3. Company: Vodafone
Year of the Stunt: 2002
The Stunt: At a rugby match between New Zealand and Australia, two streakers interrupted the game, wearing nothing but the Vodafone logo.
What Happened Next: The police got involved, arresting the streakers before the game was over. Sure, there was a lot of attention and publicity from the media, and if you feel that even bad publicity is good publicity, then consider exposing your company by having somebody expose themselves. Just know that Grahame Maher, one of the CEOs of Vodafone, an international telecommunications company, was forced to apologize for encouraging these two guys to streak through the game--and thus break the law. The company also ended up donating $30,000 pounds to a nonprofit campaign aimed at reducing sports injuries.
The Lesson: If you have to break a law to pull off your marketing stunt, it's probably not a good idea. In fact, it's not a bad idea to consider the law even if you aren't breaking it. Paramount Pictures learned that the hard way earlier this year when it teamed up with the Los Angeles Times to rig 4,500 randomly selected newspaper boxes around the city. Unwitting customers paid for the paper and opened the rack, unaware that the Mission: Impossible theme song was about to start playing. It sounds harmless enough, but the machinery that played the music had red wires stuck out of it and looked like an explosive device. A bomb squad was called in at one location and actually blew up a newsrack before learning what was really going on.
4. Company: Sony
Year of the Stunt: 2005
The Stunt: Sony had graffiti artists design--and spray paint--various pictures of their PlayStation Portable at several locations around New York City.
What Happened Next: Many people hated the look of the ads--after all, who wants graffiti in a city--and others saw it as a blatant attempt to be cool, or to get cheap labor from struggling teenagers. An online petition was started with comments like, "Stop cynically exploiting graffiti artists." Another declared, "I will never buy a Sony product again."
The Lesson: If you don't have street credentials, really examine whether you have any chance of getting any. If something about your company or brand doesn't have it, it might be worth living with that.
5. Company: Pontiac
Year of the Stunt: 2004
The Stunt: Oprah Winfrey gave away a Pontiac to each member of her studio audience- her entire audience - for free one day.
What Happened Next: Sure, the audience members were thrilled and the marketing stunt made news in all corners of the world. But advertising experts have argued that the real winner of this marketing stunt was Oprah - not the car manufacturer. Who actually today remembers that the car given away was a Pontiac G6 sedan--or even that it was a Pontiac? Everybody was applauding Oprah Winfrey for her generosity, but not Pontiac, which had come up with the idea for the giveaway. And there was some bad publicity, too: The winners were upset when they had to pay a huge tax bill for their gift. And for those who did pay attention and try to buy a Pontiac G6 in the immediate media aftermath, the new sedan wasn't yet available at many dealerships.
The Lesson: There's plenty to chew on, but certainly one lesson is that while it can be useful to partner with a bigger entity than yourself--see SonicYoga.com--if you partner with somebody really big, every time you're in the same room, you might find that you're not getting any time in the spotlight and you've simply become a prop.