5 top tips to execute a fail proof PR stunt to boost your brand awareness – by Shadani Consulting’s Zaib Shadani

Why Ryan Reynold’s giving away $5 million worth of mobile subscription for free, was a winner at the Super Bowl 2020

Zaib Shadani – PR consultant and media trainer, Shadani Consulting

Costing over $5 million for a 30-second commercial, the Super Bowl is arguably one of the most sought-after ad slots on the planet. And yet, more and more brands are opting out of participating during the super bowl via paid for ads, and instead engaging in PR stunts, as an alternative to generate word of mouth buzz, engage with audiences and grow their fan base through publicity.

A PR stunt that led the pack at the 2020 Super Bowl was by the little known cellular company ‘Mint Mobile’. Recently acquired by actor, Ryan Reynolds, Mint Mobile decided not to participate at the Super Bowl and didn’t buy any ad slots. Not particularly newsworthy in itself, it was what happened next that really stole the show. Ryan Reynold took out an ad in the The New York Times explaining that it’s ‘classier’ to sit the game out and give away Mobile Mint services for free, rather than pay $5 million for an ad – so Mint Mobile announced it would use their advertising funds to give away 300,000 months of free service to anyone signing up during the Super Bowl. The clincher – he tweeted a picture of himself holding up the ad with the text: “Everyone buys ads, so I bought one too. Not on TV. In that @New York Times. #classy http://mintmobile.com/free.”

The tweet drew 1,300 retweets and 14,000 likes within the first two hours alone, pushing awareness to a relatively unknown telecom provider. He included an image of Mint’s New York Times’ ad in the tweet, which calls the $5 million advertising price tag ‘ridiculous’ and states the “we could literally give away over 300,000 months of free service and still save money. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Offering 300,000 months of free service, in lieu of paying for a commercial at the Super Bowl is a gamble, but as with any PR stunt, when executed correctly, it’s a surefire way to stand out from the crowd.

While PR stunts are risky and notoriously difficult to pull off, when done right, they can propel relatively unknown brands into the limelight. Here are the top 5 tips to ensure your next PR stunt ticks all the right boxes.

  1. Keep it real, meaningful and on-brand: Many PR stunts adhere to the principles of ‘shock and awe’, and can go too far, leaving consumers feeling that the brand is not being authentic and just vying for ‘shock value’. It is critical to ensure that stunts are on-brand and retain their authenticity to enable a connection with new target audiences. Get noticed for the right reasons, not the controversy.
  2. Simple concept – memorable execution: Stunts don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to be unique or inspiring, and above all, well executed. Many of the most memorable PR campaigns started from a simple idea, with the best ones, stopping people in their tracks. Who doesn’t remember Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos jump, becoming the first human to break the sound barrier in a freefall? That stunt gave Red Bull wings on a whole different level.
  3. Real time audience engagement:  PR stunts are extremely effective when they allow for direct engagement with audiences, enabling consumers to experience the brand or service, in real-time or in a real-world setting. The impact of PR stunts get diluted over time, so by building a component into the PR stunt that allows for customer engagement, brands can ensure direct interaction or a trial of the services being promoted. McDonalds has long been at the forefront of clever marketing stunts and one of their most memorable campaigns that enabled real time audience engagement was during the 2015 Super Bowl where random customers were asked to pay for burgers with ‘loving gestures’ instead of cash – for e.g. the price of a kids’ meal was a family group hug, calling your parents and so on.
  4. Use humor to your advantage: People love to have a good laugh and humor works very well in getting people to remember your ad, stunt or activation. We all remember brands that evoke strong emotions in us, and the front runners are usually the ones that make us laugh out loud and connect with us on a deeper level. According to a study in the Journal of Marketing “humor is more likely to enhance recall, evaluation, and purchase intention” and works very well when promoting a product that is quite niche or doesn’t have mass appeal.
  5. Generate content worth sharing: In today’s digitally connected world, it’s important to ensure that you’re creating great social media worthy moments that can be shared and re-shared. With the success of many campaigns now being judged on their ability to be trending or going viral, the importance of incorporating elements that are aimed at being ‘shared’ across social media platforms cannot be underestimated.