marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Outrageous Marketing Stunts by the Clueless

Over the course of lunch, I overheard a marketing professional discuss how he needed an outrageous marketing stunt to be successful. The belief was that the stunt would generate a ton of publicity and people would flock to his website. "What short sighted thinking," I muttered to my colleague. "Who would notice, and what would people do when they got to his website?" Sometimes overeager marketers simply grasp at 'standout marketing' without a clue.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a publicity stunt, and they can indeed draw an audience. Heck, I ran marketing for a startup that grew from 254 Google search results to 44,000 results in a less than a week. My team leveraged an outrageous stunt on the stage of an AlwaysOn Hollywood event to hit those numbers. The more outrageous the stunt, the more attention you might grab. But what is the quality of that attention and how does that translate to users or sales?

A few outrageous stunts that come to mind are: the Aqua Teen Hunger Force blinky lights marketing campaign, the woman who tattooed her forehead for a casino, the Tokbox taco truck with free tacos for laid off Yahoo employees, and the giveaway of the Pontiac G6 on Oprah. Each was an interesting and somewhat outrageous marketing stunt, but all yielded mixed results.

To clarify my point, some additional facts are in order. The Aqua Teen Hunger force campaign ran in 10 cities, with little to any market buzz until it shut down the Boston Airport. How many of you cared enough, even after the buzz, to watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force for the first time? The woman who tattooed her forehead got a permanent tattoo and was paid only $10,000. Do any of you remember the woman, what casino sponsored it, or visited that casino? Tokbox, who did the taco truck promotion seven months ago, recently let go 50% of it's workforce, and all the founders left, so it's not clear what the gains were there. The car giveaway on Oprah was a big success for Oprah, but it was Pontiac's idea (no one gave them credit), no one remembers that the car was a G6, and Pontiac is being closed as a division of GM. Looks like memorable stunts that didn't do the job in these cases.

So what's wrong with outrageous stunts? Nothing, but the context, goals, and audience need to be aligned to make the sure the stunt even has a chance at yielding returns. In each of the above examples, the stunts were memorable, but not in ways that increased brand goodwill, drove the right kinds of customers or audience, or yielded leveragable attention.

Just being outrageous may make your memorable, but that's not really the point, is it? As much fame and notoriety you may get for the marketing stunt, you still have to drive adoption, registrations, and/or sales. A stunt for visibility sake is no guarantee of success.

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