rome, Vatican City and Port of Ostia. Part of this three day celebration includes 1,400 randomly selected motorcycles being blessed by the pope in St. Peters Square. Seems kind of random, right? It’s this juxtaposition that makes this stunt so compelling. It will be interesting to see the type of media coverage this event garners. Harley’s International Marketing Manager, Ken Ostermann, says the event is a testament to the brand’s continued global transformation and growing global fan base.

3. Pizza Hut’s half-baked publicity stunt

Pizza Hut recently dared the American public to pose the question “sausage or pepperoni?” to Obama or Romney during the Town Hall-style debate a couple weeks ago, offering a free pizza every week for 30 years or a cheque for $15, 600 to the person bold (or crazy) enough to ask. Although this promotion generated attention for Pizza Hut, most of it was negative and they were forced to cancel the stunt after serious public backlash. This failed publicity stunt goes to show that the public isn’t yet receptive to brands attempting to pervert the political process in the name of self-promotion.

4. Nestle’s sweet publicity stunt

Nestle’s “We Will Find You” promotion, launched in September throughout the UK, is basically a modern take on Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket concept. Hidden inside six KitKat bars are GPS chips that activate once the wrapper has been opened. Within 24 hours of activating the GPS chip, the winner is located by helicopter and handed a briefcase containing £10,000 in cash, which translates to a little over $16,000 in Canadian funds. This is a great semi-stunt because it places the product front and centre and adds extra incentive to consumers. No winners have been identified as of yet, but no doubt that when the first helicopter touches down it will be a full-on publicity stunt and sight to behold!

5. Resident Evil’s gory publicity stunt

Capcom transformed East London’s Smithfield Meat Market into a pop-up “human butchery and morgue” to promote the sixth installment of the popular zombie-shooting game Resident Evil. The art installation, full of edible “body parts” was based on a character within the game and open September 28 and 29. Capcom even created a website and Twitter account for the fictional butcher. If that wasn’t enough, Capcom took this promotional effort to the next level by offering two lectures. The first lecture focused on food consumption trends throughout history and cannibalism, and the second explored the plausibility of the virus featured in the game existing in real life. I’d describe this multi-tiered publicity stunt as interesting, relevant to the brand and CREEPY!

Are there any recent publicity stunts that stick out in your mind? What do you think of our list? Share your thoughts on publicity stunts with us on Twitter at @Interkominc!

– Lauren