PR Stunts…the good, the bad and the ugly!

Definition: public relations


the professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person.

“public relations is often looked down on by the media”

the state of the relationship between a company or other organization or a famous person and the public.

“companies justify the cost in terms of improved public relations”


Definition: publicity stunt


something unusual that is done to attract people’s attention to a particular person, product, or organization:

“The all-night debate is nothing more than a publicity stunt.”


If executed well, a PR stunt can catapult an unknown brand into the media spotlight but, as we have seen time and time again, not all PR stunts land with the intended impact and this can be seriously detrimental to a company’s image.

PR Stunts

For a PR stunt to be successful, it should;

  • Have a clear objective – PR stunts are fun, yes, but what is the point in them? A brand must be clear on the objectives of the stunt before ploughing ahead and sending something to space. While brand awareness is likely to be a key objective for any stunt, there needs to be some evidence as to how the activity will support enquiries, sales, or reputation too
  • Engage an audience – once the stunt has their attention, it must keep them entertained, easier said than done
  • Be topical– this is the “why now?” … there is nothing worse than a random stunt which bears no relevance to anything whatsoever
  • Think outside of the box – brands have been orchestrating PR stunts in one way or another since time began, so they need to be original, creative and where possible, a little risky
  • Encourage ‘shareability’ – it’s all well and good spending months planning a huge PR stunt, but what use is it if nobody sees it. Chances are the stunt will take place in one location and the live reach isn’t going to have too much of an impact on a brand without media pick-up, whether that be traditional, online or social media


The Good PR stunt – Burger King Beaten Up Burgers


In 2017, Burger King teamed up with No Bully for a social experiment which stirred up a number of emotions for its customers, and for those who watched the stunt unfold online.

In the YouTube video which has racked up more than six million views, Burger King employees are seen serving beaten up burgers to their customers at the same time as a young boy being verbally and physically bullied. Just 12% of Burger King customers got up to help the victim, while an overwhelming 95% of them got up to complain about the state of their lunch.

Why is this a good example? Well, not only did Burger King partner with a reputable organisation to deliver its message, it launched during National Bullying Prevention Month alongside data which says 30% of students worldwide are bullied – a harrowing and newsworthy figure. It was emotive, it has purpose, and it was digital, in a nutshell it was PR gold.


The Bad PR stunt – Snapple’s Melting Mess


It isn’t a brainstorm at a PR agency if somebody doesn’t suggest the ingenious idea of creating the biggest or the smallest version of a product as a PR stunt now is it?


When soft drink company Snapple sat down sat down to discuss plans for the summer of 2005and decided Guinness world record attempt for the “World’s Largest Ice Pop” would be a good idea, they didn’t consider one tiny, insignificant factor… mother nature.


The stunt turned into a bit of a mess when the 35,000 lb ice pop melted on a hot summer day in New York causing a kiwi-strawberry tidal wave and several minor injuries were reported.


Why is this a bad example? While the activity generated lots of coverage for the brand, most journalists highlighted how poorly the idea was executed, rather than talking about Snapple’s new product…and no, not all PR is good PR.


The Ugly PR stunt – Jägermeister’s poisonous pool party


When you think of Jägermeister you think of Jägerbombs, parties and more often than not, a hangover.


When Jägermeister hosted a pool party in Leon, Mexico to promote its product, party goes were left with much more sever conditions than a hangover.


The event turned tragic after party organisers poured liquid nitrogen (intended to create a smoke effect) into the pool, creating a toxic reaction which led to eight party-goers being sent to hospital and one man was left in a coma.


No. Just no.


In summary, PRs should be cautious when it comes to stunts, not only because they have the potential to go wrong but because if they are not delivered properly, they can leave a brand in worse place reputationally than they were before. That said, a well-executed PR stunt can give a brand a large platform from which to get their key message across and really can make the months of blood, sweat, tears and planning worth it.

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