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

Recently, two organizations in my town tried to garner publicity with stunts – and failed miserably. In the first case, Fresh Coast Health Food Bar was derided for fat shaming for publicity when an Instagram post went wrong. The second, a 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.

What might they have done differently? I got on the air with CFAX’s Mark Brennae to discuss the do’s and don’t’s of publicity stunts.

You can listen to our conversation below, or 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.

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.

Tip 2: Is it 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

In the case of Fresh Coast above, the CEO pointed his phone at an overweight sleeping fellow at the airport, snapped a shot, then posted on Instagram – ostensibly as a cry for help to get folks in airports some healthy food.

That may have seemed like a good idea at the time. But I’ve always found it better to let ideas simmer a bit before hitting ‘send’.

Prior to launching a publicity stunt idea, come up with more ideas. Reflection 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. Not because it took that many tries to come up with a good one – often, our first idea was the best – but because reflection is the only way of filtering out the OK / bad / irresponsible ideas, and finding the great.

Tip 4: are you prepared for disaster?

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

In the case of Fresh Coast, the CEO quickly and publicly apologized for his bad taste and promised to reflect before posting again on Instagram. His very public mea culpa and authentic apology painted him as a fallible human, with the dignity and guts to admit his gaffe. I’m virtually certain the company will do well by this unfortunate failed stunt.

If a stunt goes wrong (and they do) acting with dignity and integrity can often salvage the day, and turn lemons into lemonade.

Contrast that with the CEO of United Airlines following the unfortunate episode where a doctor was dragged from the plane to make way for airline staffers. The United CEO mumbled airline jargon, threw blame back at the customer, and only after an amplified public outcry, came up with a half-hearted, lawyer-ese apology. Fail.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

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