Stunts gone right: 5 epic marketing campaigns we love

February 15, 2021 12:30 pm

Have you ever had an outrageously clever idea for a campaign, but hit the brakes and dialled it down a notch because you were worried you couldn’t pull it off?

The bigger the stunt, the riskier it is. Done right and it can turn your business into a viral sensation overnight. Done wrong and at best you’re left dusting off a bruised ego or at worse, dealing with a full-blown PR disaster.

So how can you make sure your clever marketing stunt gets your business trending for all the right reasons?

Here are five of our favourite marketing stunts that worked — now watch and learn.

Tourism Australia: The Movie that was actually a Tourism Ad

Kicking things off with perhaps the best marketing stunt of all time. Back in 2018, Tourism Australia duped us all with a series of very creative trailers for an upcoming film called ‘Dundee’. Hitched on the hugely popular Crocodile Dundee films and with some of the biggest names in showbiz onboard including Chris Hemsworth, Margot Robbie, Hugh Jackman and of course Paul Hogan himself, we were hooked.

Fast forward to 5 February 2018 at the Super Bowl — the most-watched TV broadcast in the United States — and it was revealed that the trailer was in fact an ad from Tourism Australia designed to lure American travellers to the country.

The BBC said the marketing stunt was ‘the best anyone’s ever done, in terms of a marketing campaign for a country,’ and with 9.2 billion reached, more than 367k+ leads generated from Australia.com, a 30% increase in trade and 8 Cannes Lions, they’re absolutely right.

Image © Tourism Australia 

What did we learn? 

  • Don’t give it all up at once. Build suspense, speculation and keep your audience engaged and the power of that ‘OHH I see what they did there!’ moment is going to be magnified ten-fold. You don’t need Tourism Australia’s budget for movie stars to do this either, a couple of simple posts teasing what’s to come or an online countdown can be all it takes.

SodaStream: One small burp for man, one sparkling leap for humankind

SodaStream partnered with American astronaut Scott Kelly, known for having spent the most time in space on a single mission, for its 2019 April Fools’ Day campaign — a Scott Kelly invention called the SodaStreamME, an on-the-go SodaStream that allows its customers to use their own excess gas to make soda.

The ad shows striking footage of Kelly in space suffering from a severe bout of burping, making his discovery from the International Space Station and participating in a documentary-style interview. With humans as fascinated by space as we are, it was a worthy hook to hold us with until the prank was revealed and we saw SodaStream customers blowing into their SodaStreamMEs before romantic dates and elevator rides to avoid social faux pas. 

Real research about the excessive levels of CO2 in space, a bonafide astronaut and some classic gags about a common bodily function took this April Fools’ prank to the next level.

What did we learn?

  • Look out for key dates that you can hang your campaign on. April Fools is an obvious one, but with International Cheese Day, Talk Like A Pirate Day and so much more, there could be any number of obscure days perfect for your brand that will mean less competition and more chance to stand out. Check out Days of the Year.
  • Don’t lose sight of who you are (and why you’re doing this in the first place). Even though the SodaStreamME isn’t real, the campaign put the real SodaStream front and centre and reminded viewers that their product is the best sparkling water maker in the business. After all, the end game here was to sell more SodaStreams, right?

BCF: You couldn’t be anywhere better

Backed by BCF’s much-loved musical anthem, this clever summer campaign celebrated the fact that international border restrictions meant Australians had their backyard to themselves. Putting a positive (and cheeky) spin on an otherwise difficult year for holiday-makers, BCF asked Australians ‘is there anywhere else you’d really prefer to be?’

All the hallmarks of a classic BCF ad including fishing, camping, barbecuing and plenty of flannelette shirts were juxtaposed against grimmer scenes from the northern hemisphere where winter and the COVID-19 virus were running rampant. 

Reminding viewers about the travel restrictions keeping them separated from relatives, strict quarantines and a particularly risky reference to a bat could have turned this campaign sour — but BCF knew their audience was ready for a laugh after a tough year and would share the larrikin sense of humour they employed for the ad.

What did we learn?

  • Know your audience. Understand that some jokes just aren’t for everyone, nor every situation. Make sure your target audience is front of mind when planning your campaign to avoid any fallout. In the hands of another brand, the reception of this ad could have been very different; but after a mostly successful year fighting the virus and with so many Australians back to living in relative normalcy, the timing was right. 

Burger King: Order from McDonald’s

McDonalds & Burger King Marketing Stunts
Image © Burger King

Another campaign hooked on the COVID-19 pandemic, but one with a very different approach.

In November 2020, Burger King’s UK branch made what you could call a very counter-intuitive move — they asked their customers to order from their biggest competitor, McDonald’s.

Though in the past they’ve been notorious for taking aim at the rival burger chain (check out this campaign in response to claims McDonald’s burgers are so artificial they never go bad), as lockdown wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry the brand opted for unity instead. Despite the fact that they were far from immune themselves, they encouraged their customers to support as many food outlets, fast and independent, as they could. “Getting a Whopper is always best, but ordering a Big Mac is also not such a bad thing,” read the message.

It’s a campaign that could have come across as insincere and self-serving, but the reception was overwhelmingly warm.

What did we learn?

  • Appeal to emotion. Viewers of Burger King’s ad were reminded that we’re all in this pandemic together and that we weren’t selfishly looking out for ourselves — this was evidence we were pitching in and helping each other out in a challenging year.
  • Sometimes being serious is okay. Hitching your stunt around an important cause can pay dividends, but do your research. There’s nothing worse than a brand making a superficial campaign that anyone can see a mile away is purely for brownie points. Treat the matter with the seriousness it deserves and provide a call to action for your viewers. In the Burger King example, the call to action was clear — get out there and support your local restaurants.

Tourism New Zealand: Travelling Under the Social Influence

Tourism New Zealand never backs down. Poking fun at influencers and the multitude of posed Instagram posts that all look exactly the same, the country’s national tourism board had us in stitches while showcasing the destination’s beauty. Keep an eye out for the lavender loiterers in particular! 

Their ads may run on the long side, but in Tourism New Zealand’s hands, that doesn’t matter. The clever hook and sheer dedication to it, combined with the production quality, is a masterclass in storytelling that keeps us watching till the very last frame.

BRB, booking flights to New Zealand stat.

What did we learn?

  • Embrace the weird. Tourism New Zealand didn’t simply mock influencers by asking us to take more original photos, they created the concept of ‘travelling under the social influence’ complete with a Social Observation Squad (SOS) and a Squad Leader who takes his role very seriously, expertly portrayed by comedian Tom Sainsbury. It’s an ad we won’t be forgetting for some time. How far can you take your idea?

So there you have it — don’t be afraid to think outside the box and the next time a rather out-there idea comes your way, instead of dialling it down… do some simple sense-checking by following the lead of the masters above, and go forth! Marketing stunts can work, you just have to have a plan about it.

Need some help with your marketing stunts? Get in touch for a chat, we’d love to help!

Stunts gone right: 5 epic marketing campaigns we love