Publicity stunts Going to great lengths to create brand awareness
When it comes to high-profile publicity stunts, Virgin’s chairman Sir Richard Branson is king. He has earned millions of dollars in free publicity for his various Virgin companies in the process.
Branson’s stunts include attempting world ballooning records with the Virgin name plastered everywhere, to posing in full drag in a wedding dress for the opening of Virgin Bride. “The time to go into a business is when it’s abysmally run by other people,” he says.
Virgin Mobile USA was launched with an outrageous stunt. In order to emphasise the selling point that “Virgin has nothing to hide” Branson was hoisted above New York’s Times Square on a crane, where he stripped down to a “nude” bodysuit, a Virgin cell phone strategically positioned.
Stunts like these are not only akin to Branson, however. The Guardian Unlimited lists the following stunts that have amazed us and in the process catapulted brands into full view:
- Elvis joins the army
- The Sex Pistols hold a concert drifting up and down the Thames, aboard a ship named “The Queen Elizabeth”, while feigning a raid on parliament
- Blues guitarist Robert Johnson’s mentor claims Johnson’s improvement in guitar playing was as a result of having “sold his soul to the devil”
- Madonna publishes the soft-porn book “Sex”
- Band The KLF announce their departure from the music business at the end of a massive performance, while shooting blanks from a machine gun into the crowd
- To clean up his gangster image, Snoop Doggy Dogg hands out Christmas presents in poor communities (something the Black Panthers did as a matter of course)
- Michael Jackson has a 10 metre effigy of himself towed up and down the Thames to launch his HIStory album
- Jarvis Cocker rockets into instant fame when wiggling his bottom during Michael Jackson’s Brits Award performance – and spends a night in prison for his efforts
- The band Super Furry Animals buy a tank, paint it blue and drive around music festivals with it, blasting music from it a la Donald Sutherland’ Sgt. Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes.
Justin Timberlake’s “Cry me a river” music video makes sport of Britney Spiers (who later went on to tarnish her own name pretty well herself)
In the online casino industry, Golden Palace is infamous for the use of publicity stunts to ramp the brand into high profile. These include:
Paying boxers to wear temporary tattoos on their backs promoting GoldenPalace.com
Sponsoring serial streakers at the Superbowl and Olympic Games
Buying a 10-year old grilled cheese sandwich (supposedly having the image of the Virgin Mary on it) on eBay for $28,000
Leasing the cleavage of model Shaune Bagwell
IntraLinux, a small software company made it clear that they were challenging Microsoft when a Bill Gates look-alike was matched against a penguin (the Linux symbol) in a boxing ring at the Moscone Center in San Fransisco.
Not even the negative image of spending time in prison has prevented celebrities like Paris Hilton and Mike Tyson from building their careers – the additional publicity brought about by some jail time has done their careers wonders. Do celebrities deliberately misbehave in order to garnish additional time on magazine covers? I would say certainly.
With the vast number of marketing messages bombarding people each day, it’s no wonder that some marketers go to crazy and outrageous lengths in order to build brand awareness.
Tony Lopes is an online community facilitator for Brands & Branding, and also works in Johannesburg as an online marketer.
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