PR stunts prove comms pros can come up with big ideas

We can all use some fun from brands.

PR stunts: they’re what’s for dinner — and breakfast and lunch, given the recent success of campaigns from IHOP and Denny’s, and winning stunts in the PR Lions at Cannes.

If you were to pore over PRWeek’s online readership stats as much as I do, you’d see two of our most-read recent stories were about quick-service restaurant chains pulling off PR stunts.

Denny’s sent out a faux-but-convincing press release, complete with indecipherable file name, edits, lots of exclamation points, and hard-to-believe markups, to a handful of journalists. Some of them were fooled. Who says reporters aren’t hungry anymore?

Sticking with the food theme, IHOP pulled off one of the biggest stunts in years when it temporarily — though it only later admitted that detail — changed its name to IHOb, altering its diplomatic status to an International House of Burgers.

Time will tell if this campaign was a success. Journalists and analysts will be watching parent company Dine Brands’ quarterly earnings closely. However, the push has already been a marketing grand slam (whoops, wrong brand), increasing social media conversation in the days after the campaign launch drove a dramatic traffic increase to its website.

The brand smartly knows it probably can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. IHOP CMO Brad Haley told PRWeek next time, "we’ll just have to come up with something equally fun but completely different. No pressure."

Speaking of pressure, the IHOb campaign could have gone very wrong. Like "New Coke" wrong. Sure, it suffered some social media mockery, but no harm, no foul.

For years, comms pros have been derided by their counterparts in "above the line" creative marketing as lacking the ability to come up with the big idea. These stunts are big ideas that are creative, fun, and attention-grabbing.

Plus, in the age of the 24/7 news cycle, when consumers are turning away from the media just to keep their stress levels normal, we can all use some good, clean fun from brands. Yum.

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