Marketing Stunts



This week on Under The Influence, we look at Marketing Stunts.

Many brands try to set world records to get attention. But not all of them go exactly as planned.

We'll look at an energy drink that staged a jump from space, why a giant popsicle stunt melted before it started, why unsuspecting travelers ended up running through a train station like James Bond, and how Richard Branson pulled off a stunt that drove British Airways crazy.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Los Angeles.

Walk of fame 2.jpg

Over 10 million people visit the site annually. There are five categories of stars on the Walk:

Motion Pictures. Television. Recording Artists. Radio. And Live Theatre. On average, about 20 new stars are added every year.

The official groundbreaking for the Hollywood Walk of Fame took place in 1960, and 1,558 stars were installed over the next year. Two of the first stars honoured were Joanne Woodward and Burt Lancaster.

What many people may not know about the Hollywood Walk of Fame is that it was a marketing stunt.

It was originally conceived as a way to encourage the redevelopment of Hollywood Boulevard, and to attract tourism.

Stunts are an interesting aspect of the marketing business. While every stunt is different in how elaborate it is, how long it lasts, or what kind of reaction it provokes, all marketing stunts have one thing in common:

They exist to attract attention.

Some are brilliant events that resound around the world. Some only shine bright for a short time. Some are subversive.

And some just don't work at all.

But they are all great stories...


On October 14th, 2012, Red Bull took marketing stunts to new heights.

The event was called, "Red Bull Stratos: Mission To The Edge of Space."

Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver, wanted to set a new world record by skydiving from the stratosphere, 24 miles above the earth. The previous record was established by retired Colonel Joe Kittinger, who skydived from 19 miles above the earth's surface. And remarkably, he did it 52 years ago, in 1960.

The Red Bull-sponsored stunt aimed to break four world records:

Altitude, speed, time and the record for Highest Manned Balloon Flight: Baumgartner hoped to break the existing record of 123,491 feet.

The skydive was no trivial matter. Baumgartner assembled a team of experts from around the world, and it took five years of preparation. Mission control for the jump resembled the Kennedy Space Centre in intensity and layout.

Felix Baumgartner was attempting to exceed the speed of sound during his fall - without being in an aircraft.

In other words, he was going to break the sound barrier with just a space suit on. At that speed, at that altitude, a simple breach in his space suit could cause his blood to boil.

Then, on October 14th, 2012, Felix Baumgartner climbed into the Red Bull capsule, and the helium balloon attached to it climbed into the sky for over 2 1/2 hours, carrying him up to an astounding 128,000 feet, or 24 miles above the earth's surface - 26,000 feet higher than the world record.

When Baumgartner was ready, he opened the door of the capsule, saluted, and announced he was "coming home."

With that, he jumped:

Source: YouTube

As he picked up speed, he broke the sound barrier, falling one point at a rate of 834.4 mph.

Even though he had broken the sound barrier, and had jumped from 24 miles above the Earth's surface, Felix Baumgartner managed to land perfectly - and remarkably - on his feet.

It was an extraordinary achievement that established three new world records. It was also an extraordinary marketing stunt.

First, Red Bull has historically built its brand by sponsoring extreme athletes in over 160 different sports.

Red Bull's image is that of rebellion and adventure. Their slogan is, "It gives you wings." This stunt was perfectly in line with the company's image.

According to AdWeek Magazine, the live-stream video of the jump on YouTube had over 8 million concurrent viewers, the most ever on the site. The video was shared over 700,000 times in just a few hours.

According to ABC News, the jump was shown by more than 40 TV stations and over 130 digital outlets.

Across social media, it was reported that 82% of the conversations about Red Bull were unequivocally positive, and half the worldwide trending topics on Twitter were about Red Bull Stratos.

According to the Dachis Group, a firm that tracks mentions on social media, the Red Bull Stratos stunt was unprecedented.

One million distinct user accounts talked about the stunt. If you subscribe to the traditional model that for every one person creating content, 90 more are lurking around and reading it, that suggests an audience of over 90 million following the event.

Two million new accounts were created to subscribe to Red Bull updates. These two million accounts were initiated by customers wanting more information on Red Bull.

And more than 61 million Red Bull Stratos impressions were generated over social media alone. A feat like that is virtually impossible to achieve with traditional mediums like television and print.

In the end, will this marketing stunt increase sales for Red Bull? My vote is yes, because brands aren't just what they say they are, they are the sum total of what they do. Actions speak louder than words. And people respond to brands that deliver.

Red Bull walked the walk that day. The tagline "It gives you wings" was perfectly realized in a stunt that was watched the world over.

Getting into the Guinness Book of World Records can be a marketing strategy for some brands.

And it makes for some interesting marketing stunts.

For example, 3M just entered the book by breaking an "adhesion" record:

3M stunt.jpg

In Germany, a 10-metric ton truck was suspended one metre above the ground by a crane for a full hour. Two of the main links holding the truck up were stuck together solely with a commercially available glue that 3M makes for metals.

In another entry, Natural Balance Pets Foods created the world's longest float at the Tournament of Roses Parade, with a 114-foot entry that featured a giant ramp that bulldogs snowboarded down.


Cosmetics giant Estee Lauder Company entered the Guinness Book of World Records when it was cited for the "most landmarks illuminated for a cause in 24 hours." Thirty-eight landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and the Empire State Building, were lit up in pink to promote breast-cancer awareness.

Estee Lauder pink empire state building.jpg

But not all Guinness Book of World Records marketing stunts work out.

Beverage maker Snapple wanted to promote a new line of frozen treats, so they attempted to erect the world's largest popsicle.

The previous record was a 21-foot high popsicle in Holland in 1997.

So Snapple created a 25-foot, 17 ½ ton Kiwi-Strawberry flavoured popsicle, and had it shipped to Union Square in New York:

Snapple popsicle 1.jpg

Unfortunately, the stunt took place on June 21st, the first day of summer. The temperature that day rose to 80 degrees. Almost immediately, the Snapsicle started melting. Thousands of gallons of sticky pink liquid poured onto the streets.

Just as the Snapsicle was raised to a 25 degree angle by a crane, officials halted the proceedings, afraid that the gushing liquid meant the core of the giant popsicle might risk collapse.

Soon, people were fleeing, pedestrians were getting stuck to the asphalt, and bicyclists were sliding on pink, sticky East 17th street.

Eventually, fire trucks converged and police had to close off several streets so the pink slush could be hosed away:

Snapple 2.jpg

Poor Snapple. Their stunt didn't get into the record books, but it did get them a lot of press.

Just not the right kind of press.

And to add insult to injury, Snapple had to pay for the clean-up.

While a giant popsicle can get a lot of attention for a brand, another food company had their sights set on an even bigger opportunity.

In 2006, KFC became the first brand visible from outer space.

Similar to Red Bull, Kentucky Fried Chicken wanted to create a stunt that had never been done before.

KFC had just updated its look and logo, and as the President of KFC International said at the time: "The Colonel is truly a global icon, and we want everyone in the universe to see KFC's new look of the future."

To achieve that lofty goal, KFC constructed a massive 87,500 square foot logo, so large that it could be seen from outer space.

And sure enough, a state-of-the-art GEO satellite captured a photo of the giant logo while it circled the earth at an altitude of 300 miles.


The "face from space" was a news story for a day, launching the new look of KFC. It wasn't an advertisement, noted the fast food company, it was an "astrovertisement."

When the London Eye was set to launch in 1999, it was a momentous occasion.

The 443-foot tall structure is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, capable of carrying 800 people at a time. It has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, with 3.5 million climbing aboard each year.

But on its launch day, it ran into a technical problem that prevented the giant wheel from being erected.

So until that problem could be corrected, the wheel just lay on the ground.

The London Eye, by the way, was sponsored by British Airways, and the airline had assembled the world's press for the big moment. Except that moment had stretched into a seven-hour delay.

When Virgin Airlines Chairman Richard Branson was told the London Eye wheel was having trouble getting hoisted up, he instantly had an idea.

He figured he'd give the press something to look at in the meantime. Within a few hours, Virgin put a blimp into the air with a message painted on its side.

So as the world's press waited for the giant Ferris wheel to be erected, they looked up and saw a Virgin blimp floating overhead that said:


As Branson later said: "This is the stuff that makes people smile. It is done in a tongue-in-cheek way, but it is very much part of the Virgin brand. It is this kind of fun-spirited competition that helps build a brand."

The failure of the London Eye wheel to be raised up that morning was an opportunity for Virgin that Branson couldn't pass up. He grabbed it - and the headlines.

As the famous saying goes, fortune favours the bold.

The James Bond series, written by Ian Fleming, was mildly successful in the 1950s and early 1960s.

But when President John F. Kennedy was asked what he was reading in his spare time, he answered, "From Russia With Love."

In that moment, the Bond books hit the best seller list, and the rest is history.

Every Bond film is a mix of espionage, sex, gadgets, chases, double-crosses, and spectacular sequences where Bond saves the planet while a clock does a nail-biting countdown.

For the newest Bond film, Skyfall, Coke planned an elaborate marketing stunt to tie into the picture.

When unsuspecting travelers at Antwerp Central Station in Belgium wanted to buy a Coke, they walked up to a Coke vending machine. The screen on the machine said, "Touch to order." When a customer touched the screen, a question suddenly popped up.

It asked: "Want the chance to win exclusive tickets to Skyfall?"

Then the fun started:

Source: cokezero/YouTube

It was a fantastic marketing stunt, perfectly capturing the twists and turns of a Bond film, as well as Coke's strategy of spreading "happiness."

In only four days in October, 2.5 million people had already viewed it. When I watched it in early December, the tally was 9.5 million.

And therein lies the ultimate goal with all marketing stunts.

Leave 'em a little shaken... but plenty stirred.

"Attention is the oxygen for brand building."

No truer words have ever been spoken. And nothing can get instant attention like a marketing stunt.

The Red Bull Stratos stunt was five years in the making. It was a spectacle that captured the attention of millions, and created three entries in the Guinness Book of World Records.

It worked because the product message was integral to the stunt. It aligned perfectly with Red Bull's strategy of extreme adventure, creating a memorable expression of their tagline, "It gives you wings."

Just like 3M's glue stunt, it was born of the product promise.

I suspect the giant KFC logo visible from outer space was a short-lived stunt. The same holds true for the pet food company with the longest float in parade history - both forgettable because they had no tight tie-in with the products.

An effective marketing stunt also needs perfect timing. And in the case of a sudden opportunity, it has to happen fast - as Richard Branson proved with his hilarious blimp message to archenemy British Airways.

Some stunts only live for a day, like Branson's blimp. Some last for decades, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But all stunts have to be meticulously planned. The Coke stunt for the Bond film was a case in point. It involved dozens of people and split-second timing - and was memorable as a result.

Yet, so much can go wrong with a marketing stunt, and things can get sticky really fast.

Just ask Snapple...

...when you're under the influence.

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