Want to build brand awareness with a publicity stunt? Read this first

(Photo: Lululemon’s legendary ‘Show Up Naked And Get Free Gear’ stunt generated terrific brand awareness)

In the age of social media, a publicity stunt can be a boon for your brand awareness – or a bust.

First, a stunt that was as ill-conceived as it was unsuccessful. This bizarre box office stunt at a comedy film subjected white males to ticket prices of $20 (then $15) compared to $10 prices for non-white males and females – allegedly to shine a light on white male privilege.

Creating a brand-building publicity stunt

This stunt, and planning stunts that actually yield great results, was the topic of a conversation I had on the radio. You can listen to the conversation below, or simply read my tips on creating a publicity stunt that will actually build your brand.

Tip 1: Why are you doing this?

It’s always helpful to think first of the ideal outcome of your actions. Doing so enables you to then rationally ask if you’re using the right tactic.

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For example, if you wanted to promote a local indie film on comedians, would your publicity stunt involve charging white males double at the ticket wicket?

Before you think about doing a publicity stunt, think about the intended outcome. Is it really what you want?

Personally, I don’t see a connection between comedians and ‘justice pricing’ that symbolizes the higher prices women and non-whites allegedly pay for goods and services. Instead, what about reducing prices for everyone who can tell a great joke at the box office? Film the jokes, post them, and you have a great stunt campaign.

(Stunts, when they work, are the ultimate form of viral marketing. Here’s a post on that.)

Tip 2: Brand awareness only works if its on-brand

A few years back, Lululemon created a great publicity stunt. To celebrate the opening of a store, they invited everyone to come by when the doors opened – and those who arrived naked would be given a full kit of Lulu gear.

The stunt, not surprisingly, delivered. The press arrived in droves, as did the naked people. And everyone walked away thinking ‘Lulu is a great brand for clothing.’ Mission accomplished.

If your stunt works, will people remember it, but not what it was selling? If so, your stunt is disengaged from your brand. And that’s not good.

It’s easy to create scandal and outcry with a stunt. But if that outcry doesn’t reinforce your brand’s unique selling proposition, or at least reflect the purpose of your business, it will be a cannon shot without a cannonball. Noisy, but pointless.

Tip 3: Wait – unless you want bad brand awareness

Prior to launching a publicity stunt idea, come up with more than one idea. Reflection and peer review is the best way of filtering out the OK / bad / irresponsible ideas, and finding the great.

When I worked in advertising, we would come up with a minimum of twenty ideas before sifting through them to find a winner. Then we’d show the ideas around – having our colleagues tell us which ideas were simplest, generated the right type of brand awareness, and were the best head turners.

(Do publicity stunts fit your brand? A brand audit can tell you. But check this story so you don’t get lost in the weeds doing the audit.)

Tip 4: Are you prepared for disaster if your publicity stunt goes wrong?

A publicity stunt that goes wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The trick is to act quickly, decisively, transparently and with dignity. If a stunt goes wrong (and they do) taking it on the chin and chalking it up to the learning curve of life turn lemons into lemonade.

Enjoyed this story? Here are a few more you might like:

If you want to avoid big brand mistakes, the place to start is my book Stop Busting Your Brand.

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This post was first published in 2017 but was updated in 2022 just for you.

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