Cunning Stunts

Submitted by: Dave Trott 22/08/2017

Creating great ad campaigns is an art - especially if they are to be effective across the entire media spectrum. We have teamed up with Dave Trott, one of the greatest creativity gurus, to inspire you...

A lot of what gets awards for advertising are actually publicity stunts.
Both are equally valid, but they are different.
What’s the difference?
For me, advertising is mass-market, mass-produced communication.
That’s why TV, posters, press, radio, online, DM, are the traditional
advertising media.
A single poster isn’t.
A single anything is a publicity stunt.
And it isn’t fair to judge them alongside each other.
For me, Jim Moran was the master of the publicity stunt.
Jim Moran worked in the USA before I was born.
One of his early stunts was for an Alaskan appliance company.
To prove what a good company they were he got a reporter to accompany
him, while he went to prove it was possible to ‘sell fridges to Eskimos’.
But it had to be a really good fridge.
Eventually an Eskimo bought a fridge and paid in seal pelts and walrus tusks.
Moran got lots of free publicity for his client.
Later he was asked to publicise a hair tonic.
He made a painting in ketchup and nail polish and entered it for a modern art show.
When it was accepted he revealed to the press that he’d done it for a joke.
“Modern art makes me want to tear my hair out. That’s why I need this
hair tonic”.
His client got lots of free publicity.
Another of his clients, the bandleader Fred Waring, was in trouble for having a
big mouth.
Jim Moran invited the press to meet him at a posh Fifth Avenue chinaware shop.
Moran turned up with a bull on a lead, comparing his client to ‘a bull in a china shop’.
He walked the bull around the shop and the only actual damage was from the
masses of reporters, who broke $40 worth of crockery.
Everyone laughed and stopped taking Fred Waring’s critics so seriously.
Another of his clients was an estate agent.
In order to publicise how difficult it was to find the right house, Moran erected
a haystack in the middle of town and got the mayor to hide a needle in it.
Then Moran spent a week ‘looking for the needle in the haystack’.
All the while newspapers reported his progress.
Lots of free media for his client.
During the war, a film studio needed publicity for their starlets.
Moran decided the wartime food shortage was a hot topic.
He told the papers he could solve it by crossbreeding turkeys with centipedes.
That way we’d get animals with hundreds of turkey drumsticks.
He had the props department mock one up, and had the starlets
photographed holding it.
The shots ran in all the papers.
Later in the war President Roosevelt was running for re-election.
Jim Moran, a Roosevelt supporter, dressed as Uncle Sam and hired two
He rode them into a fast-flowing river and invited the press to watch while he
tried to change horses in mid-stream.
Moran made a complete mess of it, getting soaking wet.
The stunt received massive publicity with headlines saying “Don’t Change
Horses In Midstream”.
Roosevelt was re-elected.
In order to promote an optician, Moran recruited people with varying degrees
of eyesight and dressed them as revolutionary soldiers.
Then he re-enacted a battle from the War of Independence, to prove the
General’s famous quote “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”
wouldn’t work.
Afterwards, he said to the press “Of course nowadays it would work with
these new eyeglasses”.
Jim Moran’s publicity stunts were successful because they had an idea.
And they generated lots of publicity for his clients.
They created free media, word of mouth, what we now call viral media.
We can learn a lot from Jim Moran.
Even if it’s about publicity stunts and not advertising.