PR stunts have been around for longer than the concept of PR itself when circuses sent out street performers to advertise in the 1800s, all the way back to Roman times when edicts to distribute bread distracted citizens from the politics of the emperor.
Nowadays, PR mainly refers to social media, and digital PR stunts are the new vogue. With good reason. Attracting attention by purely digital means has a low cost and fewer risks than physical stunts.
Digital PR stunts can be anything from announcing a fake product to a heated rivalry between two competitors that attracts attention to both. However, the best stunts get the attention of consumers and media, get the brand name out there, and provide insight into your brand image.
April Fools: The Power of Pranks
One of the biggest times for PR stunts is April Fools Day. And it’s no wonder- it’s the one day a year that companies are allowed and even encouraged to trick customers and play jokes on them.
Laughter is a powerful marketing tool (think Superbowl commercials), and it inspires customers to look kindly at brands, connecting them in a way that is impossible most of the time. Companies opt for different strategies, like fake product launches, playing into popular memes and jokes, and even fake products.
Duolingo Owl Making Customers “Disappear”
If you know the meme, you know what this is. Duolingo often leans into this meme for April Fools. They’ve created a fake legal video of a lawyer suing over disappearances this year, playing into the joke that the Duolingo owl will come after you if you don’t do your lessons.
They’ve even released a rebuttal from their legal team, true dedication to the joke. More importantly, it’s a great example of turning a less than flattering joke about a brand into something positive so the brand can laugh with the consumers instead of the brand being laughed at..
The Duolingo owl meme could’ve been an unflattering joke Duolingo could’ve tried to cover up and avoid. But they’re showing they’re good sports and keep up with the humor of today’s world, connecting to a younger audience.
The Dyson Zone: The Double Fake-Out
Fake product launches are nothing new for April Fools. It’s the most popular joke for companies to play. But launching a phony product for April Fools only to reveal it’s real later?
That’s precisely what Dyson did this year, announcing the Dyson Zone, a noise-canceling headphone/personal air filter, on March 30, much to the amusement of the consumers. Until they surprised everyone on Twitter a day later, releasing press releases and all the marketing material surrounding a new product, announcing it would be coming in autumn.
The double fake-out has garnered a lot of attention, and Dyson has managed to play a clever prank on its fan base and consumers, first by dressing it up as a fake product before revealing its realness in April Fools. It’s a fresh take on a highly overdone prank that can get anyone to smile.
Most importantly, it’s gotten a lot of eyes on its new product coming out this fall and piqued the interest of consumers, making it a perfect PR stunt.
Experiential Marketing: The Power of Consumers
In today’s world, there’s no better advertisement than word-of-mouth. Younger generations are practically impervious to traditional advertising, as they’ve been exposed to it since birth. However, if a teenager hears from a friend about a product they like and should use, it’s a given the teen will check it out.
It’s why consumer reviews are so critical, and UX engineering is at an all-time high. If consumers don’t advertise your products, you’re screwed. So how does this factor into digital PR stunts?
Because of experiential marketing, you market to the consumer by using their experiences. It can be a lifestyle app, a game, or an AI computer. Essentially you’re marketing by the consumer experiences, which creates unique word-of-mouth advertising spread by social media even further.
Adidas, Airdrops, and Concerts Oh My!
Musician Childish Gambino pulled off the ultimate experiential PR stunt at Coachella. He Airdropped pictures of the new sneakers he designed with Adidas, and those who opened the pictures were given a free pair- after they signed a waiver promising they’d wear the sneakers for the rest of the event.
He engaged the consumers and created positive customer experiences that then blew up on social media while promoting his new product. It hits all the checkpoints for a great PR stunt while taking advantage of his technology.
Burn That Ad: Augmented Reality and Burger King
Burger King announced an app that could set competitors’ ads on fire. Well, at least virtually. Burn That Ad was an AR app where customers could center the camera on a McDonald’s or Wendy’s ad, and the app would make it look like the ad had been set aflame.
AR is rapidly becoming the norm for experiential advertising, and the technology has a myriad of uses. It’s funny, topical, and a great way to dunk on competitors while advertising your brand. Customers get a funny app, and Burger King gets attention and advertising.
Human Vs. Computer: KFC Edition
Influencers constitute a significant part of social media. They can be controversial, announce different opinions on the same product, and generally be unpredictable. They’re not always what the brand wants.
But KFC has found the perfect influencer. They always list the opinions they want, they’ll never be controversial, and they’re not human.
KFC has created their own influencer, Virtual Influencer Colonel, who has an equally computer-generated girlfriend. It’s perfect for the fried chicken brand known for their irreverent and random funny advertising, and using the Colonel’s image helps spread their brand even further. It’s part of an April Fools joke, but it has the potential to expand beyond that.
You can check it out on KFC’s Instagram and witness the uncanny valley that is Virtual Influencer Colonel.
Reacting Fast: The Power of Social Media Reactions
Social media has become an omnipresent feature of our lives, with apps like Twitter and TikTok dominating the field of interest. PR has naturally expanded and flourished in these new fields of advertisement and engagement.
Social media is a powerful tool that can help or hinder a brand image depending on how they’re used. With social media, the goal should be to engage with an audience rather than advertise, because engagement creates more powerful connections that consumers will remember.
Game of Thrones and Ikea Carpets: An Unlikely Match-Up
When asked where they got the capes for the Game of Thrones costumes, the staff responded that most of them were rugs and carpets adapted from Ikea. And Ikea wasted no time jumping on this reaction by posting pictures of employees and customers wearing rugs like capes and posing heroically.
While it was just a few pictures and posts, including some humorous instructions on making your cape, it got passed around, and the searches on rugs at Ikea went up 700%! Reacting fast and posting reactions to popular media that includes your brand is a powerful way to stay relevant and improve the brand image.
Sassy and Proud: Wendy’s Social Media
We’ve all seen a tweet or two from Wendy’s hilarious social media where they roast competitors or customers. Each comment has the potential to backfire. It also has the potential to blow up and trend on the internet for days before dying. More and more people turn to social media for humor, and it’s no wonder Wendy’s dominates the field with social media.
Their strategy of engagement over corporate nonsense has sprung them to the top of Twitter and Facebook, making their Twitter a never-ending digital PR stunt.
Rivalry and Revenue: Pepsi Vs. Coke
Rivalry is a special PR stunt, especially when it becomes a flame war on Twitter. The “Cola Wars” between Pepsi and Coca-Cola are a good example. They often trade barbs over Twitter, but the tweets get passed around, and the exposure benefits both companies.
Moreover, it attracts attention by encouraging consumers to see who will “win” the war and come out on top. Competition is excellent entertainment, especially between two similar competing companies, and both brands win because of the exposure.
Digital PR stunts are easy to do but difficult to perfect. It needs to hit all the right notes to promote your brand how you want and engage with the consumer base for word-of-mouth and social media blow-ups. A great stunt will capture the imagination and inspire consumers to share their experience with your brand.
The most important part of any PR stunt is that it gets attention, attention that reinforces the brand image and blows up on social media. And a good digital PR stunt will do just that, without the costs and risks of a physical stunt or gag product. So remember to update your status, prepare that April Fool’s joke, and engage customers.