Go Big or Go Home: The Art of Marketing Stunts

IKEA, British Airways and State Street Global Advisers know how to get attention that aligns with brand goals.

To stay competitive today, brands must be relentlessly relevant to their customers. And the best way to build relevance is to create meaningful experiences. Marketing stunts, unusual acts designed to attract attention, are one way brands create unique experiences.

A brand interested in creating a marketing stunt must define its goals and make a few important decisions:

  • Clear objectives: Before designing a stunt, a brand must identify its goals. Is it to increase visibility of the brand or product? Change perceptions or drive demand? The answers to these questions will inform the overall experience design.
  • Intended metrics: Some people classify stunts as mere PR tactics—created to attract eyeballs, get impressions and facilitate conversation. (Some can backfire by attracting angry eyeballs. Sorry, North Face). But they can also be demand drivers. What will success look like? How do we measure? For example: Did more consumers purchase? Did we get more people to sign up?
  • Commitment to follow-up: Making a headline will not build brand champions overnight. A brand needs to acknowledge the importance of repeated exposure and engagement with customers following a stunt. Stunts will perk potential customers’ ears, but the brand must be prepared to talk more.

3 Essential Components of Successful Marketing Stunts

A marketing stunt, when done right, becomes a living and breathing moment for a brand. It becomes temporary proof of what your brand does, believes and fits in the world. A marketing stunt done right will:

  1. Creatively tell customers what your brand does.

Recently Ikea, the Swedish interior design retailer, stunted by recreating some of America’s most iconic rooms in its Real Life Series. You’d probably easily recognize “The Simpson’s” family room, Monica Geller and the “Friends” apartment and the “Stranger Things” living room. Ikea cleverly displayed its offering of functional products that fill rooms for all sorts of real people—families, mates and strangers alike.

A while back, British Airways set up a giant, interactive billboard in the middle of Piccadilly Circus in London, encouraging passersby to #lookup. Each time a British Airways flew overhead, the billboard showed a little boy standing up and pointing: “Look it’s flight BA475 from Barcelona.” The billboard combined smart technology with a traditional advertising medium to declare that British Airways is always flying to diverse locations around the world. For the first time, people looking up were not wondering, “Where is that flight going?” British Airways claimed ownership of its aircraft that dominated the London skyline, positioning itself as the leading airline in the region.

  1. Increase visibility by sharing what your brand believes.

One of the most celebrated stunts of the past few years is State Street Global Advisors (SSGA)’s Fearless Girl. To promote their index fund comprised of gender-diverse companies with strong women leadership, SSGA commissioned a sculpture of a young, defiant girl. The piece was placed in front of the New York Stock Exchange with a plaque reading, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE can make a difference.” The art piece, which blew up across social media, rallied people to believe in women’s leadership, too. Following the viral stunt, 423 companies added a female director, with 22 pledging to do so as well.

Grocery stores across the globe have taken an environmental stance, encouraging shoppers to bring reusable bags. Several big supermarket chains, as mandated by law, charge customers anything between 10 to 25 cents per bag used. But, one market in Vancouver took it a step further by printing embarrassing sayings on its plastic bags. How would you feel walking around in public with a doggy bag that says, “The Colon Care Co-Op”? Or how about “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium”? If customers want to avoid the walk of shame, they must remember to bring their reusable bags. East West Market creatively took a stance that promoted their commitment to environmental consciousness, while encouraging their customers to change their behaviors for the better.

  1. Create a memory that reminds your customers why your brand will fit well into their lives.

Take Prophet’s work with Qdoba. We helped the fast-casual Mexican chain with its rebrand—searching for a point of differentiation in its increasingly crowded market. Our team identified a clear customer pain point to be alleviated: additional costs of premium toppings like guacamole, queso and grilled veggies. (There is nothing like a simple “The guac is extra,” to sour your experience, right?) The new Qdoba menu would have flat-rate pricing, devoid of expensive add-ons. To bring that idea to life, we collaborated with the production company Motive to help the chain perform a stunt “#freeyourflavor” that gave the nickels and dimes back to the people by the truckload. When choosing between fast-casual options, the memory of the free coins will certainly circle back for customers.

“Marketing stunts, unusual acts designed to attract attention, are one way brands create unique experiences.”

Bing was tired of being the second-choice search engine. It needed to “wow” the world at large with a stunt that was not only memorable but also interactive. The brand worked alongside rapper Jay-Z as he released his autobiography, Decoded, to create a game that used Bing’s map and search functions. Scattered across 15 countries and plopped where the real-life stories unfolded, the pages of Decoded served as the pieces to the ultimate scavenger hunt. Each week, Bing uncovered more pages through social media clues and over the radio and millions of fans clamored at the opportunity to piece the giant puzzle together. And it worked. Bing’s market share reached its highest since 2009, the stunt got over 1 billion media impressions and the site got nearly 12 percent more visits. Snoop Dogg and Kanye gave Bing a nod of approval.


A marketing stunt is not a publicity stunt designed to garner any attention—good or bad. A marketing stunt must be in obvious alignment with your brand values and planned strategically, with clear objectives and measurable results. It should re-energize your core and inform a new category of prospective customers by explaining why and how your brand exists. Oh, and they are also a lot of fun.