Brannigan of the Month - August 2019

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ARE PR STUNTS GETTING TOO ‘STUNTY?’

WE DISCUSS WHETHER PR STUNTS ARE GOOD FOR BRAND AWARENESS OR POTENTIALLY DAMAGING TO REPUTATIONS… DO THEY EVEN BORDER ON FAKE NEWS?

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PR stunts are great, Aren’t they? An event, act, skit, whatever you want to call it, designed to make a big splash in an already noisy brand arena. A truly great stunt can get you noticed, get everyone talking about you and in this ever-growing digital age send your brand viral. Look at Greggs at Christmas. What a great PR stunt – that even got their peers saying how clever they were – to turn their Newcastle shop sign around so that it became a surprise feature in the Fenwicks festive window display.

More recently Paddy Power employed a stunt tactic when they emblazoned the Huddersfield Town kit with their brand name, well aware they were breaching FA regulations and flirting with controversy from the fans. In fact social media went into overdrive, as did the national press – including BBC News – gaining Paddy Power considerable coverage. Even though initial coverage was mostly negative, their visibility was huge, They quickly announced it was a stunt, and they completely removed their brand name from the final shirt design and encouraged other gambling companies to do the same. The fans got their shirt back and the brand came out smelling of roses (a far nicer alternative to sweaty shirts). The whole thing was totally in keeping with the brand’s cheeky persona (some of their marketing and PR team have Mischief baked right into their job titles… and did this not feel like peak mischief?).

Both stunts were original. Both got coverage and more importantly both got audiences talking and (eventually for PP) in a positive way.

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‘Floating something down the Thames’ used to be the go-to, coverage-generating PR stunt (like it or not), but now audiences are getting wise to the PR stunt, maybe even a little bored. Now brands must think differently: stunts don’t work in a vacuum: drawing so much attention to yourself must mean you have something great to say, right? Last week McDonalds created a spoof streetwear brand ‘Schnuggs’ to coincide with the launch of their spicy chicken McNuggets. The stunt aimed to capitalise on the trend of cult brand infatuation; something questioned by the 16-24 target group who criticised McDonalds for being late to the party – taking to social channels to let them know (in no uncertain terms) that that ship has sailed. It was hotly followed by criticism for the product, which was deemed bland at best. Two things went wrong here. Patronising your audience and not following up with a good product. 

McDonalds were upfront that this was a stunt, but some brands like Paddy Power don’t reveal the prank until after the uproar and coverage have peaked. For this reason PR stunts tread the fine line between raising brand awareness and generating fake news. And no-one is a fan of fake news right now. Audiences are wise, savvy… and very quick on a keyboard so if you’re PR stunt is to build reputation as well as brand awareness it’s worth having a good solid plan in mind.

Katrina Bishop