Publicity Stunts Viral Marketing

In the last chapter, we saw how we can help fuel virality by using the tried and true non-viral marketing method of press and PR. But doing so has it’s limitations. Namely, they don’t typically generate user spikes on par with their more explosive viral engine counterparts. To get a bigger surge of that magnitude in non-viral traffic from news and media outlets often calls for something a little more extreme than merely releasing a press release or doing an interview.

In other words, you have to go a little crazy.

Publicity Stunts: Do Somethin’ Crazy


Publicity stunts are a singular unique piece of content you put out that draws attention from the media. (Some call it “unconventional PR“, but let’s call it like it is, shall we?)

Unlike traditional PR, where you’re creating a narrative about your company pitched to the press that will hopefully elicit a high-arousal emotion in their readers, publicity stunts are often more about creating a high-arousal emotion for the press and media outlets themselves.

You know the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.“ Publicity stunts are based on that premise, but take it one step further by believing the more outrageous/bombastic the action, the more attention it will receive.

Hijack the Media


In essence, publicity stunts can be considered a form of curated viral media. They are created for various press outlets who can then use them as a “carrot” to draw users to their sites. In other words, you are providing these organizations with the ammo to form opinions about you and create their own narrative. Then share it with their followers.

And because it’s coming straight from the horse’s mouth, as opposed to say a press release you wrote yourself, these media channels are far more likely to give the story prominence.

Some will love what you’re doing. Some will not.

Regardless, MUST create something each outlet will form some sort of strong opinion around. This is what forces their hand to start a dialogue, and it allows you to effectively hijack their audiences.

Publicity Stunts That Don’t Look Like Publicity Stunts


When Evel Knievel was in his prime, he became famous for doing crazy stunts by jumping over things on his motorcycle. These always got covered by the media. Quite simply, they knew what he was doing would capture the attention of their audience. And as a result they’d get more impressions on their ads. This obviously made them more money, so they were all-in.

Knievel knew this, too. In fact, that’s why he did the stunts.

Evel Knievel Publicity Stunts Motorcycle Jump

Doing these stunts garnered Knievel media coverage, which made him famous. He hijacked the collective viewing audience of the media outlets, and many of those people went on to become his fans. And put money in his pockets.

Evel Knievel’s stunts were non-viral marketing masquerading as entertainment.

Zappos Lets Their Puppets Do The Talking


When Zappos decided to create an advertising campaign containing real recordings of customer support calls, it was a stroke of marketing genius. After all, they had built a fiercely-loyal following around their customer service (thanks to some expertly executed satisfaction viral marketing), so why not promote it?

The ads reenacted those conversations with puppets, and were usually very hard not to smile at. On the face of it, Zappos was just creating some simple, enjoyable ad spots.

Zappos Customer Service Call Commercial - Publicity Stunt Viral Marketing

However, the campaign had an ulterior motive. Which was to showcase to the press something that so many people hated (i.e. calling customer service) and wow everyone since it was something Zappos customers truly loved.

As a result, members of the press formed (mostly favorable) opinions and wrote about the spot.

The Press Can Be a Fickly Beast


Zappos isn’t the only one using TV ads to their non-viral marketing advantage. Think of Super Bowl commercials. More people probably tune in to watch those than the game itself. Which is why ad spots during that time are so coveted (and pricey). Because, whether they’re comedic or tear-jerkers, these commercials are not just highly-viewed during the game, they’re also often highly covered by the media afterwards. Meaning they double as publicity stunts as well.

But the main thing to keep in mind IF you’re thinking about creating some sort of publicity stunt to get the press talking, is that they’re undoubtedly going to drum up opinions on both sides. So, whether that coverage is good, bad, or downright nasty, do your best to ensure you’re creating content that results in your ideal customer falling on the side that results in them doing business with you.

That way at the very least if your crazy stunt ends up with you slamming head first into tree (like it did for Red in our reckless graphic above), at least you’ll come away with a few new users.

What’s Next


Now that we’ve sufficiently covered how PR, conventional or otherwise, can help fuel your viral engine with non-viral marketing, let’s broaden our horizons by searching elsewhere (quite literally).


How Did Google Change the Game of Non-Viral Marketing Forever?

When it comes to selling your product and services online, if you want any hope of reaching the masses you’d better pay the ferryman. And be prepared to fight for your spot in the rankings. Learn how in our next chapter.


Travis Steffen
Viral Buttons by UP