From viral marketing to publicity stunts and celebrity endorsements, there are numerous ways to make your company stand out from the crowd.
Despite the proliferation of new media through which consumers can be addressed, it’s frequently observed that winning people’s attention is harder than ever.
To make matters worse, customers’ awareness of advertising and marketing has become more sophisticated, and they can often see beyond self-serving PR campaigns.
Nonetheless, publicity stunts can still work beautifully, generating levels of coverage and business benefit vastly out of proportion to the money spent. Below are nine of the most inventive publicity campaigns that companies have launched to gain column inches.
Andy Wilkinson, managing director of Clover Taverns, was looking for a way to set his pubs apart from the competition during the World Cup tournament last year. So he changed the names of all his staff by deed poll to Wayne Rooney for the entire tournament, and renamed pub managers Fabio Capello.
Employees at all 10 Clover Taverns establishments wore Wayne or Fabio masks to complete the transformation, and dressed in “Call me Rooney” T-shirts.
‘We launched the campaign a week before the World Cup started to create the maximum impact in time for the first football matches. Media interest was building and we captured the imagination of the media and the public,’ he says.
The tongue-in-cheek campaign delivered good results for the company, which saw a 10 per cent increase on total sales for June compared to the same month in 2009. Its pub The Wheatsheaf in Peterborough increased sales by over 100 per cent on each of England’s games.
Wilkinson comments, ‘Whether it’s coincidence, luck or judgement, we’ve had a reasonably good start to this calendar year, so we probably gained some long-term customers from the campaign.’
Enlisting a famous face
When creative agency The Marketing Store secured Derren Brown at the presentation of a white paper, he wasn’t simply there to entertain.
Managing director Simon Marshall explains, ‘We wrote a paper about deep-seated psychological motivators within us and thought it would be interesting to team up with Derren because that’s the level upon which his shows operate.’
With clients, prospects, industry observers and journalists attending the event in London, it was also an opportunity for The Marketing Store to create some publicity around its services.
But Marshall believes there’s a time and a place for celebrity appearances. ‘There are obviously plenty of opportunities to use celebrities in a gratuitous way. We want to make sure that our company is seen as having a serious point to make in an area of marketing or business. If you follow that philosophy then I think you have to make sure that the celebrity and how you’re using them is relevant.’
‘In a culture of mass information it is crucial to draw attention to our work in a very creative way,’ says Paul Arad, managing director of interior design company acrylicize.
The company’s Facebook profile is key to building a dialogue with followers. ‘Whereas a website is a glossy brochure, the Facebook page offers a behind-the-scenes look at what we do,’ adds creative director James Burke.
The 365 project on its Facebook page documents a year in the life of the acrylicize team, who upload a photo each day that shows what they’re doing. At the end of last year, they created a montage.
Social media is also the inspiration behind the company’s unusual recruitment process set to launch in March. Applicants will go on a ‘treasure hunt’ to find the secret location of the job interview, following clues given out via Twitter, acrylicize’s website and Facebook.
‘It’s a good way of marketing ourselves at the same time as getting the right person for the job,’ Burke says.
Rallying the troops
James Ohene-Djan, founder of video network site WinkBall, explains that the launch of a campaign last year helped demonstrate the impact video messaging could have. Faces for the Forces was set up by the company to collect messages of goodwill for the troops in Afghanistan. WinkBall’s own team of reporters captured the public’s festive spirit.
When word of the campaign reached government officials, video messages from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were soon uploaded. Other celebrities were quick to join the cause, including Dawn French, Pixie Lott, Gary Lineker and Bruce Forsyth.
Ohene-Djan believes the movement galvanised the public and, by the end of the campaign, over 450,000 videos for the troops had been collected.
‘From Faces for the Forces alone we received one million views to the website. What we also saw was a lot of return views. People leave a message and then want to see what other people have said,’ he explains.
Dressing a group of people as sheep and sending them into Newcastle city centre along with real sheep may seem like a publicity stunt too far but for online glasses retailer, Glasses Direct, it was perfect. The stunt conveyed the message that customers were being ‘fleeced’ by the high price of glasses on the high street.
The group even stormed a Specsavers store where they handed out flyers about ‘specspensive’ frames, directing consumers to the Glasses Direct website and throwing in a discount for customers from Newcastle.
Comparison website Top10.com uses online viral marketing to create a stir and build its brand. Alex Buttle, founder and marketing director, believes that social media is a powerful way of accessing communities. The company has over 10,000 followers across Twitter and Facebook – more than many of its competitors.
Its ‘12 Phones of Xmas’ campaign saw Top10.com give away a handset every day over a 12-day period in the run-up to Christmas in conjunction with Orange. Participants could enter by posting a message on Twitter essentially promoting the competition.
An average of 415 entries each day amounted to a total of nearly 5,000 tweets over the course of the giveaway.
‘It created a huge buzz,’ says Buttle. ‘People loved it because it was fun, easy to enter and the prizes were really good.’
Being a growing business enables Top10.com to interact directly with its online communities, he explains, and its competitions are about ‘giving back’ to the consumers who regularly engage with the company and help shape its products. Buttle suggests businesses should avoid being too corporate in their approach to social media.
From sportsman to salesman
Celebrity endorsement is one thing but it’s more unusual to hire a renowned sportsman for your management team. Call centre business The Listening Company initially approached former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio to address a sales conference as a motivational speaker.
At the time, he was still playing for London Wasps so his commitment to the company was restricted.
It was through putting together a series of workshops and seminars to deliver to the sales team that Dallaglio realised he might have more to offer the business. Following his retirement from rugby in 2008, he became sales director of the company.
Dallaglio maintains that business and sport are not so dissimilar: ‘I’m used to being in an environment where you are assessed on an hourly or daily basis and your selection is determined by how you perform. That is not hugely different from the call centre industry.’
He is modest about his achievements at the business, saying, ‘This was a very successful company before I arrived. I joined because I felt I could add value.’ Sales figures show he has done just that.
In 2008, The Listening Company had sales of £51 million, but two years of consecutive growth saw it record £82 million in sales in 2010. And having Dallaglio on its side doesn’t seem to have done the company’s reputation any harm.
Giving it away
Letting customers decide how much they pay for your product might not sound like a successful business strategy, but as a publicity stunt it’s extremely effective. It certainly created a positive buzz around the Little Bay Restaurant in Farringdon, London.
The promotion meant diners were asked to pay what they thought the food was worth. Founder Peter Ilic’s promotion garnered huge amounts of TV and press coverage, and attracted over 10,000 diners.
‘I believe Little Bay is one of the best [restaurants] for value for money,’ he says. ‘I would give people anything free to have the restaurant full.’
Following the acquisition of several brands between 2007 and 2009, Piers Linney’s mobile phone company, Genesis Communications, underwent a complete rebrand. The company name changed to Outsourcery and was aligned with a stronger brand image. A new website was launched too.
‘It really stands out from the crowd,’ says Linney, who is joint CEO of the new look business. ‘What attracts customers are the solutions and that it’s a much more professional looking brand.’
Today, Outsourcery has a large customer base. Linney adds: ‘My advice would be don’t be afraid to get some external objective assistance and be bold about it.’