Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

Santa, Stories, and ‘Elf and Bloody Safety

Here at Borkowski towers, we’ve just finished wrangling a media call to out a wonderful story.

Once upon a time, Jeremy Paxton, owner of our client the Lower Mill Estate, received an earnest letter from the son of a prospective buyer. The letter, sent by six year old Leo Park, enquired politely as to whether the new house being designed for he and his mother, Jade, would have a chimney large enough to accommodate the weighty personage of a certain Santa Claus come holiday season. We persuaded Lower Mill that, as a self build service, it was their duty to fulfil his request.

What’s more, all parties involved agreed to appear before the media to bring this heart-warming Christmas tale to the eyes of the world. We helped Lower Mill and the media to capture the moment at which the chimney was taken for a test run, with a cheery Santa lowered into the chimney via a crane.  Lower Mill were prepared to go that extra mile to sell the house and raise a few smiles. As the old saying goes, you get the publicity you deserve.

From the Daily Mail and the Telegraph to Emirates 247, from CBC America to the Times of India via Radio 2, The One Show and plenty more along the way, the happening captured the imagination of reporters and audiences alike.

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The Borkowski Blog 2010 Review

It’s nearly Christmas, the snow lies heavy on much of Britain in astonishingly traditional fashion, causing less astonishing but no less traditional mayhem, chaos and panic. But, given the last year, one can almost understand why there is panic. The weather may hark back to the past but the world moves on into the future at an astonishing rate.

This has, without doubt, been an extraordinary, tumultuous year, a year in which the cliché of the water cooler moment has been reinvented time and time again by a clamouring horde of news stories, each more consuming and captivating than the last. Read the rest of this entry »

Royal wedding? Screw the recession, there’s dosh to be made…

And so the day has come! Prince William is to marry Kate Middleton. Be of good cheer, Britain, there’s new blood being drafted into the old firm!

It really is fabulous news, in such tough economic times, that the cuts will not affect everything. In 2011 there will be something for the whole nation to celebrate, especially the merchandise sellers, caterers and makers of bunting. It’s really an early Christmas present for them all.

And better still, it’ll take place 30 years after Charles and Diana’s wedding. We will have a new Princess of Hearts – and the same sort of economic straits then as now. Perhaps we’ll get anniversary riots in Brixton and Toxteth too, only to have the wedding calm them down.

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Rage, machines and hopes for 2010

Joe McElderry has lost out to Rage Against the Machine – it seems that a significant proportion of the British record-buying public really have turned on Simon Cowell and given him a festive slap under the miseltoe.

It’s an upset, but its significance lies in what the power of the Internet might achieve next. Motivational balladry versus an old, shouty agit pop record should cause a few smiles and quite a few more spluttering grannies in front of Top of the Pops on Christmas morning, but it won’t change the world. But the methods to get said agit pop record to number one could just help change the world.

Any number of ad agencies and PR companies say the understand the Internet and all its uses. This is little more than posturing; if we’ve learned anything from the net, it’s to expect the unexpected and that no-one can truly predict what uses people will put it to and what they can achieve if they put their minds to the task in hand.

If the Internet can be harnessed in a similar manner behind a cause like cutting CO2, behind the Climate Conference in Copenhagen or whatever comes next, then there is a chance that real changes can be made in 2010 and beyond without people running up huge carbon footprints going on a protest holiday. Playing with the charts is all very well, but the real business that social networking-savvy people need to address is the process of using this small victory to springboard significant changes on the world and fight the welter of greenwashing, disinformation and distrust.

Perhaps this is all a romantic dream – but if Rage Against the Machine’s trite but pleasing net-powered chart victory can be translated into actual societal change through like-minded people working together in the coming years, then it will have been worth it.

If PR firms, ad agencies and people eager to make a difference don’t get it together and work on making this happen, then the military industrial complexes will – they are, without doubt as I write this, working on ways of utilising the net for their own ends.

Trivial as the chart battle of Christmas 2009 may be, its knock on effect could be real, organised changes made via the power of the Internet. That’s my hope for 2010…

Raging and plotting against the machine

It’s been interesting to be following pre-Christmas sales on the internet for the last three or four days, for two reasons. One reason is personal – my book, The Fame Formula, has leapt up the Amazon sales chart by several thousand places in the last three days. The other reason is that I’ve been watching Rage Against the Machine’s 17 year old track, Killing in the Name Of, consistently outselling the X Factor winner’s song – an instantly forgettable motivational ballad from the Hannah Montana movie – thanks to the Facebook campaign set up by a couple bored with the ubiquity of Simon Cowell’s vision of music.

I have a theory that the two are connected, intellectually at the least. The Fame Formula is, under the surface, an antidote to fame, a prick in the bubble of modern celebrity. I am certain that the same sort of people who are downloading Killing in the Name Of are buying The Fame Formula simply because they are tired of prefabrication and relentless hype on a foundation of sand.

The Fame Formula examines the degredation of fame carefully and uses examples from history to expose the weak foundations that modern celebrity has been built on, where talent has been hoovered out leaving only a husk of toxic fame. The book celebrates the icons of the past who built, with the assistance of canny publicists, a lasting fame propogated by extraordinary talent; it also offers a view on how to achieve that today. It does not say the past is better – the aim of the book is (as it is with the Rage Against the Machine campaign) to offer alternatives for the future, using great moments from the past as a basis, a springboard.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people wanting to overturn the Cowell vision of pop were buying the book to stock up on ideas. At last there seems to be a consensus of opinion agreeing with George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There seems to be a hunger for using the past to positively influence the future, at least in popular culture. If this is the case – and I hope it is – I’d say (with a little bias, admittedly) that The Fame Formula is a good place to start looking for ideas to adapt from.

If Rage Against the Machine’s refrain, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”, is the sound of Christmas this year, I hope people take courage from it and use social media and networking in ever more creative cultural (and social and political) interventions in the coming years. And if my book can help it happen, all the better.

Selling Your Name for Christmas

I spoke on the BBC’s World Update yesterday about a 19 year old Wisconsin man who sold his name to an online Finnish electronics retailer via eBay. I discussed the pros and cons of this old idea – dating back to Jim Moran and Maynard Nottage, who both persuaded people to change their names to help promote clients in the early 20th century.

It may not be a wholly original stunt, but it is a clever and effective one for the internet age – it allows the Finnish company to get search engine optimisation in the run up to the festive season and keeps the newly unpronouncable man from Wisconsin in ready cash for a while. I think it’s a tremendous PR scam designed to get the public conversation going about the company in time for Christmas.

Here’s the MP3 version, if you’d like to hear more.

A Festive Message

What a year it’s been! But now is not quite the time to reflect on that – now is the time to pause for breath, kick off your shoes and relax as the tsunami that is the festive season subsumes you entirely. Enjoy it! You might spend the next few days watching the new Wallace and Gromit and Doctor Who with your family, whilst rolling the fifteenth mince pie you’ve been offered lazily around your plate, debating whether or not you intend to eat it. Or you could be hiding somewhere, away from all festivities. However you choose to pass the next few days, I hope it’s relaxing.

I’ll be back before the year is out with a list of the best and the worst of PR in 2008, but in the meantime, I’d like to leave this sublime piece of advertising with you. When you click on the link below, take time to go through all the options. Relish every detail. Whoever concocted the campaign deserves to be congratulated most warmly!

Click here to find out more.

Bad Santas

Three out-of-work, recession-hit Santas were employed by Borkowski for a simple photo shoot for the company’s Christmas card, due to take place this afternoon. Unfortunately, they got thoroughly drunk beforehand and are currently rampaging around the streets of London.

Fortunately, we had a video camera on hand and have been following them as they shout, curse and conga their way through the centre of London, accosting passers by, gibbering, wailing and generally misbehaving. The sight of a pissed up, pissed off Santa sat on his haunches in the middle of London nursing a cigarette like his life depended upon it whilst being barracked by his two Santa buddies until he gets up to dance the conga is one to behold.

This may have started off as a simple Christmas card, but I think we’ve got something better still. And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can watch them running amok right now at

Stuntwatch Week One

It’s been a fascinating first week of the re-launched Stuntwatch. I first started keeping a weather eye on stunts back in 1997, long before blogging had a name, and have decided to re-launch now because of the sheer volume of PR flack currently hitting the media, from the good to the bad to the downright ugly. And, in the first week of watching alone, there have been a number of worthy news-grabbers, a few charming but failed attempts and one company who failed to make the impact they were hoping for in quite spectacular fashion.

We’ve seen apes on the streets, strange things in ice cream, free singles, charity llamas, missing inflatable bosoms and Christmas stunts galore. But, most pressingly, there has been Dr Pepper and their stunt-gone-bad, which is the only contender in the opening category.

Spectacular failures

Dr Pepper cheekily decided that they would get themselves a little bit of free attention a few months ago by announcing that they would give a free bottle of their syrupy soda drink to everyone in the USA if Guns and Roses brought out their long-awaited album, Chinese Democracy, by the end of 2008. The assumption was that this would be extremely unlikely, given Axl Rose’s long record of procrastination.

It was a great idea for stunt, given that it involved no financial outlay on their part and got people talking about the drink – not one of the most popular brands, being something of an acquired taste – and that, at the time of the stunt’s inception, there was only a slim chance of the album coming out.

The only problem was that the Guns and Roses album came out a few weeks ago, to mediocre reviews, and 365 million people were suddenly entitled to a free bottle of Dr Pepper. The company immediately went on the record saying that that there was a 24 hour window of opportunity in which to claim a free drink coupon from the Dr Pepper website, but demand was so high that the server crashed, leaving many people drink-free and deeply irate, as only thousands of fizzy drink addicts deprived their fix of sugar and caffeine can get. The negative spin immediately went viral, leaving Dr Pepper’s brand image in a sorry state.

More interestingly, Axl Rose has since threatened legal action and Dr Pepper have had their brand paraded in the press unrelentingly, leading to some speculation that Axl Rose’s complaint may be a stunt in itself, with a dual role – to keep the names of both Dr Pepper and Guns and Roses in the papers for as long as possible. Both Dr Pepper and Guns and Roses have been damaged by the release of Chinese Democracy – perhaps this is their way of keeping some traction for both brands. There must be someone, somewhere, hoping that continuous mention of the brand will prove the theory that all publicity is good publicity. It’s possible that the protracted complaints may yield as much brand recognition as either brand could hope for, but the burning question is: are Dr Pepper enjoying the controversy and the gallons of ink expended on the story? I seriously doubt it.


Jessica Alba's Campari campaign

Jessica Alba

  • Campari, unafraid of recycling the old cliché of the saleability of a drinks product next to a sexy A List celeb, have announced that they are releasing a limited edition calendar featuring Jessica Alba, post-baby and back in trim, in various sultry poses. They will be releasing only 9,999 copies of the calendar and can guarantee a welter of media interest just by limiting the access the public can have to the calendar. As part of a PR campaign that will run over into the New Year, it should do great trade, as people buying the calendar are unlikely to care too much if the stunt is a cliché.
  • A quirkily different approach to selling sex is the one taken by Australian men’s mag Ralph, which claims to have lost 130,000 inflatable breasts at sea en route from China – they were supposed to be a free gift for the January issue. Someone would appear to have boobed, but just look closely at the reports – the editor is throwing about quotes about the possibility of Somali pirates stealing them and the Maritime Safety Authority has no knowledge of anything lost at sea. It’s just the sort of cheeky stunt that goes down well as Christmas approaches.
  • George Michael has been touting his latest bid for attention and chart dominance by charitably offering a free download of December Song on his website, which will be available as of December 25th. The reason it has received attention is that 1) it’s his first Christmas record since 1984’s Last Christmas and 2) it seems to put paid to reports that he is on the verge of retirement. Cue hyperbole in the press.
  • Talking of charitable intentions, some real charities have been in on the action too – Christmas is one of the big push times for the big charities. Most successful, stuntwise, were World Vision, who launched their range of Must Have Gifts – which include mosquito nets for African families and Llamas for Bolivian families, who can sell the wool at market – by parading a llama down Oxford Street. Animals, it seems, still go down well.
  • Gap and Mulberry have teamed up once again to raise funds for AIDS charities by releasing a limited edition RED bag in time for Christmas. They have received plenty of attention for this sort of stunt before and now is no exception.
  • There’s also the story about Premiere Inns’ charitable intentions towards an eccentric man who has eaten Christmas dinner with them every day of his life but who can no longer afford to continue his fetishistic feeding habit thanks to the credit crunch. Premiere Inns’ PR people, their stunt-meters set to overdrive, have persuaded the company to offer him a free meal for the duration of the credit crunch; they are eating up a fair amount of column inches as a consequence, rolling together Christmas, charity and the recession in one easy to swallow package.
  • This week’s overall winner, to my mind, is the promotional stunt for the 40th anniversary DVD release of Planet of the Apes, which saw a number of people dressed in ape suits parading around London and invading the Piccadilly line. It’s a near perfect PR stunt in that it gives good photograph opportunities (especially with London commuters studiously ignoring the simian stuntsters) and allows for a slew of attention-grabbing puns (both the Sun and the Mail went for the ‘tube drives people ape’ option) whilst making sure that the product in question is unavoidably mentioned in press reports, thanks to the carefully recreated film costumes the actors were wearing.
Simians underground

Simians underground

Charming Failures

  • The most charming failure was the London restaurant which released a limited edition sprout-flavoured ice cream for Christmas. This would have been a wonderful story and a great way of getting brand coverage, if only the restaurant had named itself! If anyone knows which restaurant it is, perhaps they should let the world know… or at least advise them to get a better PR firm.
  • It’s sad to see how many brands give a great story but don’t get a mention – for example, the £1 million Christmas tree that has been floating through the media recently should surely have a name attached to it – but there is no sight of one that I have come across.


It’s noticeable that, even looking at a single week, the old clichés still abound – semi-naked ladies next to alcoholic beverages, animals, pop stars and so on jostle for position in the press whilst interesting ideas like the sprout-flavoured ice cream disappear – and that carefully built brand stories take second place to something happening. It’ll be interesting to see what the next week brings.

Please send word of any notable stunts to

Christmas Axe Heroes

Christmas is fast approaching and the battle to be top game dog is at its most intense, with the R word hanging over most products and retailers. Confidence is key – keep the stores upbeat and they will support the product on the sales floor. And nothing bespeaks confidence quite as well as good promotional campaign in the run up to Christmas.

Take Guitar Hero, for example; the awesome marketing power behind this much-loved computer game is undeniable and whilst one might argue that its latest incarnation, Guitar Hero World Tour, doesn’t really need to be plugged, hey, they went ahead and produced a viral campaign anyway.

And I’ve got to say I love it; it’s smart, clever and obviously has traction, given that it has accumulated 1,587,794 views, nearly 7000 comments and is clearly driving a huge online conversation. In the past I have experienced promo hubris – the belief of some brands that seasonal desirability negates the need for further marketing spend on promo.

The Guitar Hero boys, however, haven’t sat back on their Christmas laurel wreaths; instead they have worked hard with the drive to promote their latest offering. I hope they will be rewarded when the sales are evaluated. Let’s just hope that EUK warehouses are not full of the product come January.