The Publicity Stunt: What It Is and Why It Works

We are constantly bombarded with messages. Billboards line the side of the roads we travel on our commutes to and from work. Sponsored posts seamlessly appear in social media feeds. Advertisements tailored to our interests pop up on our screens while we surf the web, play a game or read our favorite blog. Branded products are placed within our favorite television shows or movies. Promotional flyers can even be found on bathroom stall doors.

With so much content to consider every second of every day, it makes one wonder if any messages ever have an impact. Well, we’re here to tell you it is possible to break through the clutter – if you’re willing to employ “outside the box” tactics to complement your advertising, marketing and public relations efforts. Utilizing both traditional and innovative communications tools can lead to a stellar campaign.

The publicity stunt – a planned event designed to attract the public’s attention to a brand or cause – isn’t a novel concept but it has become more popular in recent years. Events can include passing out free samples, organizing a flash mob and much more. The nature can be light-hearted or serious. The size can be small or large. The price can range from free to costly.

But before you start planning your next publicity stunt, let’s take a look at some past events to determine why they were such successes. No matter the type of event you want to plan, we’ve got a couple tips that will help you make an impact.

1. The publicity stunt doesn’t always have to start with the brand.

You may recall the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that became a viral sensation in 2014. Would you be surprised to hear that the movement started with a single man, Chris Kennedy, challenging his sister, Jeanette Senerchia? This challenge led to another, and another, until eventually, it spread like wildfire across social media. This grassroots effort got the attention of thousands of people, and more importantly, raised awareness of the disease and over $100 million for research.

It was such a success that the ALS Association simply let the movement run its course. One year later, the organization is continuing the effort with the introduction of the #EveryAugustUntilACure campaign. While publicity stunts are often professionally organized by a brand, they can also be executed by amateurs.

2. The publicity stunt doesn’t have to promote just the brand.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, former hosts of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, held the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall on October 30, 2010. The two didn’t combine efforts and hold the rally to promote their shows but rather to start a conversation.

Though it wasn’t planned to be a political protest or movement, the event provided a forum for the 215,000 attendees to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of government shortly before midterm elections. These “founding fathers of fake news” recognized that they could use their influence to draw attention to a worthy cause and also receive some positive publicity in the process.

The publicity stunt is a great idea if you’re looking to launch a new product, introduce your brand to a new market or raise awareness for a cause. Keep in mind, however, that this tactic is not the best solution for every situation.

It’s essential to determine the “why” before you begin planning because the challenge of any publicity stunt is to preserve the message contained within it. Like with any other communication, you need to make sure people remember not only your brand but also what you are trying to say.