Brand Experience Report 2014: The rise of PR stunts

The second instalment of Event's Brand Experience Report 2014 looks at the rise of PR stunts, following the phenomenally successful Ice Bucket Challenge this summer.

Ice Bucket Challenge: does it point to a rise in PR stunts or is it an old tactic benefitting from social media amplification?
Ice Bucket Challenge: does it point to a rise in PR stunts or is it an old tactic benefitting from social media amplification?

The summer of 2014 will be remembered in the UK as one of the hottest on record, yet few would have imagined that respite would have come in the form of an icy cold bucket dousing, filmed and streamed by millions across social media sites. The ease with which the Ice Bucket Challenge made its way across the web is well documented, but does it point to a rise in PR stunts or is this just an old tactic benefitting from social media amplification?

Stunts have always been a part of humans’ lives argues TRO’s managing director Michael Wyrley Birch. "We’ve always liked that element of surprise and we love to be entertained. The only difference now is we’ve got social media to spread it far more widely."

Sally Gill, business development manager at Vision Nine agrees: "PR stunts have been around under different guises for centuries. As technology becomes more powerful it will only create more possibilities to create noise in innovative ways. Short form branded content currently seems to be the prime vehicle for these stunts, and is often linked to an experiential element. It seems fair to say that the PR stunt is here to stay and is becoming an even more integrated part of brand campaigns."

Agency pressures

Indeed, the speed and reach of the Ice Bucket Challenge had many an agency feeling the client pressure as brands sought to emulate such a far-reaching stunt. Because chief executive Sharon Richey believes marketing agencies around the globe are looking to emulate that ripple effect but warns that brands are at greatest risk by mimicking a tactic that was ultimately about fundraising. "What was special about Ice Bucket Challenge is that it was for a good cause. When a brand tries to do something, they’re obviously monetising it, so it might not take off as much, as people might find the commercial angle off-putting".


Authenticity is key to this, particularly as the nature of these stunts is that they are rather short-lived. "If you can create something genuine and theatrical, which a stunt needs to be, and if it creates content that people want to share, you’ve really hit the nail on the head," says Avantgarde’s managing director Stuart Bradbury. However, he warns: "I think the days of when T-Mobile did something in Trafalgar Square, when Pink appeared and sung with the crowd, are over. You wouldn't get away with that these days because people see that’s been prearranged, and actually it isn't really a stunt." 

Trends for 2015

Nonetheless, these stunts – whether facilitated by social media or not – are en vogue and will remain so for 2015. Ben Reed, director of House of Experience, Big Cat Group’s experiential division, believes PR stunts are experiential events in their own right: "The planning, insight and delivery of a successful stunt follows the same creative and activation processes and resource as running a traditional experiential event."

It is a view endorsed by FreemanXP’s senior vice president international Kim Myhre: "PR stunts are one of the increasing numbers of experience marketing tactics. Applied in a way that engages an audience whilst re-enforcing the brand, PR stunts can be an effective way of cutting through the clutter. As brands look for ways of increasing live brand interaction, I expect we’ll see many more gorilla, pop-up and performance-based experience marketing tactics emerge."

And Richard Vincent, head of consumer, Jack Morton Worldwide concludes: "Stunts are another part of the toolkit. When you think about consumers, they want great experiences, they want things to get involved with and they want to create their own content and publish it too. Therefore if stunt ideas can tap into some of those elements and some of those motivations they are always going to have a place.

"It’s interesting to see how quickly the Ice Bucket Challenge went from being exciting and wonderful to being slightly annoying, and how it wore out. But I think the desire to get involved with ideas and initiatives and create your own version of content is simply part of where we are now, and it will be part of the future."

To download Event's table of experiential agencies click here.

Event's Brand Experience Report 2014
In association with Vivid Interface, Event's first Brand Experience Report 2014 provides an in-depth analysis into the world of experiential, with analysis on the pitch process, budgets, lead times, payment terms, recruitment and event associations. 

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