Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
win some, and you lose some -- sometimes in a very big and public way.
Those of us in our seniority or fans of
rerun TV might recall WKRP's classic publicity stunt:
Thanksgiving shoppers in a department
store parking lot were pelted with live turkeys dropped from a hovering
helicopter. ("I didn't know turkeys couldn't fly!" said a dumbstruck radio marketing wiz.) Talk about a PR bomb.
We don't need to rely on sitcoms for
astonishing marketing hits and misses. The real world provides plenty, thank you
- Taco Bell was
right on target when the Russian space station Mir dropped from the
sky. The company scored a media coup by setting up a bulls-eye in the
Pacific Ocean with the Taco Bell logo dead center, offering a free
taco for each and every American if Mir should hit the mark. Of course
the odds against having to actually pay out were astronomical (sorry).
But the media play on the stunt was wide: network television, and even
a front-page above-the-fold photo of the Taco Bell target in my city
- New Line Cinema received
some critical snorts for plugging its release of the drug-trafficking
movie Blow by handing out small mirrors as a publicity gimmick.
The pocket-size mirrors, perfect for restroom toots of cocaine, did
not reflect well on the company as drug rehabilitators blasted New
Line for its bad taste.
- A Los Angeles bank offered its
customers $10 for every bank error they ever found in their accounts.
This appeal brought in 15-thousand new customers and $65-million in
new deposits within two months. Chances the bank would have to pay a
penny? Next to nil. Publicity payoff? Priceless.
- The Walt Disney Company once upon
a time proposed opening a Civil War theme park in Manassas, Virginia.
Historians were shocked. Locals were livid. Political cartoonists had
a field day with Mickey pilloried on the PR battlefield. Disney,
eventually and costly, bugled retreat. Dumbo-size PR budgets will not
always spare you from publicity blunders.
- A Lithuanian distillery launched
a new brand of spirit sharing a name with Russia's newest president:
Putin Vodka. The company owners deny any link of the vodka with
Vladimir Putin, even though the bottle is emblazoned with the colors
of the Russian flag. The distillery has received tremendous publicity
and is getting even more attention with every denial of the Russian
- The devil is in the denials, which have
long afflicted Procter & Gamble to counter decades of
accusations that the company is tied to Satanism, and its discontinued
man-in-the-moon logo a demonic tribute. P&G ultimately filed suit
against Amway, the alleged source of the bad PR falsehood
motivated by devilish jealousy.
This is hardly a comprehensive list. The
great book of promotional brilliance and blunders is amended daily as
marketing pros ever strive for new ways to catch or dodge the public's
unblinking eye. Stay tuned for more in this ongoing series.
taught MBA and undergraduate marketing
communications courses for colleges and universities in the
United States and abroad for more than a decade, and
developed more than a dozen courses with an
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