The transformative power of PR stunts

Blizzard Entertainment grabbed a lot of attention by putting a giant axe in a New York taxi. Big stunts have done wonders for some other brands, too.

Blizzard Entertainment’s recent PR stunt involving a giant battle axe and a New York City taxi follows a long line of campaigns that have made the seemingly nerdy appear unquestionably cool. Lots of seemingly boring or uncool activities have benefited from clever PR stunts, and here are five of the best examples.

1. Blizzard’s battle-hardened cab

Passersby saw a 15-foot battle axe was seen piercing the roof of a New York cab in Times Square last month. It was a promotion for “Warlords of Draenor,” the new “World of Warcraft” expansion. Whichever way you cut it, “World of Warcraft” is not “cool.” It just ain’t. It’s extremely popular; the massively multiplayer online role-playing game was brilliantly satirised by Comedy Central’s “South Park and went viral on YouTube when rogue agent Leeroy Jenkins abandoned his team’s carefully calculated strategy in a move that resulted in instant slaughter. People seem to be laughing at players at times. Blizzard’s latest PR stunt was very cool, however. Sure, most passersby probably didn’t recognise the axe as the legendary axe wielded by orc father and son team Grom Hellscream and Garrosh, but that didn’t matter. The people who play the game got it. For those who didn’t, there was a 15-foot axe sticking out of a cab. That’s worth a second glance at least, and maybe even a trip to buy the game itself.

2. Taylor Herring’s dragon skull

London-based PR firm Taylor Herring has also made waves. Gearing up for the release of “Game of Thrones” season three on Blinkbox, an online streaming service, the agency placed a 40-foot dragon skull on Charmouth beach, a location strategically selected for its history of unearthing prehistoric fossils. Like Blizzard’s campaign, Taylor Herring’s offering showed a real respect for its audience. It drew direct inspiration from “Game of Thrones” season one and the scene in which Arya Stark stumbles across dragons skulls in the castle dungeon.

The stunt skull was deliberately left unbranded, with mini Blinkbox flags placed in nearby sandcastles the only clue as to its origin. A bold move for sure, but one that paid dividends with huge media impressions. The most impressive statistic from a long list of enviable achievements: On the day “Game of Thrones” season three arrived on Blinkbox, the service saw a 623% year revenue hike.

3. Extreme Scrabble

To my mind, Scrabble represents the height of cool, or at least Extreme Scrabble does. Extreme Scrabble has seen people play in the company of lions, alligators, sharks and even while skydiving.

Extreme Scrabble was conceived of by die-hard fans, who, in 2008, on the 60th anniversary year of the board game, decided to go to extreme lengths to show the enduring appeal of the game. From a marketing point of view, the potential pitfall of Scrabble is that the game is largely unchanging. Putting it in a new context can grab attention, though.

4. The Big Bird Race

Hiding in bushes with a pair of binoculars for company, birdwatchers are a subculture not immediately associated with coolness. Nor is their cause helped by a lexicon which boasts “tits,” “peckers” and “redbreasts.” You didn’t need to be an enthusiast to appreciate the ingenuity of online betting site Ladbrokes’ Big Bird Race in 2004. In what was dubbed the “ultimate flutter,” Ladbrokes boosted the profile of bird and bookie alike when it staged an Albatross race across the Southern Ocean. Gamblers were able to bet on which of the 17 electronically tagged competitors would win the race, a feat eventually managed by a Tasmanian shy albatross named Aphrodite.

More than mere publicity stunt, the choice of the endangered albatross was not incidental and all proceeds from the event were donated to the Save the Albatross campaign. Conservation is definitely cool.

5. The director of fun

Timetables, anoraks and platform numbers bear little resemblance to most people’s definition of fun, but hey, whatever floats your boat, or in this case, powers your train. Conscious perhaps of a less-than-cool image, The National Railway Museum in the UK took the inspired step of appointing 6-year-old Sam Pointon as its “director of fun.” Outlining his credentials, Sam wrote on his application that: “I have an electric train track. I am good on my train track. I can control two trains at once.” The rest, as they say, is history. (Image via)

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