To Stunt Or Not To Stunt - That's Really Not The Question

Advertising and marketing are filled with great ideas, but one of the quandaries facing any strategist is whether you should focus on the fundamentals or take your budget to do a single stunt-type execution that will break through the clutter and bring attention to your brand.

Which choice represents the best strategy? In all honesty, I have no idea what the right answer is. However, I have a hunch.

I believe a stunt only works to augment or add fire to a sound fundamental strategy.

A stunt cannot replace that foundation, and it probably won't work as expected if you don't have that foundation laid down first.

Back in the day when I was leading Marketing for IUMA (the internet underground music archive) we did a stunt where we asked people to name their baby IUMA in order to get free music for life. We agreed to pay the first 10 people who did.

Eleven people actually went ahead and named their kids IUMA, so we went ahead and awarded the value to all 11. We got some notoriety and won the number 2 slot in's “dumbest marketing ideas of the year” award, which was ironic because it did work in terms of driving attention to us.



That being said, IUMA is no longer around, and we did not properly capitalize on that attention.

Fast forward to 2012, when Red Bull got a guy to jump out of a plane from "space" with their branding all over it.

That stunt still is talked about today, and it was 100% aligned to Red Bull's brand. But they were well-equipped to take advantage of that attention with a sound fundamental strategy in place to capture the traffic and attention.

People knew about Red Bull. They had lots of search results, they branded the video, they drove people to a site about the jump, and they harnessed the value of that stunt in a very strong way.

Fast forward once again to last week and the Odysseus robotic lunar lander from Intuitive Machines. Columbia sponsored the lander, and their brand can be seen in the images.

Did you hear about that? Probably not. I don't think it got picked up in the way Columbia wanted it to -- at least I had to search to find the attention paid to it. Perhaps the subtlety of it was intentional, or maybe they didn't have the infrastructure set up to capitalize on the stunt.

Stunts can be very effective, but you must invest in the infrastructure around them to harness and augment the opportunity. A stunt that occurs in a vacuum will never be heard or have the intended effect.

Paid and unpaid media must be put into place to accentuate the stunt and bring more attention to it.

You need to turn that stunt into something that doesn't simply live in the moment.

It needs to have legs beyond that exact time. It needs a tail, or a lag effect on improving the awareness of your brand.

Even Super Bowl spots have a lead up and a post-event campaign effect.

I remember when an ad-tech company called Turn invested in a single spot on the finale of "Mad Men." It resonated with those of us in the business, but it was not properly augmented and turned (no pun intended) into a true marketing vehicle for them.

One could argue that a stunt without a fundamental strategy to amplify it is simply an activity driven by ego.

It's the result of some marketer wanting to spend $3 million on a spot that will only run one time because they "wanted to do it" or "be recognized" as a real brand (I heard that once from a different marketer and to this day I remain shocked they got away with it).

Never overlook a good stunt idea, but never put all your eggs in that single basket either.

Be sure you have the foundation in place to augment, amplify and capture the attention that should be created. Then, and only then, will that idea have the impact you were hoping it would.

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