Posts Tagged ‘stunt’
So #Felix is no longer just a brand of cat food or a defunct cartoon character, but embodies a new marque of heroism and maverick adventure. A stuntman extraordinaire, who last night earned much sort after one word equity.
Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, former military parachutist, skydived into the record books. Jumping from 23 miles above the earth, Felix reached a mind numbing maximum speed of 833.9 miles per hour (1,342 kilometres per hour)- amounting to Mach 1.24, faster than the speed of sound.
In the midst of all the furore surrounding our new superstar, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the brand hero who made it all possible – Red Bull.
Over the past 10 years Red Bull has done its level best to own and invest its central ethos into speed, adventure and heroics . From the Flugtag to Felix, Red Bull has taken the reins, moving beyond usual corporate sponsorship and creating extraordinary events tailor-made to communicate its values, in an uncompromising pursuit of brand nirvana.
Back in a land time has forgotten I developed a strategic roll out for a net channel, Network of The World: a challenging brand with a passion to be the first footing web entrepreneurs of the new age of information culture. NOW were looking for a big idea to kick start the brand across the globe. I found a team of adventurers with a big event idea, and they introduced me to Joe Kittinger.
Until yesterday Mr Kittinger was the parachute record holder. His 1960 record was broken by Felix, who Kittinger coached and mentored throughout the development of the jump. Kittinger was the only person allowed to communicate with Mr Baumgartner while he was inside the capsule which carried him into space.
Kittinger was a scarily impressive action man; a real life super hero whose bravery allowed the development of suits used by the Space crews who ultimately stepped foot on the moon. His primitive jumps 50 years ago did not benefit from the technology which aided Felix in the 21st century. His adventure had all the qualities of great stories that capture imaginations around the world. It was dangerous, it was visually captivating, it was a tale of one man triumphing against the odds, and he was ready to work with us to make it happen again.
We spent months working on a means to bring the event to fruition, but alas NOW did not have the resources to enable a edge of space jump back in 1999. Their loss was Red Bull’s gain, and so naturally I have been watching Red Bull’s methodology of delivering the hype for Felix’s jump keenly.
The brand has paid meticulous attention to detail, drilling down to the heroics and the romance of the story, creating a captivating narrative that will benefit them for years to come. They are one of very few brands with the guts and disruptive forethought to own this type of event, and a number of lessons might be learnt from them.
Many, many brands search for global ubiquity. Many are on the constant look out for big ideas, throwing massive budgets behind half pregnant creatives framed by global advertising support. Few ignite the imagination and match a brand ethos. All too often time is wasted on ill considered, flash-in-the-pan stunts that fail to ignite a relationship with the brand. Few invest in the brain power and few have the culture of patience to work through an idea. In a strict risk averse culture, it is almost impossible to nurture Maverick thought, or to embrace the odd personalities with the best ideas.
Yesterday Felix and Red Bull raised the bar. The challenge is clear: just as Baumgartner took Kittinger’s mantel, the global brand that will claim Red Bull’s throne will be the one that is able to contemplate the true definition of the little word with frightening, but powerful, career implications – risk.
The bank holiday would not be complete with out a silly season story. This year we were spoiled with the legend of the itinerant Essex lion. Mysteriously, an escaped lion was spotted on the loose in Essex, instilling panic as it roamed the grassland of St Osyth.
The big game media hunters turned up in their droves, hunting down a witty soundbite. The search for the elusive big cat provided a never ending stream of comic reports for the 24 minute news cycle. Twitter and other social media channels were awash with jokes surrounding the #EssexLion, lending their weight to this most agreeable meme.
I smelt a rat. The tale had all the hallmarks of a publicity stunt – a classic Circus scam. The history of promoting circus is littered with highly mischievous stunts just like it.The huge U.S. animal circuses cooked up some of the finest. Clever showmen regularly freed the odd exotic into a town to create excitement; generous rewards were offered to the person who might trap and return the errant animal. An escaped beast was a headline grabbing way to announce the circus had come to town.
The kangaroo was traditionally favoured for such a stunt- one of the most exotic animals and perhaps the most benign. One famous boxing kangaroo spent more time on the run than in its cage. But the trend was soon spotted by the authorities: legislation, fines and licencing red tape followed bringing the practice to an end.
No matter to our intrepid circus promoters. Great showmen, like the maverick genius P.T. Barnum, knew a thing or two about the influence of the herd. He recognised his audience as his greatest marketing asset. If the crowd was excited, word of mouth- and ticket sales- inevitably followed. Barnum was the original viral marketeer.
So when the legislation curtailed the lost wild animal scam, they turned to what they knew best: the power of the story. Roland Butler, perhaps the greatest circus PR man, trained a team of men to spread the rumour instead. They were fantastic story tellers who would visit bars and churches to suggest the idea of an escaped beast. Butler quickly realised that if the narrative was a captivating story meme, a simple idea – even without any proof- it would spread like a bush fire. Similar rumour and disinformation tactics were used by special forces in Nazi occupied Europe to destabilise occupation.
Perhaps time will tell if the Essex Lion was PR fabrication, mass hallucination, or a simple case of mistaken feline identity. Ultimately, whether or not there was an escaped big cat prowling St Osyth is irrelevant. The power of the social driven media age proves that we are more interested in the potential and context of the story, rather than the truth. Especially when we need some enjoyment to help us forget the damp Bank Holiday weekend.
A deep collective breath is perhaps needed. Pippa Middleton’s identification with firearms last weel, thanks to the somewhat incautious actions of friend Romain Rabillard, has led many to predict that her fledging career in the public eye is already over. Like her sister, runs the thinking, Middleton’s image relies on propriety- all 3 Middleton siblings have a tidy line in British demureness and easy class (bum jokes aside, that is). Now she’s been seen with a gun-toting aristocrat, speeding down a Paris Rue (or possible Avenue) to what the media must assume was some kind of hedonistic love-fest, we’ll all fall out of love with her. I cannot imagine this being the case.
Unquestionably, she’s damaged a previously untarnished image. However, if recent public opinion surrounding the Royals shows us anything, it’s that this is no longer a family (or extended family) you can write off at the drop of a hat. Besides, whatever becomes of Pippa, it’s highly unlikely that such an affair would do much to worry the custodians of the Royal Brand, who keep their charges in a very different space.
It seems like no time at all since we saw Harry splashed all over the papers, dressed in an SS uniform, stumbling out of a party. I wonder how all the commentators who wrote him off then felt when they saw the almost sickeningly adoring coverage around his recent meeting with Usain Bolt. Probably as gobsmacked as the rest of us, to be fair.
Undoubtedly, Pippa will have learned a hard lesson- when you’re associated with the Royals, you’re damned whatever you do, and you’re judged by the company you keep. However, I’d say this lesson comes at an opportune time. Still in the first flush of fame, this episode should teach Pippa how to begin thinking of herself as a brand. The key now will be for her to think about what she represents, move away from the users and hangers on who inevitably attach themselves to the newly famous and begin considering the serious commercial applications of her brand I’m sure remain just around the corner.
It looks like Tupac Shakur’s back on top for the foreseeable future- it was announced today that his frankly rather terrifying hologram will be going on tour following its first outing at Coachella festival. More than anything else, this is proof of the remarkable power of a great stunt- and is a blow for the great American tradition of stuntsmanship. Just think, Coachella dug up Tupac, Hop Farm dug up Bruce Forsythe.
As the megalithic rapper burst onto the stage with a cry of “What the **** is up Coachella? Throw up a m************ finger!”, a cynic could hear the jingling of thousands of eager pockets as the entire live entertainment industry collectively calculated the potential posthumous income of a galaxy of late stars.
Money aside, though, this was everything a stunt should be: audacious, loud, unexpected, genuinely groundbreaking (Digitial Domain Media Group Inc. reckon this is the first time totally new 3D footage of a star has been used in this way) and, best of all, just a little bit silly. Supposedly, too, the bill behind this wasn’t negligible- most valuations are coming in at around the $1/2m mark.
Whatever Coachella pixies were behind this should be applauded: in the entertainment space, faint heart never won the hearts and minds of the fickle crowd. Let’s hope those with the power on our side of the pond are taking note and getting ready to listen to a few wild ideas. Ones that don’t involve billing Bruce Forsythe alongside Bob Dylan, that is.
Back at the start of last week, wherever you turned in mediaworld you found someone sticking their oar in (sorry) to the discussion on wayward idealist Australian Trenton Oldfield and his Pankhurst-esque self-sacrificial boat race stunt. I shan’t bother now to throw in my two cents about the morality of Oldfield’s actions, but I do think that what he has done impacts negatively upon those of us whose business and/or passion it is to grab headlines with acts of disruptive showmanship.
The first thing to say is that this was a pretty bland stunt. What I’m more worried about, however, is what this will do for police and public paranoia in the run-up to the Olympics. Already at boiling point, the police and LOCOG have spent the past few months whipping each other up into a frenzy over crowd control and health and safety. This will only confirm their worst fears. Any innocent reveller or spectator at any event could be a dangerous, subversive madman! Time to send in the thought police.
Generally, too, this event comes as part of a zeitgeist increasingly antithetical to the art of the stunt. The (largely negative) commentary on Oldfield’s actions focused more than almost anything else on how dangerous his actions were, how he endangered his life, how he caused inconvenience in restarting the race. Outrage at his politics would have been much more interesting- not to mention more favourable for his agenda. Caught in a pincer movement between a blandly litigious society on the one hand and a media landscape oversaturated with ill-considered stunts on the other, the public have no appetite for maverick antics.
Perhaps what’s been lost is a belief in the stunt as a piece of fun, a joke, almost a gift. Rather than a piece of direct action or a forcible promotion, a stunt should be playful, gentle and, preferably, crazy. A stunt’s impact comes from laughter, and from the sheer joy that persuades people to share. All the classic stunts share this aspect, whether they be making a serious point- Joey Skagg’s giant bra springs to mind (link)- or selling a bit of fluff like Reichenbach’s T.Arzan (link).
I call for a return not only to creativity in stunting but a permissiveness and relaxation in its execution. In our red-tape age it’s easy to forget that a public performance should be joyful. Whether you’re an activist or a marketer, try and perform, not preach. Theatres are far more fun than churches.
Yesterday’s failed Bayern Munich stunt was an ideal example of what happens when creative energy fails to connect with the reality of the media narrative. For those who didn’t hear, the German football team wrangled a piece of PR trickery which fuelled an horrific backlash.
An announcement on their website that “a spectacular name” was to sign for the club invited fans to watch the name’s unveiling on the team’s Facebook page.
Needless to say, an incredible amount of furore was generated and fans eagerly tuned in at the proposed time in their thousands. However, following a short video clip from FCB’s general manager Christian Nerlinger, fans were treated to a view of their own Facebook profile picture, followed by their own name on the back of a Bayern Munich number 8 shirt.
The unmatchable Hollywood publicist, agent and stuntmaker Jay Bernstein has shown us all once again how a true publicity superstar does things with a fitting final stunt. The sadly deceased genius has defied having his inimitable profile smothered even by death himself, and has managed to release his book onto an unsuspecting public from beyond the grave. Anyone who cares at all about the art of truly inspirational PR, from understanding clients to launching groundbreaking stunts, should buy it. Right now.
Being a PR, I just can’t resist a quick plug: those looking to understand Bernstein’s remarkable talents could also do worse than investing in a copy of my book The Fame Formula. In it, I dissect, analyse and celebrate the incredible gift of Bernstein and his ilk for capturing the public, as well as understanding so well the stars they catapulted to fame with apparent ease. Their arts aren’t lost, but they are essential background reading for anyone seeking to make waves in the comparatively anodyne world of modern communications. In these uncertain days in the shadow of a certain Lord L, the lessons of the past have never been more pressing.
Bernstein was one of the absolute greats. Unmistakably, he was a true showman of the kind I’ve always admired. His stunts, which ranged from artificially stoking Tom Jones’s sex bomb reputation with hired pantie-throwers to holding his own-televised- wedding underwater, are now the stuff of legend. Like Jim Moran and other ancient heroes of mine, he was a fabulous ringmaster of publicity and pizazz.
However, for all the hype about him being the ‘inventor of the modern publicity stunt’, his greatest talent was far more subtle. While researching the Fame Formula, he was one of the figures I had the pleasure of interviewing during a stint across the pond. A gent and an enthusiast, he gave up his valuable time without complaint. Upon entering his house- formerly owned by Rita Hayward and site of the first Jacuzzi in Hollywood- my eyes were assailed by a remarkable collection of memorabilia. The place was filled with debris from his remarkable time in the industry.
As a hopeless collector myself I was excited by the sheer volume of it (and I particularly wonder what happened to his incredible collection of stuffed animals), but I was also impressed and touched: these deeply personal items were evidence of the highly developed bonds Bernstein had with his clients. His memories of each and every client were fond, full and nuanced. One particularly memorable moment involved him musing as to what John Wayne might have said if he’d been offered the script for Brokeback Mountain, just released at the time.
He took clients all the way, and each of the crazy stories he launched came from a place of deep thinking, considered strategy and mutual trust.
It strikes me that, while Jay’s stunts place him in the vein of ‘publicist’s publicist’, his relationships with clients offer up lessons to those in any line of work. Brand communications in any field can only work from a basis of deep mutual respect between those working within the brand and those pushing it out. Madness, controversy and conversation spring from narratives mutually developed and sculpted over years- Bernstein knew this, but I fear it’s something we’re starting to forget.
I’ve recently been running around on a kind of UK Tour, delivering a new presentation in Gateshead, Brighton and various locations in London for a range of industry events in between the rigours of my day-to-day duties.
One advantage of the thinking that goes in to this kind of offering is that along with the new ideas I discover and devise, I am reminded of some of my favourite pieces of wisdom. Amazing quotes and thoughts which get pushed to the back of my mind are suddenly thrust back in front of me- and my audiences- a couple of times a week.
One is from the great film-maker Jim Jarmusch, and it informs much of my thinking about modern communications: ‘Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Authenticity is invaluable, originality is non-existent’.
The video of Polish politician Katarzyna Lenart stripping for votes has generated the kind of online buzz that other party political broadcasts (and I use the term in its loosest sense) could only dream of. Shot on what appears to be a pretty low grade camera and featuring a swivel chair that wouldn’t look out of place in the head office of a packaging company in Slough, it looks a bit like something you’d find on Babestation at 3am. Still, at least she doesn’t stoop to airbrushing.
The knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss this out of hand. It’s not just crazy, it’s obvious. Surely even the voyeuristic, big brother guzzling, internet porn fed, fetid mess of a world we live in wouldn’t fall for something so desperate. It may be getting watched, but it won’t win votes.
Having said that, futurology is a tricky discipline, especially in the fad happy world of politics. Perhaps Lenart’s dance is so mad that it works. Lord knows we’ve been waiting for something to kick off the ‘digital elections’ repeatedly promised- and denied- through campaign strategies over the past few years.
It’s a great story for anyone who’s obsessed by the showmanship of selling: Arch West, the great Frito-Lay marketing exec and inventor of Doritos, has been covered with his beloved chips in his final resting place. West came from a long line of great retail mavericks who had the fire and the guts to tap into the popular consciousness and then harness it instantly and recklessly, with scarcely a thought for the opinions of shareholders and other boring considerations. I know my banging on about the golden age of showmanship is something you see a lot on this blog, but I’m increasingly worried that we’re not going to see his like again.
What is it with snack moguls? First Fredrich Baur, retail genius and inventor of the iconic ‘Pringles’ can, had his ashes buried in one of his beloved crisp receptacles back in 2008, and now this fantastic news item from West, presumably a sight that roughly resembled Doritos’ stoner student target customer after a big night in. The real genius of the retail surpremo is represented by these almost mythic funerals: these were guys who truly lived the brand, who integrated their lives and their behaviour into what they were communicating. There is something unimaginably inspirational about these two men, who know who to grab column inches even from beyond the grave.
Their heritage is rich. When Gordon Selfridge came to London, he made a fortune out of the women’s lib movement by promoting luxury shopping as a lifestyle choice, a statement of freedom: he was unafraid to be a huge character and to consciously attract huge characters. He encouraged women to look at his freedom, to look at that of his wife, and to demand this for themselves via the medium of their wallets.