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How to Pull a Badass Marketing Stunt

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We owe a thank you to our friends at Red Bull and their Stratos Mission to jump from outer space. With years of investment and research in tow, the brand single-handedly brought the Stunt back into our marketing plans. Now every brand wants their own "jump."

Capturing attention with a dramatic move that writes its own headline is not necessarily new territory in marketing, but it certainly has gotten resurgence in the last year. It seems like every brand wants to jump on the bandwagon and have their moment in the sun, so to speak.

Jello did a stunt of their own earlier in the year. The day after the Super Bowl the brand gave "everyone" in San Francisco (the losing team's city) a sample of Jell-O Pudding. It was a compelling "consolation cup" event that got a lot of buzz.

Some say the recent Rolling Stone cover with the alleged Boston Bomber was merely a stunt to grab headlines and spark conversation, something that the iconic magazine had not enjoyed in quite some time.

So what's the big deal about these stunts?

Keep in mind that it's not so much about who actually sees the stunt itself, but how people talk about it. The stunt is intended to propel the brand into pop culture, to place the brand top-of-mind in a moment in time, and to get people buzzing where they might have otherwise been silent.

Hence one of my favorite stunts of late comes from HBO's Game of Thrones, in which a giant "dragon head" was placed on a beach in the U.K. as though it had been washed up -- a way to generate buzz around the new streaming service of season three.

Now as a small-business owner, you probably can't replicate something of this scale and magnitude. But you can in fact create the same feel. Here are some guidelines:

1. Go for shock value. Do something unexpected that will make people take notice, even for a short amount of time. Stop them in their tracks with something they can share, like an unexpected sampling of your favorite foods in an unexpected place--as in Jell-O's case. Rolling Stone also hit the shock value for sure.

2. Give your customers a way to share. No matter what you do, remember that stunts are made for sharing. So make it easy for people to spread the word, either with a share button or a coupon to give to their friends. The huge social media overlay from Jell-O engaged San Francisco consumers in the massive product give-away, above and beyond those who actually received a free sample that day.

3. Stay true to your brand. Don't do a stunt just to do a stunt. Stay consistent with how you see your brand and only do what makes sense coming from your brand. Even though you may want shock value, it still needs to feel appropriate. The Game of Thrones beachhead was right on target for the fantasy show.

Also remember that scale is important. You don't have to necessarily go big or go home, because "big" is relative. Make it big relative to your business, relative to your customer, enough so that you get them to take notice and share.

Jim Joseph

Written By

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.