I have been critical about Burger King’s PR efforts in the past, but their latest stunt, which started in Chicago and is currently working its way across America, is generating some interest from PR blogs. Burger King have been dropping wallets in the street for people to find. When opened, the wallets are found to contain a driver’s license made out to the Burger King corporation, a note saluting the finders for being good Samaritans, some cash (between $1 and $100) which they are instructed to keep, a Burger King gift voucher and a map showing the locations of Burger King stores.
It’s a brilliant word-of-mouth stunt, but it’s interesting to read on the So Good blog that it’s widely perceived as original. Only a couple of comments suggest that this is not the case – but all they say is that Macdonalds pulled a similar stunt a couple of years ago. But all of these miss the point. As I have shown in The Fame Formula, this sort of stunt has a long and involved history, stretching back at least 100 years.
Whilst Burger King have put a delightful new spin on the ‘drop something and get a reaction’ stunt, it is worth mentioning that the great stuntster, Harry Reichenbach, who I have written about in The Fame Formula, was in on the act 90-odd years ago. He placed a wallet stuffed with cash in the way of an attractive young woman. The wallet also contained an address; that of a movie executive. The woman then took the wallet to the exec, who was so impressed with her honesty and beauty that he gave her a part in one of his movies. Reichenbach took this heart-warming story to the press who went wild for it.
It just goes to show that no idea is original – indeed, Reichenbach, who learned his craft on the carnival trail in the very early 1900s, cannot have failed to pick up on the routine stunt of dropping free passes to carnival shows among the crowds.
I am not suggesting that the original stunsters are better or more original – just that ideas are interconnected. Where Burger King have succeeded with their wallet drop is in finding a relevant modern idiom for an old, old stunt.
It’s also interesting to note that the press hasn’t picked up on this latest stunt yet, only the bloggers. As the media cycle spins ever faster, perhaps that’s exactly what Burger King were hoping for. In a world where there is so much instant news access and a press that is increasingly suspicious of stunts, it seems to me that Burger King were hoping for the online community to take up and relish this stunt; more and more, the bloggers are the people dictating a stunt’s success.
Not that that is always the case, of course. The people behind next year’s This Diary Will Change Your Life got themselves a lot of coverage in The Sun and the Evening Standard with an elegant stunt involving sticking a man to a billboard to promote the idea that the diary is for people stuck for Christmas present ideas (see picture below).
Again, it’s not original – Solvite Wallpaper Adhesive did something similar a while ago, pasting a man to a billboard and flying him around atop a helicopter for an advert – but both this and the Burger King stunt prove that if you are willing to play with an idea, to have fun with the product, then you are going to get it noticed.
And that’s always what good stunts have been about; a playful story that gets people thinking about the product they are promoting in a new light….