There are so many different types of audiences to appeal to as an entrepreneur it makes it easy to pull off marketing stunts. You can see this pattern with successful entrepreneurs throughout history with big time attractions like the Tour de France and the Miss America Pageant.
To keep things on the positive side of what you can really do with marketing, here are the 10 most successful stunts so far in marketing history:
1. Taco Bell Corp. 1996: In the morning, an ad appeared in The New York Times with a headline that read: “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell.” While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.” What Happened Next: Thousands of people called in their complaints to the home of the Liberty Bell, the National Historic Park in Philadelphia, but by noon, Taco Bell admitted what many people suspected, since the day was, after all, April 1. The Taco Bell ad was an April Fool’s joke, and the media and public ate it up (no pun intended). The company’s revenue increased by $500,000 that day, and by $600,000 more the following day, compared to the previous week’s sales. Even then-White House spokesperson Mike McCurry, when asked about the Taco Liberty Bell, got inspired to reveal that the Lincoln Memorial had been sold and would from now on be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial. Lesson Learned: It can pay to have a sense of humor about your business.Company:
2. ProShade, 2006: ProShade is a company that makes a 3-in-1 gadget that combines a visor, sunglasses and a lanyard–which is a cord and a hook that allows you to carry something on them, like keys or a pocketknife or what have you. Proshade made an intriguing offer to the National Park Service earlier this year when they proposed to give $4 million to Mount Rushmore in exchange for getting to put a logo visor on each of the presidents’ heads. The company explained in a news release, “The National Park Service needs more support in preserving Mount Rushmore. What Happened Next: Although the National Park Service didn’t take them up on their offer and despite the fact that any decent journalist knew they were being taken, the company received a fair amount of publicity for their outlandish offer. Lesson Learned: Journalists are human, too–they love a good story. Give it to them, and they just may take you up on writing about it.
3. GoldenPalace.com, 2004: Because they’re legally restricted from advertising in traditional media, online casino GoldenPalace.com, based in the Caribbean, has devised many marketing stunts to grab the public’s attention, from paying people to tattoo their logo on body parts to–earlier this year–purchasing William Shatner’s kidney stone for $25,000, so they could auction it off for charity. But their most famous marketing stunt took place a few years back when they bought a partially eaten grilled cheese sandwich for $28,000. But it wasn’t just any sandwich: It looked like the likeness of the Virgin Mary had been burned into the bread. What Happened Next: The casino received worldwide attention for their purchase, getting media exposure in everything from USA Today to the BBC to China Daily. CNN, FOX and MSNBC all covered it, as did the evening news networks. The casino likely saw the $28,000 as a bargain, considering that not only did it buy them a lot of media exposure, they were able to milk it for quite awhile. Lesson Learned: The important thing to remember is that the marketing stunt should fit into the character of the business.
4. Burger King, 1998: Obviously inspired by the good folks at Taco Bell, Burger King put out an ad in USA Today, stating that they’d re-engineered their most famous sandwich in order to benefit 32 million Americans, and now they were ready to present . . . the Left-Handed Whopper. What Happened Next: This one didn’t go over quite as well as they’d hoped, since some of those 32 million Americans came into the restaurant and were annoyed to discover they couldn’t actually order the Left-Handed Whopper. Lesson Learned: No harm in being inspired by successful marketing stunts that have come before, as long as you provide your own twist. The newspaper ad on April Fool’s Day had already been done, but otherwise, it was a creative gag.
5. SonicYoga.com, 2002: Soon after launching his Manhattan-based yoga school in 2001, owner Jonathan Fields teamed up with Adelphi University to run the first-ever study on determining how many calories yoga burns. Knowing that the idea had media appeal–in fact, Fields also owns a marketing firm called Creative Vibe which he started in 2003–he sent a note to several top fitness magazine editors in New York City, explaining the concept of the study and offering an exclusive to whatever editor reached him first and agreed to do a story on the study. What Happened Next: After the article was written, an editor at Self called Fields and mentioned that it was a shame the studio didn’t have a yoga instruction video to go with the article. Fields instinctively said, “Oh, we do have a video. It’s in post-production, and it’ll be out by the publication date.” He quickly made up a name for the video and a price so the editor could add that information to the article, then he hung up and turned to his partner and said, “We need to make a yoga video very quickly.” They put together a video, which sold out after the magazine hit the shelves. Since then, they’ve made four more videos. Lesson Learned: There’s something to be said for thinking big and on the fly. Fields could have been extremely embarrassed had he not been able to quickly produce a workout video that actually was generally well reviewed. And certainly another lesson to take away from this is that when you’re small, teaming up with big names–Adelphi University, Self magazine–can make you seem bigger to the public than you really are. But maybe the best lesson is to emulate Fields’ confidence.
6. D.C. Comics, 1993: Whether we’re talking art or not, D.C. Comics is–yes–a business, generating approximately $40 billion in revenue each year. So it’s not surprising that many people felt that releasing a comic book called The Death of Superman was a marketing stunt, given that nobody with half a brain really, truly thought this company was going to stop producing its most popular title, a hit since the Superman character was born in 1938. What Happened Next: The news media covered this development extensively, not quite as if a head of state had passed away, but seriously enough, and the comic book featuring his death sold out on the first day. As more issues were published, they kept selling out. In fact, millions of readers purchased not just The Death of Superman issue but numerous others that followed, including Funeral for a Friend and eventually–who would have guessed?–The Return of Superman. Lesson Learned: If you have a popular product but feel that sales are stagnant or your customers’ excitement toward the brand is weaning, it may not be a bad idea to tinker with it. “Well, not so fast,” you’re probably thinking. “Jump into a time machine and see how people felt about New Coke in 1985.” But that wasn’t a marketing stunt–it was a colossal business mistake that offered numerous marketing challenges, which Coke eventually conquered, by reverting back to its original formula.
7. Maui Beverages, 2005: Because Maui Beverages isn’t very well known, their PR department suggested something splashy to let people know how fun this company was. First, they changed the founding executive titles–from Chief Executive Officer to Chief Entertainment Officer–and the Chief Technology Officer to Chief Tasting Officer–giving their company a more lighthearted appeal. Then they set out to prove that they really were fun. Maui Beverages’ PR company sent the founders, Mark Mahoney and Al Williams, to be hosts at an annual conference of food and beverage trade writers. They threw a huge party with a Jimmy Buffett-type “Caribbean island” theme and gave out lots of free sunglasses–as well as free samples of their product. What Happened Next: Sure enough, after the title changes and the party, the company started getting a lot of positive press, which is directly affecting their bottom line: Their annual sales have gone from $6 million in 2004 to a projected $10 million by the end of this year. Lesson Learned: A marketing stunt doesn’t have to be something that nobody’s ever done before, but you should “keep it fresh and exciting,” says founder Mahoney. Maui Beverages wasn’t the first company to throw a party–or to throw it for a group of people who could help get the word out about them. But what they did was creative and a much better strategy than hoping your company’s silent and under-the-radar personality will somehow get people to notice you anyway.
8. Del Monte Foods, 2006: This ongoing stunt is part of a larger trend called advertainment–pure entertainment wrapped around a product with hopes of convincing consumers to purchase said product. Del Monte is currently airing a reality show for cats on Animal Planet. They’ve put up a Meow Mix House with webcams for people to look in and watch these cats in one room–from 10 shelters around the country–where they hang out and have various visitors (think Big Brother, but for felines). Every Friday, on Animal Planet, Meow Mix announces which cat has been “voted out,” but in this case, that means being put up for adoption and receiving a year’s supply of Meow Mix. What Happened Next: So far, so good. Meow Mix’s marketing director has been doing tons of interviews, and the brand is being associated with a worthy cause: cat adoption. The Lesson: If you’re going to look for inspiration for a marketing idea, why not borrow from popular culture?
9. Half.com, 1999: Half.com, a retail website known for having sharply discounted items, paid Halfway, Oregon, to adopt the name Half.com for their town for a year. In exchange, Halfway received $100,000, 20 new computers for the local school and other financial subsidies. What Happened Next: The media picked up on it, Half.com became very well known, and in 2000, five months after the IPO, eBay bought the company for $300 million. Halfway, Oregon, was a little less fortunate. According to Halfway, Oregon’s official website, “Half.com made many promises. Some of which were honored and others not.” The Lesson: Creativity works, and you can apparently talk anyone into anything, if you show them the money. It also helped that Halfway, Oregon, felt it was a winning situation for them, too, beyond the monetary reward: They were the first dotcom town in the nation–though not the first community to change their name to a brand name. That distinction goes to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which changed its name from Hot Springs in 1950, when radio personality Ralph Edwards was hosting a popular radio show called “Truth or Consequences.” He’d said he wished a town loved the show enough to rename itself after the program–and if one would, he’d air a live program from the community. Hot Springs, anxious to shed its name, anyway, since people confused it with the town in Arkansas, jumped at the chance.
10. PokerShare.com and CasinoShare.com, 2006: Another casino, unable to advertise in traditional media; another amazing marketing stunt. Over Memorial Day weekend this year, with gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, PokerShare.com and its newly launched CasinoShare.com gave away more than 8,000 gallons of gasoline to hundreds of New Yorkers. In a long, snaking line of traffic, New Yorkers lined up to receive $40 of free gas while free food was distributed and music blared. What Happened Next: Before the morning rush hour had ended, the New York City Police Department shut down the stunt because the lines were wrecking havoc with traffic flow. Many people–including off-duty police officers and government officials–left empty-handed. But PokerShare.com and CasinoShare.com could hardly call their efforts a failure. The free gas stunt, conceived by Popular Culture PR, was popular enough to be held again in Los Angeles several weeks later. Lesson Learned: Generosity is a selling point in a marketing stunt, but you have to tap into human nature and, if possible, current events. If the same company had given away $40 in PokerShare.com gift certificates, it’s likely the media wouldn’t even have noticed since coupon giveaways aren’t exactly a breaking news item. And if PokerShare had handed out $40 in cash to just anybody on the street, they might have warranted a story from some local media outlet but, save a mugging or mobs, probably not generated a mention on the national evening news. But free gas when the headlines these days are all about the rising price of gas? This marketing gimmick wasn’t just covered by the evening news, but also by Fox News, The New York Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets, reaching more than 9 million people.
I made sure to bold out the full story for # 5 as I feel it is the best advice you can take away from this article.
Did this information help you craft some new edgy ideas, or maybe even some older re-polished ones, to get a fresh new marketing plan rolled out for your products and services?
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