Sometimes the shortest path to your next great internet marketing idea can be found in the annals of public relations history. I’ve sorted through 100 different PR stunts to bring you the most inspiring and entertaining exploits to stimulate your thinking and give you that one great idea you’re searching for.
1929 – Torch of Freedom anyone?
There was a time when it was not socially acceptable for women to smoke cigarettes in public, because it wasn’t considered ‘lady-like.’
So in 1929 Edward Bernay, one of the fathers of PR, got good looking women to light up cigarettes in New York’s Easter Parade, and he hired photographers to send the photos to news outlets around the world. He also renamed cigarettes “Torches of Freedom” for the women’s liberation movement. Sales of cigarettes to women skyrocketed.
How can we use this? First, if it appears that your product is being used by others, then prospects are more likely to buy it. It’s social proof, and it can be highly effective. Second, take great care when naming your product. Would you smoke a cancer stick, coffin nail or lung buster? Of course not. But if you were a woman in 1929, or even 1990 when they revived the ‘torches of freedom’ name, you might very well smoke it.
1986 – Human chain for charity
More than 7 million people across 16 states made a human chain to raise money for the hungry and homeless. Even President Reagan joined in, with everyone paying $10 for their spot in the chain. (Do the math!)
How can we use this? With social media, it would be easier than ever to organize something like this to raise money. Your website would of course be the sponsor. Imagine the free publicity! Tie it to a current event, such as relief for a natural disaster.
1996 – Taco Bell buys Liberty Bell
Taco Bell took out a New York Times ad that stated, “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell.” The ad explained that they were renaming the historic landmark the, “Taco Liberty Bell.” The publicity was enormous as people rushed to complain. By noon Taco Bell admitted it was an April Fool’s joke. Over a thousand media outlets covered the story, and millions of dollars in additional sales were generated over the next two days.
How can we use this? The possibilities are endless. You can spread your ‘news’ on the internet or actually take out an ad like Taco Bell did, or both. You might announce that your website has just purchased a historic landmark, or is going to do something at a landmark (leap the Grand Canyon on your brand of vacuums?) or declare national naked day or whatever your imagination inspires you do to. The trick is to tie it to your brand like Taco Bell did.
1998 – Burger King announces left handed Sandwich
How people fell for this one I don’t know. Burger King announced they’d redesigned the Whopper to make a version better suited to the needs of left handed people. It was of course an April Fool’s joke, but that didn’t stop 32 million Americans from going to Burger King that day.
How we can use this – a website for left handed people? Tall people? Red-headed people? How about your products – maybe you can modify them to suit a special group of people. For example (and I’m being serious for a moment) you could take your marketing course and tailor it just to chiropractors, just to dentists, just to plumbers, etc.
And in a humorous April 1st mode of thinking, you might claim to alter your books for dyslexics, swapping the words around so when they’re read by dyslexics they come out right. Make sure you’re on the correct side of political correctness if you try something like this.
1999 – Half.com buys town for $100,000, sells company for $300 million
Half.com paid a small town in Oregon, called Halfway, to change its name to Half for one year. They gave the town of Half $100,000 and a package of other financial subsidiaries. The publicity on this exploded, and shortly thereafter Ebay bought the company for $300 million.
How we can use this – obviously most of us can’t afford $100,000 to buy a town for a year, although if we could, the return on investment could be mind boggling if Half.com’s experience is any indication.
You might pick out a very, very small town – Ideally one that isn’t even incorporated – and offer some kind of package (perhaps a marketing package to tourists?) If they will change their name to your website url. The key here is of course the free publicity, not only for your site but also for the town itself. And you can always offer a piece of the pie to the town should you sell your site for big bucks due to the free coverage you receive.
2000 – BA Can’t Get It Up
British Airways sponsored the London Eye (the ferris wheel) but they had an issue getting the wheel up. After several attempts while the press was watching, BA had a plane fly over with a banner that read, “BA can’t get it up,” turning a PR nightmare into a good laugh.
How we can use this – when everything is going wrong, find a way to laugh at yourself and others won’t mind. And more specifically, next time your site is down, go ahead and email your list and tell them you can’t get it up. They’ll enjoy a good laugh and they won’t soon forget you or your site.
2008 – Shreddies Goes from Squares to Diamonds
Shreddies – a 70 year old breakfast cereal – got people talking about their product again when they turned their square cereal 45 degrees. This was the “new and improved Shreddies,” and tons of positive feedback poured in. Customers even reported the diamonds tasted better than the squares.
How we can use this – rename your products, rename features on your products, put a new spin on something old… seriously this one should set your brain on fire with possibilities.
If tongue-in-cheek claiming that a cereal has changed shape by rotating it 45 degrees can create an influx of free PR and boost sales, imagine what you can do.
2012 – Pretending to Get Publicity
Ryan Holiday tried to get free press simply as a joke. He used Help a Reporter Out to find reporters needing experts for their stories. Then he made up whatever the reporters wanted to know, resulting in his being featured in numerous articles and news stories. His goal? Simply to get his name out there.
How we can use this – if Holiday could get publicity for fake purposes, imagine what you can do with your legitimate expertise. Get registered on HARO and then look for reporters who need exactly the kind of information you can supply them with. And if you can add in a little humor into your interviews, all the better.
There you have it – 8 crazy PR stunts that worked like a charm. Start small, think out of the box, and don’t be afraid to try something new, silly or charming. The worst that could happen is nobody notices. But you might just get free publicity for your business, an influx of new subscribers and customers and a day in the spotlight.
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