4 Marketing Stunts That Worked…and 3 That Didn’t

Learning from the great, and the not so great.

Publicity stunts aren’t exactly new to the marketing scene. Companies big and small, all over the world use them to get attention, new clients, and increased income. They’re becoming more and more common in our world of constant advertisement exposure, which means they’re also becoming more difficult to pull off.

So how are companies still making them work?

The Genres of Marketing Stunts

In order to make a PR stunt work, you need a solid plan. That often means deciding exactly how you’re going to create this stunt. This has led to a sort of formation of genres in the marketing stunt scene. Some of these genres include:

But just because you have a plan doesn’t mean the risk will give you a reward. Unfortunately, some companies had to learn the hard way that the risk didn’t balance out the reward.

Let’s review some of the marketing stunts that worked, some that fell flat, and what we can take away from them. (You may even find ideas that are right for your marketing strategy.)

Eggos and Stranger Things

If you’re a fan of Netflix, chances are you’ve at least heard of Stranger Things. The Netflix original series, which hit TVs in the Summer of 2016, follows a series of pre-teens trying to solve the mystery of their lost friend (I won’t go through the whole synopsis as it’s a little complicated). One of the staples of the show is Eggos’ frozen waffles, so it’s no wonder that the brand decided to capitalize on that.

Kellogg’s, who makes Eggos, worked with Stranger Things and sent out a series of tweets to them during the season 2 premiere. One such tweet, pictured below, made a play on “The Upside Down,” a big part of the plot of season 1.

Eggos tweet

The tweet got thousands of likes and retweets and was a great example of cross-promotion.

What Can We Learn?

Use pop culture! While it obviously helps that the Eggos brand was featured on the show, using pop culture can still help your promotions get more reach. It can help you reach parts of a crowd that you might not be seeing engagement from. Plus, it always helps to stay current with our constant access to social media and its many changes.

The Snapple Popsicle

In 2005, drink company Snapple planned a huge (literally) marketing stunt. They decided to make the world’s largest popsicle, out of Snapple of course, in Manhattan. Unfortunately for them, the warm, sunny weather made the popsicle melt before they could even stand it upright. Soon enough, the streets of Union Square were covered in sticky, strawberry kiwi juice.

This stunt was created to promote Snapple’s new line of frozen options but ended up sending spectators running, and closing down streets while they were hosed down.


What Can We Learn?

Well, for one, to check the weather before building a giant popsicle! In all seriousness though, marketing stunts as big as these need planning. A LOT of planning. So while this wasn’t necessarily a bad idea to get attention and traffic to their website, it seems like just a little more planning could’ve saved a lot of money (and the streets of Manhattan too).

Starbucks Car Roof Coffees

During the 2005 holiday season, Starbucks pulled a PR stunt by putting large cups of their coffee on the roof of cars and having these cars drive around busy streets. If anyone stopped the drivers to inform them, they were given a $5 Starbucks gift card. This was a way to reward consumers for showing kindness.

This ended up being a good PR move for Starbucks, as it not only promoted being a good Samaritan, but it also provided a way to get more customer traffic into their stores. Additionally, it gave them some more public views as the cups drove around busy streets full of people.

Starbucks cup in a car

What Can We Learn?

Sometimes small promotions lead to big results. After all, Starbucks is a major coffee provider, and it’s probably no surprise to see one of their easily recognizable cups on the roof of a car. But the real effect of this stunt was the reward for something that might be such a small effort to put forth. So don’t always feel like you’ve got to go big to promote a product or your brand, because a simple plan can work wonders.

KFC’s Coupon Fiasco

In 2009, chain restaurant Kentucky Fried Chicken teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to promote their new grilled chicken. This started with Oprah announcing on her talk show that customers could go to Oprah.com and download a coupon, only available for 24 hours. The coupon entitled a customer to a free 2-piece grilled chicken meal with 2 sides and a biscuit.

However, when customers flooded their local KFC stores, it was clear the supply couldn’t handle the demand. Many customers were turned away as stores ran out of chicken. Others weren’t able to download the coupon because of all the traffic to Oprah’s website. Some stores even stopped accepting the coupons altogether. This caused plenty of upset with KFC customers who felt they were cheated of a free meal.

KFC coupon

What Can We Learn?

Much like the Snapple popsicle disaster, it seems like poor planning contributed to this poor ending. And while that may be true, many of these limited time offers don’t anticipate just how much bandwidth they really need (take the Build-A-Bear “Pay your age day” for example). So what can we learn? Make sure your company, no matter how big or small, has the resources to make your promotion a successful one.

Domino’s Pizza Tweets

In 2015, Domino’s Pizza began sending out tweets full of nothing but pizza emojis. When customers replied to the tweet with questions, they simply answered them with more pizza emojis. After several of these strange tweets, Domino’s announced that this was part of their new Order AnyWare promotion.

With this new promotion, they said, all you had to do was tweet them a pizza emoji, and you could order a pizza. While it wasn’t that simple as you had to create an account, it was still gained attention. Plenty of customers began replying to their announcement with a pizza emoji in an attempt to try it out for themselves.

Domino's pizza tweet

What Can We Learn?

Domino’s did something that plenty of other companies have done. What is that, you ask? They led up to their announcement with an air of mystery. By tweeting out nothing but pizza emojis, they received attention before they had even shown their real promotion. If you want to gain attention for your latest product, event, etc., try giving some hints or asking your customers what they think your next idea is.

El Pollo Loco Fire

Apparently El Pollo Loco didn’t learn from Snapple’s popsicle disaster, as they set out to break their own world record in 2011. The California based restaurant chain announced that they would create the world’s largest man-made fire. This was a stunt created to promote their flame-grilled chicken.

However, when people came to watch the giant fire, what they were greeted with instead was a commercial shoot. While they did have a large stick that was seemingly going to be set on fire, it was never really lit. To the disappointment of onlookers, a member of the crew placed a brick of charcoal under the stick to imitate smoke.

el pollo loco

What Can We Learn?

So, maybe it wouldn’t have exactly been safe to create that large of a fire without professionals, but El Pollo Loco still ended up losing at the end of the day. This move came across as untrustworthy because many customers felt that they were lied to. So before you decide to plan a publicity stunt, think about your ability to pull it off. If you don’t think it’s possible, it’s probably best to just leave it undone!


Earlier this year, IHOP announced that it was flipping its name around from IHOP to IHOb. It dared its customers to guess what the new letter would stand for. Their Twitter account was flooded with tweets, many from people asking if it was a joke, while others guessed what the b stood for.

Lots of the answers were related to their menu, like Breakfast or Brunch, but soon enough, the real answer was finally revealed. What was it? Burgers.

This confused a lot of people, and many more assumed it was fake. But the chain restaurant stood its ground, maintaining that they were more than just pancakes. In the end, IHOP finally changed their name back and admitted that it was just a PR move to get attention for their new burger additions to the menu.

IHOb tweet

What Can We Learn?

Much like the Domino’s pizza tweets, this generated interest in IHOP for its element of mystery. They received tons of engagement with guesses and questions about the stunt. But it wasn’t just this mystery, IHOP(b) continued to play into this stunt by replacing the letter P with B in many of its tweets leading up to the announcement of what it really meant. It also engaged with users who had questions and guesses on the new letter.

While changing your entire company name might be a bit much for your company, using something small like this to announce a new product or service could make a big difference.

Should You Be Trying Marketing Stunts?

While not every marketing stunt is going to gain national attention and a social media study, there’s something to be said for thinking outside the box. For example, IHOP’s stunt was so shocking that it created a frenzy of engagement, and was even trending on Twitter.

Even if you don’t make it into Twitter moments, finding a creative way to engage new followers, increase traffic to your website, or announce a new product or service can be a helpful move. If you’re not sure where or how to get started, get in contact with us! We can give you advice on how to manage your social media and marketing strategy.

Thoughts or Questions?

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