Doritos-flavoured Mountain Dew, the food hybrid that launched a thousand headlines and a million winces.
Attention sought? Mission accomplished. But don’t believe Pepsi expects to actually sell any; this is an example of the dark marketing art known as stunt marketing.
Stunt marketing has a long history, stunt product development a shorter one, mainly in food and beverage. Some stunt products have gone on to become core to the business, even credited with reinventing companies. Of course, the most famous case of stunt products, New Coke, showed us stunt branding can also go disastrously wrong (though we at B2BNN are just waiting for the investigative report exposing how calculated it actually was).
So when is stunt branding a good idea? Is all publicity really good publicity? When to try it:
1. When it is shocking enough that it will grab headlines (with a caveat): Mountain Dew is definitely taking a page from the Jones Soda’s Turkey Dinner book. Remember that? Made the Tonight Show. (And was followed up by Tofurkey, of course). When a stunt rebrand produces an immediate visceral reaction, it may pay off in publicity alone. But consider carefully before actually putting it on the market. When you’re famous for something gross, you won’t necessarily be what people reach for when they want refreshing. Reviews of your stunt product that dominate conversation can potentially hurt the brand, and the disgusted reactions to turkey soda stuck with Jones for a long time.
2. When it has significant new product potential: Look at the story of Doritos Locos Tacos and Taco Bell, invented by a doggedly persistent customer and responsible for a billion plus in revenue last year. On the B2B side, cloud backup storage provider Asigra recently shifted their positioning pricing and messaging completely to focus on recovery and restoration vs storage. It can be a more complex exercise to make a big brand departure in B2B so research and test your brand moves carefully.
3. When you have nothing to lose: we can look to the political world and the stunt branding Ontario’s New Democratic Party took in the last provincial election. Though always on the left of the spectrum, it took on some surprisingly (some would say opportunistic) conservative-leaning positions in the most recent Ontario election, dominated by two other parties. This strategy gave them some visibility but not many votes and long term may hurt the party’s relationship with its base, something you only ever do when completely desperate. (In this case, the gain was not really worth the risk, either).
4. When your audience is primarily young adolescents: Older demographics (and B2B): they don’t go to movies on opening weekend and don’t deal so well with big brand shifts and negative reviews. Know your audience and brand accordingly. There are some great examples of stunt marketing out there for B2B; read on for two of our favourites!
5. When you’re trying to achieve competitive visibility without being a complete jerk: Skywriting and a levitating guy wearing a brand shirt outside a competitor’s annual customer event exhibit hall: wondering how to turn stunt marketing into art? Admire these brilliantly conceived concepts and their execution at competitor events from stunt branding/marketing genius Saul Colt, chief evangelist at cloud accounting provider Xero.
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