Sales & Marketing

Six ridiculous publicity stunts businesses can learn from

6 min read

26 November 2015

Even the biggest cynics can often appreciate the opportunism and savvy it takes to pull off a good publicity stunt.

Unfortunately though, not every business can afford to give a man a jacket with their logo on it, put him 25 miles above the earth and get him to jump out of a balloon like Red Bull somehow managed to.

Businesses have always attempted alternative methods of reaching an audience – with varying levels of success. If you’re thinking of going down this road, perhaps you could take some inspiration, or some cautionary advice, from these company’s efforts.

(1) Chicken Treat

An Australian fried chicken vendor made global headlines this year when they opted to put an actual live chicken in charge of their Twitter posts. 

Using the hashtag #chickentweet, Betty has to date amassed 38.2k followers, wowing her followers with such witty repartee as “,m;j rbv ,zxjklrhi8g7atjuk ,,,, #chickentweet”.

Let’s hope she has impressed the company enough to be spared the fate of her not so tech-savvy brothers and sisters.

(2) British Knight Sneakers

Having smelly socks isn’t usually something to brag about, but in 1993, Dave Hargrave came first in a “World’s Smelliest Socks” contest, and won complimentary trainers for three years. 

Footwear company British Knights sponsored the event to promote a new canvas shoe which was created to prevent foot odour. The company received over 300 entries through the post. That office must have been a fun place to work in at the time… 

(3) The Blair Witch Project

Hollywood horrors such as Sleepy Hollow and House on Haunted Hill cost $100m and $37m respectively, but the big horror success of 1999 was shot for $22,000 – and then pulled in almost $250m. 

The flick was filmed on camcorder and presented to media outlets as footage “found in the woods”. The marketing team posted fake accounts from “survivors” on message boards, and convinced IMDB (in its infancy) to list the cast as “missing”. Some news outlets took the bait, even reporting that the story was real.

This was an early example of viral marketing, and it proved incredibly successful. The memorable campaign assured the movie was one of the most infamous of all time, not just within the horror genre, even though the movie itself draws a not-so-brilliant 6.5 rating on IMDB.

Think those stunts are ridiculous? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading on page two to discover more insane marketing stunts made by businesses – and what you can learn from them.

(4) Cash Tomato

Video website Cashtomato.com tried to stand apart from its competitors in 2008 by giving out thousands of dollars in weekly cash prizes, even predicting that they would overtake YouTube by the end of the year.

Then they had a brainwave. Their name was Cash Tomato, so why not go to the streets of New York and give away free cash whilst dressed as tomatoes?

Unsurprisingly, they were met by a mob of over 100 people, and things quickly turned rotten. Witnesses saw someone running away with an entire sack of envelopes – and one person ended up in the hospital with a leg injury after being crushed. 

“They grabbed all the bags and the money from us,” company executive Jason Buzi said. “I expected maybe a few homeless people, but it turned out to be a lot of aggressive people.”

(5) LifeLock

Lifelock CEO Todd Davis was really asking for trouble in 2006 when he posted his social security number in a massive advertising campaign to prove that the ID protection company was worth its salt.

Of course, his identity was successfully stolen on thirteen occasions. Davis attempted to make the best of the situation, claiming that as 87 attempts had been foiled, which proved LifeLock worked. However, the Federal Trade Commission did not share his optimism, fining the company $12m for deceptive advertising in 2010.

(6) KDND Radio

When Nintendo launched the Wii games console, most of us had a little immature chuckle at its name. Radio station KDND 107.9 went one step further, and in 2007 held a “hold your wee for a Wii” contest, challenging contestants to see who could drink – and hold –the most water.

The next day, a contestant attempting to win a console for her children was tragically found to have died from water intoxication. A jury awarded the woman’s family $16m in damages and ten of the station’s employees were reportedly sacked.

Publicity stunts can pay off big time, but the risks are high. 

The moral of the story: bullet proof your idea. Write down all the risks involved and make sure you have a contingency plan for when it all goes pear shaped. Contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity.

Tom West is a writer and content producer at Crunch Accounting.