It’s everyone’s favorite part about PR even if they don’t realize it. Stunts & activations are the cool kid at recess that somehow convince everyone to form a bike gang. You aren’t sure how it all started, but suddenly you’ve got a permanent marker tattoo of a cupcake & afternoon plans for the rest of your life. Just me?... What I’m trying to say is that these events have charisma!
A PR or publicity stunt is an event designed to get people talking about something (a brand, an event, an idea, etc.). An activation is an event designed to engage people with a brand in an unexpected way. They’re variations on a theme & the theme is engagement!
If you’ve ever seen a flash mob promoting an upcoming event or visited a booth at a trade-show where you tested out a prototype, you’ve witnessed one of these bad boys in action. In fact, many ads nowadays are merely footage from a stunt (or made to look like it was). I’m looking at you Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign.” Sometimes, stunts are so successful that they become mainstays in popular culture (read: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade & Tour de France).
Here are some of the ways stunts & activations help your brand:
Did I pique your interest yet? To get your creative juices flowing some more, here are some examples I just pulled out of thin air…
º Scenario: You’re a non-profit that promotes walkable neighborhoods & you want to get people’s attention about an upcoming ordinance vote.
Here’s what you do: Get a team of volunteers to canvass the streets at night drawing chalk outlines of bodies throughout major intersections. Give your best press contacts the heads up so they can cover the mysterious happenings the next morning. When interviewed, supply relevant stats & give a clear way people can get involved (ex: show up at the council meeting next Tuesday @ 6 pm*).
º Scenario: You’re one of the thousand new meal delivery services that’s trying to stand out from the crowd.
Here’s what you do: Open a fake, pop-up restaurant. When people come into your fake restaurant, you take them directly to the kitchen to prepare their meal using your product, of course. Who do you invite? Media, influencers, that charismatic bike gang leader - you get the point.
º Scenario: You’re a financial service targeting millennials & you want them to start talking about retirement.
Here’s what you do: Create a “retirement oasis” in a high-trafficked business area. Invite young professionals to come “get a taste of retired life.” Have them sit in a lounge chair, give them a frozen drink & even let them sink their feet in the sand. Bonus points if you have a steel drum band playing. Right when they’re nice & relaxed, ask them what their current retirement strategy is. Either they’re taking steps to secure their future, or they get escorted to their actual retirement - a grey room where they’re asked to do some tedious task or prepare a month’s budget with next to no money. Of course, advisors are on hand to chat about how they can make it to their alternate reality retirement. It’s all very Sliding Doors.*
Whatever the idea is, the trick to success is a focused objective and strategic delivery. It’s the details that kill a good idea. Think about how the idea plays into your broader strategy. Be prepared to back up your attention-grabbing display with some seriously focused messaging. Beat your idea around until it’s foolproof. But whatever you do, BE BOLD! Bland is brand poison.
* If you don’t get the Sliding Doors reference, you should be ashamed of yourself.
** Don’t try this at home, kids. These kinds of events (mainly stunts) are riddled with potential pitfalls. But it doesn’t mean you can’t DIY most of it. Just make sure a competent PR person is part of the planning.
Laurie Driggs Fontenot