Virgin brands Billionaire Richard Branson is an avowed enthusiast of the art of the publicity stunt. Among his many headline-grabbing stunts, he broke out of a jail cell suspended by a construction crane above downtown Toronto (to promote his Virgin “cell” phones) and drove a Sherman tank in New York crushing Coke and Pepsi cans and actually firing a (blank) cannon at the giant Coca-Cola sign above Times Square to launch his Virgin Cola. You don’t have to share Sir Branson’s bank account to boost your business through publicity stunts, as long as you plan them correctly, execute them properly, and don’t offend anyone in the process.

Don’t Give a $500 Used Car Discount without Smashing the Windshield First

The core of any publicity stunt is to gain a lot of media attention, and in order to be successful, your stunt needs to be newsworthy. Showbiz newspaper Variety called the musical Jesus Christ Superstar “the biggest media parley in showbiz history” due to the fact that it attracted massive protests all over the world, gaining literally billions of dollars in free publicity to the point where many observers wondered if that was the intent of the producers all along. Publicity stunts work just as well on a local basis. While the online and offline press will likely not raise a finger to cover an event where you’re marking down your used cars by $500 each, they will rush to your lot if you’re lining up all your vehicles and smashing the windshields with a sledgehammer, giving the discount in order to compensate the buyer for the new glass.

Clothe Attractive People in Nothing but Bubble Wrap

If you think that something as staid as selling bubble wrap can’t be jazzed up through a publicity stunt, try wrapping a fairly small bit of it around some otherwise unclothed and very attractive young people and then marching them down your Main Street. No matter what type of business you’re marketing, you can use a publicity stunt to promote it:

  • If you’re an optician, offer free eye exams to anyone wearing a referee/umpire outfit whenever there was a blatant uncalled rules violation in last Sunday’s football game.
  • If you have a brick and mortar store, find out the next time the Google Maps cars will pass by your street and hang a giant inflatable squirrel from the front of your building.
  • If you own a winery stuck with hundreds of cases of a bad vintage, fill a swimming pool with it and invite the locals to dive in.
  • If you’re selling nail polish, arrange to park a new car in the middle of your local mall and paint it with the polish.
  • If you’re running a greasy spoon diner, whip up a burger made from imported Kobe beef topped with caviar, foie gras and white truffles, serve the whole thing on a swallow’s nest… and charge $2,500 for it. The ingredients will cost you about $200 and nobody will order it, but the press will be swarming all over your restaurant!

The press just loves Guinness Book Of World Records attempts so leaf through a copy and see what fits into your brand’s industry sector and come up with an event. After all the world record for eating Ferrero Rocher chocolates in one minute is seven, and you likely know chocaholics who could beat that easily!

Don’t Hold Scavenger Hunts in Graveyards

Publicity stunts can go bad when the planning fails to take into consideration the negative audience reaction. Snapple’s 2005 attempt to create the world’s largest popsicle resulted in New York City streets being flooded with 17 tons of thawed, sticky strawberry-kiwi slushy. Dr. Pepper also felt the wrath of a publicity stunt backfiring when a scavenger hunt they had organized in Boston’s Old Granary Burial Ground was shut down by city officials after receiving complaints from citizens whose family members were buried there. Don’t do something as stupid as flooding busy streets or setting up mass public events in graveyards and you’ll be able to have your business bask in the warmth of a positive media spotlight.

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