21 August, 2009

Intern Sweatshop: 3 PR Stunts that worked and 3 that didn't

Today we bid adieu to our summer creative intern. Should we be annihilated by a nuclear blast tomorrow, let his last post serve as proof that sentient beings, at one time, roamed the earth. And that we went gaa-gaa for PR stunts. Happy trails, Brandon. Ye will be missed.

In the PR world, promotional stunts are the backbone to any good marketing campaign. PR execs spend months planning and designing the perfect event that will bring their clients success. More often than not, the event itself happens in a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds, but it forever lives on through the magic of the Internet. Let’s take a look at some memorable promotional stunts, both good and bad.

First, some FAIL:

1. CEO Todd Davis was so sure that his company, LifeLock, would be able to prevent identity theft, he published his social security number in ads all over the country. As was expected, no fewer than 25 attempted thefts on his identity occurred in the weeks that followed. A few of them even worked, and Davis lost money to a thief that was able to successfully secure a loan. Though Davis still swears by the LifeLock’s security, it’s safe to say the company never used the “I Dare You” tactic again.

2. In 2006, McDonald’s in Japan created a promotion where customers were eligible to win their own McDonalds MP3 player. The fast food chain gave away about 10,000 of them before realizing that among the pre-programed songs that came on the MP3 player was a Trojan virus that stole user names and passwords when plugged into a computer. A recall was instituted and the campaign ended, but not before enraging thousands of Japanese.

3. In April of this year, the White House messed up big time when a photo op went horribly bad. In an effort to get a shot of Air Force One buzzing the Statue of Liberty, staff ordered the Boeing 747 (followed by a fighter jet) to fly very low over the New York City Harbor. Somehow, no one in either New York City or New Jersey was notified that a massive aircraft would be flying a few hundred feet above their heads. Naturally, people panicked and assumed that it was another terrorist attack. Only after hundreds of petrified citizens called 911 and thousands evacuated buildings and fled out into the streets did anyone think to let the public know everything was under control. After extreme backlash from everyone - including Mayor Bloomberg - the director of the White House Military Office resigned, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of shaken but unharmed citizens.

On the flip side, there have been plenty of fantastic promotional stunts that become big hits. For the WIN:

1. Take a look at this organized “flashmob” stunt for T-Mobile performed in Liverpool. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi, the elaborate ad was meant to become a viral video to be shared online. I can’t even imagine the number of rehearsals it took for them to finally get it right.

2. In 2007, The Simpsons finally answered fans’ prayers and released a feature film. To promote the TV classic’s first foray onto the big screen, FOX partnered with 7-11 and turned a dozen of its stores into “Kwik-E-Marts,” complete with products from the show, such as “Buzz Cola” and “Krusty-O’s,” and cut-outs of all of the main characters. The results were sensational. 7-11 reported a 30% increase in sales and most of the themed products sold out within days.

3. As everyone knows, Independence Day was one of the biggest summer openers of all time, smashing all sorts of records and, at the time, becoming the number two highest grossing film in history. But one of the keys to the film’s monstrous success was the incredible amount of promotion that went into it beforehand. Besides airing the dramatic trailer for the movie during the SuperBowl, the film was promoted with an event that caused a ton of valuable, pre-release hype. Working with the state of Nevada, the film renamed the stretch of highway that leads to the controversial Area 51. Dubbed “The Extra-Terrestrial Highway,” some of the film’s stars, and even the state governor himself turned up for the rechristening. The governor even unveiled a speed limit sign of “Warp 7.”

In order to make a successful PR stunt, it’s best to go big and do something that’s never been done before, something that everyone will want to tell their friends about. Just make sure it’s not something that makes people call 911.

Brandon Musso, Creative Intern

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