The New Case for Publicity Stunts

19 05 2010

I think many of us have been conditioned to believe that publicity stunts are cheap parlor tricks, something superficial meant to get a surface-level response that fails to build a true mutually beneficial relationship with an organization’s stakeholders. Publicity stunts may get a bad rep because they’re a hallmark of the dreaded Press Agentry model of public relations (in which the media is used to unfairly push an organization’s agenda on the public).

And while this may be true–planning an event just to get media coverage and the consequential attention it garners is a superficial strategy–new media opens up a new realm of value for publicity-engendering activities. Take this reenactment of Ghostbusters at the New York Public Library.

This charade has publicity stunt all over it…but it arguably has more sincerity and true entertainment value than traditional publicity stunts. New media technology has created a new, original venue for entertainment. The diverse array of entertainment opportunities has created not only more opportunities for attention, but arguably more opportunities for org-public relationship-building. A “stunt” like this stands to build an emotional connection between the public and the NYPL, through a recognition of the library’s significance in cinema. In this way, the NYPL and publics who watch (or experience first hand) this reenactment share a connection built around entertainment, further engendering a relational connection.

New media’s influence on public relations, and in this case, it’s opportunities it provides for building relationships around entertainment, should be welcomed, rather than written off as cheap parlor tricks.

Now, for a follow-up, I’d like to see the Library employ symmetrical book stacking “Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947″…because no human being would stack books like this.

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The Art of Viral

7 05 2010

Word of mouth. Viral video. Buzz. Marketing colloquialisms today sound like a chronic illness. Fact is, average marketers don’t seem to get the art of online marketing. Most seem to think that good e-marketing is putting an ad online for people to print, or texting a coupon to someone’s smart phone. By extension, an online video is just a 10 second snippet of a TV commercial. ┬áThe problem with this perspective is it’s audience-negligent. No one wants to watch a TV commercial online, especially if they’re just going to TIVO right past it…no matter how funny it might be. No, online videos are a creation unto themselves. They’re somewhere between TV show and advertisement. In fact, a good online video differentiates itself from an advertisement based on 4 key features:

1. It’s narrative. This isn’t rocket science: People like stories. People who like stories like to forward stories. People who receive forwarded stories in turn forward the stories. And so on.

2. It’s different and edgy. A viral video is a unique media creation, something that you wouldn’t see on TV. It’s humor, presentation, and delivery are unexpected and even edgy. Unfortunately, many marketers translate this into a liberal presentation of questionable content that can’t be shown on television. This perspective misses the mark, and, frankly, it’s overdone. A viral video is uniquely interesting, in the same way The Office was uniquely funny when it first aired on NBC. It redefines what entertainment is and can be.

3. It’s time-sensitive. Many people say that a viral video should be 30 seconds to a minute. But I say, “It depends”. Generally, if you can get a good entertaining story in 30 seconds or less, then do it. The point: be concise. Don’t go over, don’t go under.

4. It’s cultural. I don’t mean that a viral video should be a Discovery-channel exposition of the mores of a society. No, a viral video is culturally relevant, pointing out or even poking fun at the underlying standard operating procedures that often go unnoticed or under-recognized in society. In this way, viral videos may even be irreverent. To this point, one may say that a viral video is satirical, and I completely agree. Think David Letterman and Rupert Jee. ┬áHeck, think Mark Twain. He would be the virtual Bull in a China Shop if he lived a century and a half later.

Here’s a video that hits all 4 principles of a good viral video: