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High risk, high reward. Publicity stunts are indeed a risky venture. Learn how to make it a risk worth taking.** **
NVIDIA's recently unveiled their next generation mobile graphics chip by creating a crop circle. Odd choice, but it certainly beats a press conference. The story of a mysterious figure carved in barley was covered by all the major news networks as well as tech sites and the blogosphere. In terms of media impressions, it certainly paid off. As Forbes noted in summing up their number one takeaway from the Computer Electronic Show of 2014 -- where NVIDIA unveiled their chip: Crop circles trump social media. Publicity stunts have been around as long as there have been crowds and something to sell. One well-documented publicity stunt from pre-Civil War America involved a man standing on the courthouse steps of Salem, MA, eating a basket of tomatoes to the astonishment of a cheering crowd. At the time, most people believed tomatoes would turn your blood to acid. That kind of death-defying craziness still pulls a crowd, as demonstrated by Red Bull's Skydive from Space, where Australian skydiver Felix Baumgartner broke the record for highest freefall, last fall. The live POV video captured more than 8 million viewers on YouTube, the largest concurrent streaming event in Internet history. Of course, the first question the finance department will ask is: "How many cans of Red Bull did it sell?"
Should You Stunt?
To achieve more than a passing interest, the stunt's message must be aligned with the company's strengths. In 2002, Vodaphone Australia paid streakers to run out on a rugby field during a big game between Australia and New Zealand. What did that message have to do with telecom? Not a thing. It resulted in nothing more than widespread apologies and a very large donation to a sports injury fund. A bad stunt is far worse than none at all. Think of a publicity stunt as live theater with virtually limitless list of possibilities, both for success and failure. There are countless horror stories of stunts that did not go off as planned. Last summer, LG released their new G2 smartphone with a seemingly fun giveaway. Hundreds of helium balloons were released carrying coupons for free LG phones. People shot at the balloons with BB guns, injuring 20 people before the event was shut down. Never underestimate the public's ingenuity nor their irresponsibility.
You may have given up on publicity stunts for good, but there are business situations that call for a publicity stunt. They work best when you have a message so original or amazing that advertising won't do it justice. You can best prepare for a successful publicity stunt by answering these three questions during the design phase: - What message are you delivering? Look at it from as many perspectives as possible and get legal involved early. The best stunts have been dramatic demonstrations of brand values. - What's your follow through plan? If you succeed in getting everyone's attention, you must have plan in place to take advantage of sales and new prospects. Prepare for your web servers for an influx of hits or they will fail. Going viral is far easier then profiting from going viral. - Who is on your message management team? After the stunt, the story is out of your hands and the media will use your story to paint whatever picture suits them at the moment. If things don't go exactly as planned, have a team with a sense of humor ready to track and redirect stories. Public opinion can change in a heartbeat and how you react means everything.