5 examples of publicity stunts that went terribly wrong

Every marketer has the same exact dream: the one where their marketing campaign goes completely through the roof. To create such a moment where everything comes together perfectly and the number of product sales absolutely explode. But we all know what the saying is, right? Be careful what you wish for…

When it comes to publicity stunts, there seems to be a very thin line between huge success and incredible failure. A lot of brands are willing to take that risk in order to attract attention from potential customers. But what are the consequences of it going wrong? To find out, we compiled a list of some very ambitious PR stunts that went terribly wrong.

Build-A-Bear

Build-A-Bear

Build-A-Bear, a seller of teddy bears and other stuffed animals, experienced how a seemingly great PR stunt completely backfired on them. The concept initially seemed very well thought out. The brand ran an in-store promotion called “Pay Your Age”. This means that if your child at the time was 5 years old, you would only have to pay 5 bucks for the bear. Sounds great right?

Little did Build-A-Bear know that this idea would blow up so quickly. The campaign went viral almost instantly, which made hundreds of people go to the mall at the same time. The waiting lines were up to 8 hours! Build-A-Bear had to come up with a solution to this and eventually decided to turn away all new guests. Customers were given a voucher with a worth of 15 dollars, which obviously didn’t quite make up for the damage that had already been done.

Snapple

Snapple

Snapple also had a very ambitious plan to get some publicity. Their idea was to make the largest popsicle ever in the middle of New York City. The gigantic popsicle was transported by freezer truck to Union Square. Shortly after, the popsicle started melting.

This had some very serious consequences. First, the sticky liquid started flowing onto East 17th Street. Later on, the fire department had to come in and the police department shut down multiple streets. Can you imagine the mess?

The South Australian Government

The South Australian Government

Yes, even governments have tried their hands in some publicity stunts. Back in 2011 the South Australian government thought it was a great idea to send out a bunch of goldfish to media executives in order to promote a tour by Advantage SA. Each fishbowl was signed with the following line: “Be a big fish in a small pond and come and test the water.”

Sounds clever, right? It would have been, had the 55 goldfish actually survived the stunt. Even though the fish were provided with plenty of food, the bad quality of the water resulted in 55 goldfish being dead upon arrival.

The American Department of Defense

The American Department of Defense

Another PR stunt by a part of the government. Back in 2009, the Department of Defense let a Boeing 747 circle very low close to the part of Manhattan that had been hit on 9/11. The plane was accompanied by two F-16 fighters, no less, so Air Force photographers were able to make some cool pictures.

Obviously this lead to a lot of panic, fear and furious reactions, as this flyover was not publicly announced. A couple of buildings in Manhattan even were evacuate. President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that the president was “furious”. The White House issued an apology later on.

Sony

Sony

When Sony first released the PSP (Portable Playstation) to the public, they decide to toot their own horn. To create a buzz, they made a fake ‘fan blog’. This blog posted very enthusiastically about the console and posted a couple of vlogs about the new product. In one of the videos somebody even rapped about the product.

A couple of gamers didn’t think the blog was trustworthy and found out that the blog was registered by a known viral marketing company, Zipatoni. Sony fans were very critical of this and criticized the brand online.

Did we miss any epic failures when it comes to publicity stunts? Let us know in the comments!