Stunts. They go back a long way. PT Barnum, the circus impresario, was famous for his stunts. His first major stunt, in 1842, was a ‘creature’ with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish. It worked because it was an exhibit in his show. It was intriguing and it made sense. People flocked to see it.
If you scroll to about 38 seconds in to this terrific clip from Pathe News called ‘Come to London’ from the 1960s, you’ll see a surprisingly modern-looking stunt featuring Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland.
Stunts can be expensive to implement. They can also, frequently, be triumphs of style over substance. Take this quick quiz, for instance. Here are some high profile stunts from the last ten years that you may have seen or heard of. How many of them can you (without reaching for Google) link to the company that funded them?
1. The dog food vending machine in a London park
2. The picture of the Royal Family on the façade of a building on the Thames during the Jubilee. (This one won an industry award).
3. The World’s first melting vending machine
4. The giant duck floated down the Thames
5. The swimmer embedded in the lawn by Tower Bridge
6. The speed dating night on the London Eye
7. The Tennis Championships match on a specially built court on a desert island in the bay of Doha
8. The polar bear floated down the Thames
9. The ‘evil baby’ on the loose in New York
10. The giant deck chair
See what I mean?
Clever as they are, stunts can often put the brand that funded them in the shade – or eclipse them altogether.
The challenge is always this: “how do I do something that (1) captures the imagination, (2) spreads like wildfire and (3) increases active engagement with my brand?”
The first two – capturing the imagination and spreading like wildfire – are the easy bit. They achieve the ‘Hah!’ But it’s the ‘Hmmm’ that you really want, isn’t it?
In my opinion, too many stunts are clever for clever’s sake. They don’t carry a punchline or embed the brand that has commissioned them into the execution. By embedding, I mean creating an unmissable, logical link between what your brand does and the stunt.
The same cautionary note applies to the use of celebrities. Often the celebrity casts such a monumental shadow that there’ll be nothing more than a momentary brand mention. Often, too, the link just doesn’t work. This sort of thing: “I’ve owned many metal detectors over the years, but none are as simple to use and effective as my own Bill Wyman Signature Detector.”
Often in the moment the numbers will look good for those sweating marketing directors craving reassurance from the shadow of that pile of invoices. Tweets, retweets, etc.
Numbers, though, don’t matter. The core question again: “how do you turn a momentary ‘Hah!’ into a long term ‘Hmmm’?”
Before you sign off that purchase req for the stunt, it might be best to consider the story of the Trojan Horse. Can you be as certain that you’ll get a non-violent equivalent of bang for your buck in the way the Greek soldiers did?
Whatever you do, make sure that your brand is fundamental to the story as the lettering in the middle of a stick of rock – and as memorable as the stunt itself. That’s harder to achieve, but the payoff will make it all worthwhile.