We live in an age where we’re increasingly concerned with the methodology of publicity rather than its veracity; from celebrities Cheryl and Simon, to government bodies, start up fashion brands and particularly charitable causes everyone gets involved in publicity stunts. Stunts are the red cells flowing at blistering speed through media arteries, nourishing the media agenda off- and online.
They are the fastest means to create indelible brand infamy. Some of them are put under the microscope and picked apart by media cynics, myself included, but the greatest stunts are those which nobody spots as stunts. I should know, I wrote a book about them.
These days, the art of good PR is to generate captivating narratives, because the story has become far more important than the truth. Consumers are setting up information networks and are happy to be governed by social media connections. They expect the information to come to them in the instant – hardly anyone seeks out information elsewhere any more. They want it all NOW!
It’s too early to suggest whether the Bourne/Withers mother in law email leak was a stunt or not, but if it is, then it might be ill-advised. If you’re of the school of thought that all publicity is good publicity, then it has been a success because it’s embedded in the media psyche. But a wedding is an intensely personal, emotive event.
What does it say about this wedding planning entity when a brand launches with a viral like this? It makes even me wonder whether I could trust them not to do something equally rogue and renegade on what may be the most important day of some people’s lives. If you are using stunts in this way, you need a strong infrastructure to manage the fallout so it can be used positively, not negatively.
Social media grips a story like this and runs with it. Social Media creates its own ego systems. To survive, brands, businesses and celebrities should ride the shift in public perception and develop market strategies to work these ego systems. They need to recognise the shifts for what they are, however – the public has taken built in obsolescence at the heart of celebrity and business and celebrates it wholeheartedly – the nation no longer cares for yesterday’s cast offs. It only cares for the now.
Some might say if it weren’t a stunt then it should have been because everyone has covered the story. But I wonder where will “Mise en Bouche” go next? Will this generate more orders, business or brand notoriety? The viral age means speed is key, it amplifies everything and publicity has been proved to be a double edged sword. A surge of publicity like this brings notoriety, but it can mean that there’s no control of the situation which can get out of hand very quickly.
If they planned this all along to publicize their wedding business, then fine, but they need to be able to back it up. Are they prepared for the overnight brand infamy and how they should best use it? The publicity stunt finds itself in a totally different age, one where we can all see the strings being pulled or have access to a back story.
Is this a DIY effort or is there some clever stunt agent in the wings, planning the next move? Whether you’re talking about celebrity fall out, a footballing agent using a stunt on the back pages to his clients’ worth or brand disaster, the first 24 hours are crucial. Whether this was a stunt or not, they need to take control of the media and the truth about it, pretty quickly. The vacuum is packed with tweets and sound bites focusing on the conspiracy of the feat
If it is a stunt, declare it and build on its genius in a positive way, rather than running away and being embarrassed about it. Bourne and Withers et al are spending too much time denying that it’s a stunt rather than harvesting the fame. Make yourself fantastic not just a flash in the pan. Don’t allow a vacuum to be filled with a wave of sceptism and doubt.
Anyone can get talked about, but where does the brand traction catapult the meme? More importantly how does it move forward from that? You need to know where the conversation’s going and how to build something meaningful. Why not celebrate what you have done? Highlight your successes, no matter how partially complete, or short of your original goal. Celebrate to boost your energy, raise your spirits and use your positive successes. Whatever the truth is about the Bourne and Withers story, what we do know is that the audience doesn’t actually want facts, they just want an unbelievably good story.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Guardian