Did You See That?

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How valuable are stunts to a brand?

Before answering that question, we have to go back in time (just a little bit) and remember that in a field of limited media choices and outlets, getting someone at these media outlets to pay attention was somewhat easier. Either they wanted the exclusive over their competitor or they wanted access so that their competitors would not have the exclusive. Fast forward to today, and the challenges in not only pulling off a stunt but making it memorable is super-tough on the best of days.

Who did it?

Remember the sunglasses that were given to the trapped miners? Remember that car that was stuck in a massive sinkhole? What about the author who opened a book store in NYC that only sold his book? What was the name of the company that put a million dollars in cash behind a glass wall of a public bus stop to prove how resilient their product is? Can you name the brands? Do you even remember the stunts? Pushing that idea forward, as a marketing professional, keep in mind that it’s your job to be aware of these campaigns… but what about the average consumer? We have created stunts beyond the world of saturation. The signal to noise is even harder to break through.

Give up on stunts.

That’s what some might say. Throw in the towel. It’s just more noise and it is increasingly difficult to do something with resonance. I would disagree. The challenge is simple, but the execution is harder: create stunts that latch on to the brand. Don’t create stunts that make the brand not as recognizable as the stunt, but create stunts that can’t be remembered without the brand. A prime example of this (and one that has been beaten to death by people like me) would be Red Bull Stratos. When people talk about this campaign, it’s not just about the guy who jumped from space with a parachute, it’s about how Red Bull got this guy to jump from space with nothing but a parachute. All day and night, we watch brands try to do something – at a specific moment in time – that will garner a reaction from those witnessing it and that will generate earned media from those talking about it. All too often, they fall on deaf ears. There’s no doubt that many of them lack anything truly remarkable for people to share, but so few of them realize how loosely connected the brand is to the actual stunt.

So many industries get this wrong.

Look no further than the automotive and hotel industries as prime examples of this. Both offer up all kinds of unique events and stunts in launching a new product line. If you took all of these stunts over the timeframe of a year, removed the brands, tossed them all up in the air and then randomly added another brand on to the stunt or event, odds are most people would not notice the difference. Sure, there are exceptions (there always are), but consumers have become so inundated with something happening on every corner or every other YouTube video, that the ability for a brand to pull the stunt off and get the true value and recognition out of it has never been more challenging.

Pushing a stunt forward.

Stunts still create a splash. It’s a moment in time where something happens that rises above the other stuff that is happening. I love these digital channels (and, when I say "digital channels" I mean Web, mobile, social, etc…) because they can add a depth and power to stunts unlike anything we have known before. If the stunt is the splash, digital can augment it by adding the ripples that can grow and resonate before, during and after. Think pre-stunt and how you can leverage all of these magical channels to uncover your heavy users and those who may be interested in the brand. Think of how digital can help support the stunt as it takes place in terms of publishing and sharing the information – in text, images, audio and video – in real time. Now, for the most important part: think about how a stunt can be supported after the event takes place. Think about the measurement, feedback, loyalty and pulse and what you can learn and iterate on.

Stunts are not easy.

For years brands have tried to figure out how to create an impact, how to make something viral or how to get the whole world to pay attention to them – even for a brief moment. There is no doubt that awareness is still a key factor in any brand’s marketing success and longevity. All of that can’t ride on stunts alone. Content, advertising and everything else that we publish has a much shorter half-life than most of us would care to admit. If a tweet doesn’t last more than a couple of minutes and a blog post doesn’t linger for much longer, how can we expect a big stunt in one city and one moment in time to resonate? Marketing is getting tougher as metrics become more real and true return on investment can be aligned across all activity. Tossing marketing budget against a stunt for a stunt’s sake alone feel like a very antiquated and non-effective tactic in this day and age.

Doesn’t it?


  1. That last sentence was perfect, amen! Most things are measurable these days, and if you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to the ROI. Lazy marketers and PR people live in the now, and rarely think long term.
    However, I’m a fan of branding, and I think Ref Bull does an excellent job of branding, which I’m sure is their tactic when putting on their stunts.

  2. As someone who isn’t even a professional marketer.. the thing that surprises me most is that someone would even have to say this.. that it wouldn’t be the most transparently obvious thing in the world..
    The only explanation I can think of is that there are systemic forces, in how business operates today, that makes it so. It’s sorta.. not really a question of if that fellow over there plays a good game… it’s that that fellow over there is playing a wrong game.. cause someone’s feeding him carrots.

  3. Couldn’t agree with your comment more Nick, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth, spooky.
    Great article as always Mitch…can’t wait for the new book to be released.

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