10 Epic PR Stunts, Marketing Ploys, and Growth Hacks

Throughout the history of marketing, we’ve seen a whole lot of publicity stunts, marketing ploys, and other predecessors to the growth hack. They stopped people in their tracks, got a ton of media coverage, and delivered a storm of social media chatter!

Source: GIPHY

This is how brands are able to captivate the audience’s attention, boost sales, and etch their image on our minds forever.   

In this article, we break down our Top 10 Marketing Stunts That’ll Be Impossible To Forget!

1. Calendar Girls

In 1999, 11 members of the Women’s Institute stripped all the way down to create an “alternative calendar”. The aim was to raise money for charity. The calendar had the women posing nude – covered by flower arrangements and baked goods. Around a million copies were sold worldwide! The whole story also spawned a hit film in 2003.

Official movie trailer for the film based on the original calendar girls

2. Ryan Holiday and I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell

Ryan Holiday was a master media manipulator. His actions led to fabricated protests, international press coverage, and a general firestorm of attention for his clients.

In the video above Ryan talks about unconventional marketing and media manipulation, but if you truly want to understand the depth of his talent (? 🤷‍♂️?), you should checkout his book Trust Me, I’m Lying.

3. Little Baby Ice Cream

Everyone loves ice cream. And it’s not hard to sell them some with cutesy, fluffy advertisements about rainbows and sunshine. This is why Little Baby’s Ice Cream decided to take an entirely different path, and made a horrifying ice cream ad instead. We’ll leave some suspense and have you watch it for yourself.

PS: it might make you never wanna eat ice cream again.

4. The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project managed to generate a massive pre-hype, despite being a low budget horror film. It blurred the boundaries between fiction and fact; circulating clips to colleges that were showcased as ‘real video footage’.

This is one of the first feature films to have utilized viral marketing and it did not disappoint! The buzz led to Blair Witch becoming a major success, amassing over 250 million dollars revenue worldwide, while only having a budget of 60 thousand dollars. That’s an astounding 4166x return on investment 😳.

5. Durex: A HUNDRED MILLION REASONS

Condom ads are almost always uncomfortable to watch on TV. But Durex decided to go all the way in and create something spectacularly cringe-worthy! Millions of animated sperm? Check. Giant condom in the middle of the road? CHECK! Let’s just hope this one won’t come on while your whole family is watching.

6. Marilyn Monroe’s Blowing Skirt

The iconic Marilyn Monroe blowing skirt shot was not as spontaneous as you’d have thought! It was not caused by a passing subway train, as is often reported. In fact, it was a secret wind machine hidden beneath the street that led to this glorious moment. And the rest is history!

7. Japanese Kleenex: Cursed

This Japanese Kleenex ad dates all the way back to the ’80s. It had so many creepy elements that it was literally touted as a cursed commercial that’ll lead to your death if you watch it at midnight. There was also a conspiracy theory that the actors involved in the commercial died after a few months. Voilà! We have the recipe for a perfect urban legend.

Regardless of how ridiculous the urban legend is, the video for the ad has millions of views on YouTube today. So at least Kleenex did a great job at marketing.

8. Uber Ice Cream

Source: Brand24

Just after its inception, Uber was dousing in all kinds of controversies – but the PR was still top notch at all times! Uber was winning hearts and minds with a series of tactical, fun stunts. One of them was the ice cream stunt. In 2012, the company marked the hottest day of the year and announced that they would be making ice cream deliveries door-to-door. This created headlines all over the press and went viral on Instagram. What can’t ice creams do?!

9. Xbox: Life Is Short, Play More

Some people found it cool. Most people found it hideous. This original Xbox Console ad portrayed a woman giving birth to a boy who flies right out of her womb, outside the window and into the open skies. He flies naked across the world until he grows old and lands directly into his grave. Must’ve been a wild ride!

There was something about the intensity and subject of this video that made it so weird and memorable. It became one of those classics that a whole generation of people witnessed. And never forgot! Props to Xbox for some effective advertising.

10. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

Unilever’s toiletry brand Dove launched this highly successful campaign in 2003 and it’s become their Real Beauty Pledge. The original ad featured 6 ‘ordinary’ women who weren’t stick-thin and empowered other women with their real beauty. This boosted Dove’s sales by 700% and Dove became a household name due to this campaign!

Since then, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has gone on to take several steps to show women that they shouldn’t have a negative self-image and that they should embrace themselves. The self-sketch video above is just one of these attempts. Though the campaign appears to come from a genuine place, it was hated by some.

Regardless, Dove has done well for itself with this campaign that went against the grain of selling beauty products with super models with unattainable figures.

In closing

I hope these marketing ploys, publicity stunts, or growth hacks give you some food for thought. I hope they show you what you can do with some creativity AND what you shouldn’t do with said creativity.