People in the UK will remember back to 1999 when Gail Porter, then a former children's TV presenter, projected a huge image of her naked self onto the Houses of Parliament. Why? For publicity purposes, of course.
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Did the stunt work? At the time it got Miss Porter a lot of press coverage, but it hasn't exactly enhanced her career. Inversely it has meant that she is remembered simply for the stunt and not for her other abilities.
We've all seen giant hotdogs rambling about the streets in an attempt to lure customers into buying fast food. Does that sort of pantomime activity work? Not always. In fact it can damage a company's image. Sometimes consumers are made to feel embarrassed by this type of over-the-top media buzz. At the same time, sometimes the stunt ends up being bigger than the product. So the pudding is somewhat over-egged. Sure, we remember the enormous rabbit skydiving from the spire of the local church, but we can't remember what it was he was promoting.
What it's important to remember, when considering a publicity stunt, is that the public (your potential customers) can be a discerning bunch. Not all of them want to be publically molested by an eight foot monkey for the sake of getting a free jar of peanut butter.
Bigger isn't always better. Neither does bizarre always work. Remember the fairly recent news hubbub created by the supposed disappearance of a little boy in a hot air balloon? All a hoax created to promote a reality TV show. Chances are, if you were one of the many who feared for the life of this child when first you heard the 'news', you'll happily boycott that TV show on ethical grounds. That sort of publicity stunt makes a mockery of human vulnerability and empathy. Not good news when you are trying to promote something.
So what if your competitor is going all out to do the whacky publicity thing? In truth it wouldn't look good on your part to try to jump on the bandwagon. What you need to do is steer well clear of it.
Say you run a mobile car mechanic business and your competition is sending men leaping through the streets in robot costumes, you need to target those members of the public who wouldn't appreciate such a gimmick. Maybe launch your own marketing campaign that promises the following: We won't send automatons out to stalk your neighborhood. But we do promise, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of your car, we'll be there.
Just because a stunt makes a big noise initially, it doesn't mean the intended message is one that will be heard or remembered long term.
Mostly such gimmicks are considered flash in the pan. Many consumers view them as desperate measures which indicate the company is struggling. And a struggling company makes people wary.
If you want to steal the limelight from your competitors, put away the superhero suit, the giant tomato or the monolithic ice-cream cone and go subtle.