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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org