A poster site covered with £5 notes, a vertical football pitch and a 22-foot condom: advertising stunts are nothing new. But, as the advertising environment becomes more cluttered and consumers get more inured to attempts to grab their attention, brands are looking for increasingly dramatic ways to make a splash. But are one-off events all that effective and what do they contribute to long-term brand-building?
Enyi Nwosu, the managing partner of TBWA\Connections, believes stunts can be effective, but adds: "You have to be very clear about what you want to get out of them. They can really work simply to get people talking about your brand."
This was certainly the case last week for London's Elephant & Castle and the property developer Oakmayne Properties. A stunt masterminded by the ad agency BLAC saw £1,000-worth of £5 notes stuck to a poster in the area. Passers-by were invited to peel the money off and keep it. Underneath the money, the poster read: "You want to make a real investment? Invest in Elephant & Castle."
The event triggered national newspaper and TV coverage, and Oakmayne has already received interest from investors.
"If it gets people thinking about putting money into the area, then it's job done. There will be an impressive return on investment for something that only cost £1,000," Nwosu says.
This is all very well for a new brand looking for a big bang for its tiny buck, but what about established brands? They can exploit stunt advertising too, Chris Arnold, BLAC's executive creative director, reckons. It's not just about coming up with an off-the-wall idea. There has to be a plan, and it has to work with the rest of the communications.
"A stunt can show a brand is active and in tune with its audience. People don't want stuffy brands and stuffy communications. Stunts shake things up a bit," Arnold says.
Not everyone is so positive.
Mark Whelan, the creative director of Cake Media, argues that most stunts raise the advert-ising agency's profile higher than the brand's. "Advertising stunts are a five-minute wonder; they get a nine out of ten for self-indulgence.
The returns are diminishing, and I think agencies are reluctant to take that kind of risk with the client's money," he says.
John Carver, a co-founder of the brand-experience agency Cunning, which recently dropped the "Stunts" part of its name, also sees a declining role for such activity. "Stunts are a dying trend," he says.
And stunts can easily backfire. The Conservative leadership candidate David Davies hired several buxom women to parade around the recent Tory Party conference with "DD" emblazoned on their chests. He was attacked for being sexist and received pages of negative publicity.
Finally, a successful stunt demands a certain amount of luck. As the Interbrand chairman, Rita Clifton, points out, you have to hope journalists have nothing better to write about that day.
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CONTENT EXPERT - Mark Whelan, creative director, Cake Media
"If I were a client, I would ask myself two questions. One: seeing as it's usually the people behind the stunt who get more press than the client, is the stunt going to promote the ad agency rather than the brand? Two: as far as passing traffic goes, there is no pay-back, so will the stunt get written about? The answer is generally no. Unless stunts are pretty spectacular, no-one wants to write about them nowadays. It's all been done before."
BRANDING EXPERT - Rita Clifton, chairwoman, Interbrand
"How efficient stunt advertising is depends on three things. One, how good the stunt is - you need to think of a cracking idea that builds people's confidence; two, how relevant and integrated the stunt is with the brand; and three, luck. If it is a crowded news day, the advertising just won't get the press it's looking for.
"However, in an environment where it is becoming more and more difficult to reach the target audience, stunt advertising can be a success, particularly when trying to reach young people who are looking for the next thrill or the next innovation."
PLANNER - Neil Dawson, executive planning director, TBWA\London
"Random stunts can create notoriety for a brand, but they don't do much in the long term. The best brands create events, or moments, that touch their consumers. They give an opportunity for the brand to show it is behaving as it is expected to. They can work if they are part of the overall brand picture and fit with the brand's overall strategy and idea."
CLIENT - Guy Carling, marketing director, Red Bull UK
"I don't believe stunt advertising is an effective tool unless it's part of an overall brand strategy and communicates long-term, credible and engaging consumer messages. There is a significant difference between genuine brand 'events' and mere stunts, which are generally short-termist, and employed for their shock value.
"Stunt advertising can fail if a brand undertakes an activity that doesn't align with its core values. Consumers can be shocked into noticing the stunt, but if it does not ring true to the product, then it won't build long-term sales or brand loyalty."