Some organizations and businesses will go to great lengths to get noticed, including staging newsworthy events to attract media coverage.
1The Boston Tea Party
Maybe you never thought of the Boston Tea Party as being a publicity stunt, but that’s exactly what it was! In fact, some historians have called this event “the greatest and best-known publicity stunt of all time.” In December of 1773, Samuel Adams and his group of American patriots threw 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor to protest repressive taxation and the monopoly of the East India Company.
The event achieved mass awareness, and was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. The American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.
2Online Casino Purchases $28,000 Half-Eaten Sandwich
In 2004, online casino GoldenPalace.com made headlines by purchasing a 10-year-old half-sandwich with a bite out of it. The company ponied up $28,000 on the eBay listing for this grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich bore a resemblance to the Virgin Mary, so GoldenPalace.com incorporated the publicity from the auction into their ad campaigns, which included grilled cheese sandwich eating contests, t-shirts featuring the sandwich, and even a world tour for the infamous grilled cheese.
3"Women On Waves" Charter An Abortion Ship
A group called Women on Waves, based in the Netherlands, came up with a very unique and controversial way to raise awareness for women’s issues. In 2001, the group discovered that the same maritime rules that allow gambling in international waters can apply to granting abortion rights to women, so they chartered a boat and put together the first of their missions. The group set sail to Dublin, Ireland, a country with the most restrictive abortion law in Europe.
According to their site, “The aim of the trip was to highlight the hypocrisy of the Irish abortion situation; catalyse efforts to liberalise the abortion law there; to build coalitions for legislative reform; and to test the feasibility of using a ship as a reproductive health clinic.”
The trip was hugely successful despite uproar from both the Irish and Dutch governments, and the group has since staged several more oceanic trips.
4Grandmothers Pose Naked For Charity
In 1999, eleven members of the Women’s Institute (in Yorkshire, UK) took off their clothes to create a calendar to raise money for charity. The photos featured the ladies in the nude, with their private parts artfully obscured by baked goods, potted plants, etc. More than 800,000 copies of the calendar were sold worldwide.
In 2000, the stunt inspired a movie called Calendar Girls, starring Julie Walters and Helen Mirren.
5The Balloon Boy Hoax
On October 15, 2009 in Fort Collins, Colorado, Richard and Mayumi Heene set a gas balloon filled with helium adrift and claimed that their six year-old son, Falcon, was inside. The stunt was broadcast live on television, causing people to panic over the thought that a child was in the UFO-shaped aircraft, which was reaching altitudes of over 7,000 feet.
Eventually, the boy was discovered hiding at the Heene’s home, and on a live television interview the child uttered the incriminating words, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.” As it turns out, the Heenes had been participants on a reality show twice before, and had a new show in development. The boy’s parents faced felony charges, and on December 23, 2009, Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail, and Mayumi Heene to 20 days of weekend jail. Richard was also ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution.
6Hands Across America
This one was so crazy, it actually worked! On May 26, 1986 more than 6.5 million Americans, including then President Ronald Reagan, joined hands in a human chain across sixteen states to raise money for the hungry and homeless. Participants paid ten dollars each to participate, and the event raised $34 million for various charities.
7The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty
In 2004, Unilever’s toiletry brand Dove launched an ad campaign featuring six ordinary women in their underwear, rather than featuring the typical thin models normally used in advertising. The campaign also included advertisements, video, workshops, sleepover events and the publication of a book and the production of a play.
The goal of the campaign was to celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves. An added bonus for the company? The PR stunt boosted sales by 700%.
8Taco Bell Pretends To Buy The Liberty Bell
On April 1, 2006 (April Fool’s Day), Taco Bell took out an ad in The New York Times to announce that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and planned to rename it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” The Liberty Bell is an iconic historic symbol of the U.S.A., so readers were understandably outraged, and many people called or wrote to the NYT to complain.
The prank worked, however, and more than 650 print publications and 400 broadcast media outlets publicized the fake purchase.
9Earth Hour Turns Off The Lights on The World
Earth Hour started off in 2007 as a PR stunt to raise awareness of climate change issues. During that hour, 2.2 million people turned off all of their non-essential lights in Sydney, Australia. By 2008, the event had captured a global audience, with up to 50 million people across 35 countries participating.
Famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver (pictured above), and Rome’s Coliseum all went dark as the world joined together to send a message about the global impact of climate change.
10The Goodyear Blimp
There is a reason why the Goodyear blimp is a perennial attendee of sporting and entertainment events: publicity. In 1925, Goodyear built its first PR airship, branding the side with their company name and logo. The blimp began to tour all noteworthy events, and in later years, the company offered up their blimps to TV networks, free of charge, for use as a camera platform – which they did in exchange for brand mentions.