Entrepreneurs are often shameless self-promoters - and in many cases they don't have much choice! Promoting something nobody's heard of, with little money to work with, can lead to astounding creativity.
To show the lengths that some founders will go to, we've compiled a list of some of the craziest entrepreneurial PR stunts in history. It might even give you some inspiration for your next campaign!
1. Why not give the Mayor of New York a pony?
Definitely winner for most random publicity stunt - the founder and ex-CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason, had the hair-brained idea of giving Mayor Bloomberg of New York a pony as a present. His explanation: "I mean, it's such a heavy thing to gift someone. I thought it would be funny to give it to somebody as busy as the mayor." Why, of course!
But despite the good intentions, Spice (the pony) never actually exchanged hands, with Mason discovering minutes before the meeting that the mayor's daughter had recently been in a riding incident. Following a brief panic, poor Spice missed her moment in the spotlight, instead spending the meeting in the freight elevator!
2. Drive a tank around the Bank of England
Scottish craft beer brand Brewdog isn't scared of a spot of controversy. Once describing itself as "post-punk, apocalyptic, motherfucker of a craft brewery", its range of beers includes names such as Dead Pony Club and Speedball - to name just two!
So when the brand's founders, James Watt and Martin Dickie, launched their new crowdfunding campaign, 'Equity for Punks', a simple press release wasn't going to cut it.
Instead, the duo hired a full-sized army tank, which they proceeded to drive around the Bank of England, with a crowd of beer fans in tow. Unsurprisingly, they reached their funding target of £4m in no time!
3. Launch a breakfast cereal on the side
In the early days of Airbnb, founders Joe Gabbana and Brian Chesky found brief success capitalising on the 2008 presidential elections, offering accommodation to delegates at the Democratic National Convention.
Thinking they had their market cracked, they were desperate to capitalise on the situation, eventually coming up with an ingenious solution – breakfast cereal inspired by the two presidential candidates.
Cleverly named 'Obama O's' (the breakfast of change) and 'Cap'n McCain's' (a maverick in every bite), the cereals were an unlikely hit with the media and public, selling for an outrageous $40 per box. But, far from a mere publicity stunt, Gabbana and Chesky ended up making $30,000 from the venture, giving them the boost they needed to keep their fledgling accommodation business afloat.
4. Stage a fake protest… and get the police involved
Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, is known for his outlandish guerrilla marketing tactics – otherwise known as annoying the hell out of the competition!
A prime example was back in 2005, when Benioff hired fake protestors and a television crew to cause a scene at the annual conference of arch-rival, Siebel.
Holding placards with slogans such as "The Internet is really neat … Software is obsolete!" the protest so infuriated Siebel that they called the police. Needless to say the media lapped it up, much to the delight of Benioff.
5. Learn from the master
Last but definitely not least, the undisputed king of publicity stunts, Richard Branson has done it all. From bungee jumping off a Las Vegas casino to launch Virgin America, to donning a wedding dress for Virgin Brides, there's nothing Branson won't do to promote his beloved brands.
But the most outlandish of the lot has to be when Branson teamed up with adventurer Per Lindstrand to set the world record for crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon - later doing the same over the Pacific.
In a stunt which finished with both men being rescued from the freezing Irish Sea, it's certainly an extreme way to gain publicity. But as Branson himself put it: "We needed to come up with fun ways of promoting the airline, getting Virgin on the map."
And in that, I think we'll all agree he succeeded!
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- 02 October 20201 minute read
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