Marketing Stunts: The Risks and Rewards You Need to Consider
Risk is crucial to the success of any startup. If you’re not disrupting the marketplace in some way, you'll find your likelihood of long-term survival pretty darn slim.
The same logic holds true for marketing stunts: Some of the best have also been some of the riskiest. My own company, ASTRSK, for example, created a campaign for the meal delivery service, HelloFresh, which urged people to submit photos of fast-food receipts in exchange for the equivalent value in free, ready-to-prepare, healthy food.
The move was, no doubt, financially risky for HelloFresh, but news outlets picked up the story, and the company received a great deal of positive publicity.
While hedging your bets and using some restraint are important considerations, you'll find that taking a little risk with your marketing efforts can do wonders for your startup. But before you jump in, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Does the stunt resonate with my brand?
Your stunt should always feel like an extension of your brand’s voice. If it doesn’t, you could be sacrificing major brand equity in exchange for cheap attention. As with any marketing campaign, think long-term about the attention you’ll get from the stunt, because it could stick with you for years to come.
HelloFresh’s stunt, for example, spoke directly to the company’s overall mission: providing a convenient option that helps families eat healthier meals. If your brand prides itself on being different from everyone else, base your stunt on doing the exact opposite of what your competition is doing. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you stay consistent to the brand identity you’ve already developed.
2. Will the stunt offend my target consumers?
You can’t always please everyone, and trying to do so will only prevent you from ever attempting a marketing stunt. That said, you definitely don’t want to offend large groups of people -- especially if they’re your target market. That could cost you your entire business.
At 2012’s South by Southwest festival, BBH Labs pulled off a questionable stunt by hiring 13 homeless people to wear Wi-Fi modems and T-shirts that designated them as 4G hotspots. Needless to say, this stunt fell flat, and the backlash was immediate and powerful. BBH Labs will never live this one down.
Cultural sensitivity is an absolute must. Before attempting any stunt, look at it from all angles and make sure you’re not doing something regrettable. With the hyper-connectivity of today’s consumers, your insensitivity could quickly go viral -- something you may never recover from. Your stunt should be something you’re willing to personally stand behind and defend.
3. Can my business handle the stunt?
Any smart publicity stunt has the potential to gain major traction for a brand, but not every brand is in the position to take this risk. If your entire business is riding on the stunt, you should probably think twice before doing it. There are just too many variables to say you’re guaranteed to reap positive rewards from it. You should always be prepared for -- and able to shoulder -- unfavorable outcomes.
Don’t take money from proven marketing channels to finance your stunt. It should come from a separate line item in your marketing budget because the ROI is highly uncertain. For any stunt to be successful, you need to have access to plenty of time and capital to pull it off. Again, look at it from all angles to make sure your company is ready and able to take it on. If not, stay patient, and keep brainstorming.
Everything you do as a brand needs to be in partnership with your voice, your values and your mission. Your marketing stunts are no exception. Ask yourself these three questions before embarking on this high-risk, high-reward endeavor. If the light stays green, you will reap big rewards.
Elliot Tomaeno is the founder of Astrsk, a New York PR firm that works with both emerging and established technology companies. Tomaeno has worked with companies such as Squarespace, Frank & Oak, Trello, QuizUp, ClassPass, PHHHOTO, Zola and many more. Since launching in 2012, Astrsk has helped launch more than 150 startups and tech products and has been part of seven exits.