4 Keys to a Killer Marketing Stunt

Posted by Eric Murphy on July 28, 2014
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Unexpected, awesome experiences that cut through the usual marketing “noise” by entertaining and surprising us. Sure, we love the traditional press hits, but a great stunt also turns real-life consumers into an army of trusted brand ambassadors who share their impressions via tweets, photos, videos, etc.  

Technology, the internet, and social media specifically, have given us the ability to amplify our experiences (and brand preferences) faster and with more authenticity. In the past few years, we’ve seen more brands roll the dice in an effort to benefit from our proclivity to share online. Some have been incredibly successful and entertaining. Others, well not so much.

One of our specialties at Pop2Life is creating wowing, successful marketing stunts like the blood-red fountains we unleashed on 14 cities to promote Season 2 of Showtime’s hit show, Dexter or the recent world-record setting, spinning vinyl record that announced the relaunch of LA’s iconic Forum in late 2013. And the question we always get asked by clients is this one:

“What’s the secret ingredient to making a marketing stunt truly successful? ”

Because it does sometimes feel like capturing lightning in a bottle. So, here's my two cents on the key ingredients to a killer marketing stunt:

1. Make the impossible possible

Yes, that sounds impossible. Trust me, it often feels like it is. Take for instance the Forum stunt we did earlier this year. We conceived the idea and had just 45 days to pull off a stunt that would relaunch this legendary venue and send a clear message that the Forum is back, bigger and better than ever, and committed to being the best live music venue in Southern California.

When we told the client that we wanted to put a 250,000 square foot vinyl replica of The Eagles’ iconic Hotel California record on the Forum roof—and have it actually spin, they thought we were nuts... and loved us for it.  

20,000 man-hours, 15,000 LED lights, and 1 mile of aluminum truss later… we had this—the world’s largest vinyl record—407 feet in diameter, wind resistant up to 80mph, with an “announcement” as tall as the HOLLYWOOD Sign (oh and did we mention The Forum sits right in the flight path for all arriving flights into LAX? - Just 2.5 miles from the airport.  1700 arriving flights per day)

2. Sweat every detail

I once heard a story of a hotelier who would do pre-opening inspections of the “model room” with what you might call a "microscopic-toothed comb.” He would literally stop to assess the wattage of a lightbulb; the placement of a table; the precision of a folded towel. 

As crazy as this may sound, the explanation he provided for this deep dive into every little detail is brilliant: “People may not notice every little detail; but they will absolutely notice what's missing.”

When National Geographic wanted to do something "stunty" (but classy) to promote an upcoming movie event about the assassination of JFK (the air date coincided with the 50th anniversary), our "Killing Kennedy" Newsstands were a huge hit and it was the details that really made it come to life. 

Along with displaying all of the original, classic JFK magazine covers, everything was reminiscent of a 1963 newsstand including the gum, candy and cigarette packaging (designed and created by hand); postcards; actors that were styled and outfitted to fit the era; and re-prints of the original newspapers that came out the day after the assassination.  

The Nat Geo branding and tune-in info was just enough to make the impression, but did not overwhelm (and ruin) the experience. The movie ended up being the most watched show in the history of the network. Details may seem like just “small things,” but they have a huge impact on the success or failure of a marketing stunt

3. Be dead honest with clients

Does this sound familiar?: You present an outstanding idea for a marketing stunt to your client. They love it initially, but soon they ask you to “make the logo bigger” or cut down on what appears to be a “trivial” element that might not “deliver ROI.”

So you compromise (to keep them happy). And before you know it, a powerful idea gets totally watered down. This happens all the time in our industry. It’s frustrating, and yet, it’s a reality. And how you approach it can make all the difference between a stellar stunt and an average one.

When we embarked on the Forum roof-top record project, we ran into several of these types of client/agency wrestling matches. To name a few:

  • “Let’s make the record label say The Forum is back! with some upcoming concert dates.”
  • “Wouldn’t it be much less costly—and less risky—to pull this off if the record didn’t spin?”

When I put myself in the client’s shoes, both of these suggestions make sense.

But I’d have done them a massive disservice if I hadn’t gone to the mat over them, because I knew in my gut that the key to this being a truly remarkable, share-worthy stunt was making it as authentic as possible. Which meant a real record label on a real vinyl record that could actually spin.

Anything short of that and this wouldn't have been stunt—it would have been a billboard.

4. A stunt can tell a story

The deluge of information that comes at us on an average day has truly created an "attention span crisis." Goldfish literally have longer attention spans than humans do*, which is why I can’t help chuckling a little when I hear a marketer talk about the importance of “capturing mindshare.”

The way I see it, “capturing mindshare" is no longer effective. Not only are we really good at tuning out unwanted noise (i.e. marketing!), but our brains are wired to ignore, discard or forget information that lacks context and emotion.

You know what we do remember really well? Stories.

Humans have been telling, sharing, and loving stories for centuries. We do it all day long—in person, on Facebook, over the phone, etc. We love stories, because by nature, they deliver the context and the emotion that creates a lasting memory; a real connection between people, places, and things (including brands).

Which is why I believe storytelling is a critical part.

Take for example, this one: 

Like any good story, Push to Add Drama had a clear beginning, a middle, and an end. It had action, drama, a bit of mystery, and a clear “message” woven throughout the experience—a true story narrative, so to speak. Best of all, Push to Add Drama made the audience essential to creating the story. The whole stunt literally can't happen until someone (the ‘protagonist’) pushes that little red button.

So there you have it. Four little ingredients to cook up a killer stunt. Now go forth. Do something impossible. Sweat a few million details. Tell the Emperor you can see through his new pants.... and if you get stuck along the way, give me a shout @eric2murphy.

*The human attention span is on average, 11% shorter than that of a goldfish’s attention span (8 and 9 seconds, respectively)


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Topics: experiential marketing, stunts, go beyond, experiences

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