Top 10 Publicity Stunts
By Aaron Broverman
Like it or not, publicity stunts work, especially in the internet age and given the short attention span theatre of viral media. Below are the Top 10 publicity stunts of all time and why they were worth it after the dust settled.
10. MJ on the Thames (1995)
To promote the release of his 1995 album HIStory, Sony floated a 10 metre tall, 2,100 kilogram fibreglass statue of Michael Jackson down London’s famous Thames River. In all, there were nine identical statues all across Europe, but everyone remembers the image of a Mao-like Michael floating across London’s most famous body of water.
Effect: The album debuted and peaked at number one on the record charts across North America, Australia and several countries in Europe, including France, Spain and of course, the UK. Not bad for a $30 million price-tag just to pull off the stunt.
9. I’d rather go naked than wear fur (1994)
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) launched this controversial campaign featuring models and celebrities stripped down to their birthday suits on billboards all over the world. They were comfortable in their own skin and they were making the point that animals are most comfortable in theirs. Some called it the condoning of soft-core porn, but it did get people to pay attention to the issue.
Effect: The campaign brought the $40 billion fur business down to historic lows and exposed millions to the issue of animal cruelty, even if they were looking just for the nudity.
8. The Tour de France (1903)
A French newspaper called The Bicycle used to sponsor bicycle races to promote the paper, but then it changed its name to The Car, so bike races weren’t going to align as well. As a way to transition to the new name and give the bike races one last hurrah, the publication decided to sponsor one more bike event. This one would cover 1500 miles of the Parisian countryside.
Effect: The bike race earned six times the usual attendance and copious publicity for the paper. It would eventually become so big that it would outgrow its roots and become the Tour de France – the world’s premiere bicycle race.
7. Hands Across America (1986)
Nearly seven million Americans held hands and formed a 6,682 kilometre human chain across the United States, from New York City’s Battery Park to the RMS Queen Mary Pier in Long Beach, California to raise money to fighter hunger and homelessness in Africa. Though there were a few breaks in the chain here and there, some other links were six to seven people deep and celebrities led the charge in each major city, including President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C.
Effect: Despite protests in non-participating states, the campaign raised $34 million for hunger and homelessness and was one of many other celebrity-driven campaigns for charity during that time, including Live Aid, Farm Aid and We Are the World.
6. British Airways Can’t Get it Up (1999)
The London Eye was the world’s largest Ferris wheel at the time it was erected in 1999, at 135 metres tall with a 120 metre diameter, but British Airways (its title sponsor) had trouble… um…getting it up. With the media watching, an airship flew overhead with a banner reading, “B.A. Can’t Get it Up.” Everybody laughed.
Effect: The man behind the blimp stunt turned out to be Virgin Group CEO and British Airways competitor Richard Branson who scrambled the blimp once he heard British Airways was struggling. The results were that he and Virgin got the press, while British Airways didn’t.
5. Earth Hour (2007)
Every year in April cities and landmarks around the world turn off their lights for one hour in an effort to conserve energy and raise awareness of climate change and environmental issues. It was conceived by World Wide Fund for Nature in Australia after they met with ad agency Leo Burnett Sydney to strategize ways to engage Aussies on the issue of climate change.
Effect: 2.2 million Australians flicked off their lights during that first earth hour and the event went global in 2008 with 50 million people across 35 countries following suit. Earth Hour has since become an annual worldwide event.
4. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty (2004)
Rebelling against the need for the Photoshopped waif-like models in advertising, Dove decided to use six ordinary women in their underwear for its ad campaign. The campaign also included workshops, sleepover events, the publication of a book and the production of a play.
Effect: Not only did Dove send the message that it was important for women to be comfortable with their own bodies, but sales of Dove products rose by 700%.
3. The Goodyear Blimp (1925)
Carrying only corporate executives and members of the press, thanks to its “No public rides” policy, the Goodyear blimp has offered itself up as a camera platform for aerial shots during sporting events since its building in 1925. All Goodyear asks is that its name be mentioned during broadcasts that use the blimp.
Effect: The Goodyear blimp has been a ubiquitous presence at every sporting event both major and minor in America. Besides, even if it’s not, most fans and viewers think it is and that’s all Goodyear cares about. I’m sure it hates to admit it, but most of its brand recognition probably comes from the blimp, and not from its tires.
2. Yoko and John’s Bed-in (1969)
Instead of keeping their wedding the regular media spectacle they knew it would be, Yoko Ono and John Lennon decided to host two, two-week bed-ins in Amsterdam and Montreal designed as a new experimental way to promote peace and hold a peaceful protest against all wars, including the Vietnam War, which was in full swing at the time.
Effect: The bed-ins spawned a documentary, Bed for Peace, and the hit song Give Peace a Chance. The first bed-in received a great deal amount of press coverage, while the second received mixed coverage from the American Press. The bed-in tactic spawned tons of copycats and reinterpretations by other activists over the years. It is also one of the first examples of celebrities using the publicity they receive for their own message.
1. Red Bull’s Space Jump (2012)
Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without the use of a machine by free-falling 23 miles from the earth’s atmosphere. The whole thing was sponsored by Red Bull, which became the first energy drink to launch a man into space.
Effect: The stunt earned worldwide media coverage and accounted for one percent of the social media conversation at the time.