There's no such thing as bad publicity, the old saying goes. If an action or event puts your brand's name in the forefront of your target market's minds, it must be good. Never mind if the event has absolutely no connection with the product you're selling. What matters is name recall.
Having said that, here are five of the most successful PR stunts that have made their brands and subjects household words:
1. The Guinness Book of World Records. Who hasn't heard of this book? We hear of it in the TV news, we read about it in the newspapers, and yes, a lot of us enjoy reading the book itself too. Children as young as nine years old are familiar with the name Guinness.
And what, you may ask, is it promoting (if you haven't guessed yet)? Why, Guinness beer, of course!
It all started when Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of Guinness Brewery, went on a plover-hunting trip and failed to shoot a single one. He mentioned to his companion that the golden plover must be the fastest bird in Europe. The friend disagreed, and there was nothing to settle the argument as there were no reference books that did that sort of thing at the time.
So Sir Beaver had the idea of publishing a book that would settle such bar bets, and the rest, as we all know, is history.
2. The Hollywood sign. It was the challenge of a lifetime for Harry Chandler. He built an expensive housing development in the middle of a dirty desert town, and now he had to sell it. Of course, people first had to notice it - and who would look at that place when looking for an expensive home?
His idea was to create a gigantic billboard. Billboards are effective ways of getting public attention, right? A 50-foot billboard should do the trick.
He was right. It did. That 50-foot PR stunt to sell overpriced real estate is now known all over the world as the Hollywood sign.
3. David Beckham's hair. Even people who don't watch football know David Beckham. What made this celebrity footballer's name a household word even if he's not the greatest football player the world has ever seen? (For people who disagree, please refer to the Guinness Book of World Records.)
It's his hair. Like Madonna in her heyday, David Beckham constantly reinvents himself by sporting a - shall we say "outrageous"? - well, let's call it "head-turning" new 'do from time to time, keeping himself in the media eye.
4. Dove's Real Beauty campaign. It may not exactly be a stunt, but it's one heck of a brave thing to do. Instead of using picture-perfect models Photoshopped to further perfection, Dove took real women with real body fat and used them as their models instead. Granted all that these models were still thinner than the average British and American woman, they were still meatier than the average ad model, and many hailed that as a step in the right direction. For one, it boosted Dove's sales by 700%.
5. Richard Branson, the Virgin bride. Richard Branson is, of course, the unchallenged king of PR stunts. He has driven a tank down Fifth Avenue to launch Virgin Cola. He mooned the world in the Canadian Launch of Virgin Atlantic. He went around the world in a hot air balloon to promote the Virgin brand in general.
But his most outrageous stunt to date was when he went out in drag as the Virgin bride to launch the Virgin Brides wedding venture.
Did it work? Not much, as far as Virgin Brides was concerned. The venture closed in 2007. But it certainly made Richard Branson and the Virgin brand quite well known.