PR Stunts: Playing Games with the Press

Public Relations Stunt

pr stuntPR stunts are the one thing celebrities and brands rely on to get them those extra column inches. They are an effective and fairly easy way to grab the attention of the media, create controversy and get everyone talking. Sometimes it is obvious that the stunt was just that, and is either applauded for its creativity or scathed for its unsubtly but sometimes no one is quite sure whether it was a stunt or not. These are the events which get media coverage repeated again and again as the debate goes on to whether they are genuine news stories or clever publicity generating, pre-meditated events.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter to companies whether people are aware that it is a stunt or not, they are more interested in simply advertising their product creatively and differently to all their competition.

An example of this was the stunt by Alton Towers earlier this year when they promoted their new ride Nemesis Sub-Terra by painting the bottom of a shopping centre lift with a 3D picture of a shaft. The illusion caused shoppers to feel as if they were about to step into a lift shaft and many wouldn’t take the lift. It was a clever stunt that drew attention to the theme park but was not dressed up to be anything other than pure advertising.

Another theme park ride was the centre of attention at around the same time as Nemesis due to a rather unsuccessful test ride. Pictures were released of dummies, which had been riding on Thorpe Park’s Swarm with limbs missing. The press jumped on this and safety concerns were raised over the new ride which is due to open on March 15. However, rumours are now rife that it was in fact, all a clever publicity stunt which generates free coverage ahead of the launch. No one has admitted it was a planned stunt but many newspapers have now taken the stance that it was.

In February 2011 there was an outcry when the three main presenters of BBC2’s Top Gear made some very harsh comments towards Mexicans. Richard Hammond drew unflattering comparisons with Mexican sports and Mexicans themselves citing them as,”lazy, feckless, flatulent and overweight.” This prompted a very angry letter to the BBC from the Mexican ambassador who was also the butt of one of their jokes. Although it is still maintained that the comments were unplanned, the BBC, without paying for any advertising, managed to get on to the front of many national newspapers and sparked questions over how genuine the comments had been.

Another example of a possible PR stunt is that of Sainsbury’s who in January 2012 changed their Tiger Bread to ‘Giraffe’ Bread after apparently receiving a letter from Lily Robinson aged three and a half. In her letter she gives the supermarket a ticking off and says that the bread looks far more like a giraffe than the stripy big cat. Sainsbury’s replied and a facebook campaign later, the bread was indeed renamed. The story hit all the national papers and gained Sainsbury’s the repuatation of being ‘understanding, kind and open to suggestions.’ The whole thing did it more good than any expensive ad campagn could have.

Giraffe Bread

Campaign to change Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread at Sainsbury’s (via Facebook)

One of the first PR stunts of this generation was FHM’s rather naughty naked projection of Gail Porter against the Houses of Parliament. Though they could have chosen a more inappropriate image, the result was a huge amount of wildly successful mock outrage and publicity. The stunt was obviously just that and it was not wrapped up to be anything other than a blatant attempt at generating column inches. It was a brave move and to this day FHM are credited with one of the best publicity stunts ever carried out.

Celebrities often take these stunts to the extreme and Kim Kardashian had many people wondering what her motives were when she filed for divorce from husband, basketball player Kris Jefferies after only seventy two days of marriage. Many people now believe that the whole relationship was an incredibly extravagant stunt to get the publicity hungry Kardashian family some more coverage. If this is true however, then it appears her husband may not have been in on his own game…

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