I read an article recently about a computer company in Germany that undertook what they thought was a smart promotion. They began gluing hard drives to alarm clocks and sending them to companies with a note reading, “Your time is running out.” Well, many of the people who received them were terrified and called the police, thinking the package held a bomb.
It reminded me of an old episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in the late 70s/early 80s, where they did a Thanksgiving promotion by dropping turkeys out of a helicopter… only problem – turkeys can’t fly.
When it comes to these types of guerilla promotions or any kind of publicity stunt, you need to think it through from all angles. You need to be critical and tough on the idea and think about the worst thing that could happen and the worst reaction someone could have. In this day and age, it’s likely someone will have that reaction and share it via social media.
I think the days of the “shock value” publicity stunts are gone. From our experience, if you are going to do something that will get the attention of the media, the public or your stakeholders, a smarter approach is to do something with great visual appeal that contributes to the world in some fashion. Even if it is just to make people smile. (Like a flash mob, although that’s been done a lot.)
For example, early on at AHA we had the opportunity to work with the producers of an excellent documentary series called Healing with Animals. One of the animals in the series was a llama named Wallace. Well, Wallace loves people and he is quite good at working with elderly people who have dementia. We wanted to promote the series (that showcased how animals help humans to heal emotionally and physically) so we got Wallace a spot on The Vicki Gabereau Show (now off the air) and we took him into downtown Vancouver for the studio appearance. We leveraged his appearance by having him stand on the corner of Robson and Burrard to sign “hoof prints” (a llama version of an autograph).
When we came up with this idea – we did our research. We confirmed that Wallace would not be put into high stress by this event. The owners of Wallace explained to us that he often went out into public places that had large groups of people and that Wallace enjoyed it. The last thing we wanted to see happen was for Wallace to get stressed out. Not only did we not want that for him, but it could also make him react aggressively and that might hurt someone.
The event was a huge success – his TV appearance was fabulous and lots of people got to meet Wallace on the street. And he was really happy to be there. But – we thought through what could go wrong in the planning stage, and because we did that, it worked out as planned.
Take the time to think publicity stunts through. It’s worth the extra time it takes in planning.