Publicity Stunts

Hey, if you tweet your sins, you could be the winner of MGM Grand’s Twitter campaign and a free night at its Las Vegas hotel.

By posting your video on YouTube in competition to be “the world’s fastest nudist” you could help Zappos, the electronic commerce company, make the point that it sells clothing as well as footwear.

Yes, these are the latest in the long history of stunts designed to draw attention to a product, a company or to promote a cause. In this country, publicity stunts are as old as the Boston Tea Party and as current as the Goodyear blimp at last weekend’s football game.

Some are beloved traditions, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that started in 1924 as a modest parade of its employees and zoo animals on floats. Others are simply designed to create a “buzz,” like the Victoria’s Secret $5 million “Black Diamond Fantasy Miracle Bra.”

The most successful publicity stunts make news while achieving their goal—delivering a message in a memorable way. Tying the stunt to the message is the tricky part and PR history is littered with memorable and costly stunts that are remembered while the client is not. But, when done right, the results can be staggering. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which used six ordinary women in underwear in ads resonated with women everywhere (except, perhaps, with ultra-thin supermodels) and boosted sales by 700%.

The PR professionals today both stage and manage the event, and extend its news value by offering photos and videos. Creating the “buzz” before and after through social media is an important part of the plan with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter sometimes rocketing the audience to millions.

Timing is important and the wrong day or time of day, week or month will almost guarantee your stunt will only create a dull thud. Unless, of course, your stunt is the unveiling of the latest supermodel’s nude billboard declaring “I’d Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur” for the animal rights organization, PETA.

For stunts to be effective just remember—a clear message that ties directly to you or your company, a bulletproof plan, good visuals and the right timing. Samuel Adams, who orchestrated the Boston Tea Party, and perhaps father of all PR stunts, would be proud of you.