Publicity stunts are not unusual in the business world. In fact, some of our most well-known traditions began as publicity stunts, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rose Bowl. Although publicity stunts are not always successful, these five startup companies used unique publicity stunts to get their company on recognized when it is getting increasingly difficult to do so. They may give you ideas for your own company.
When Grasshopper.com, a company that provides virtual phone solutions for entrepreneurs, launched in May 2009, they knew they needed to increase awareness of the brand and encourage business owners to use their services. They developed a marketing campaign with a target market of the 5,000 most influential business leaders, journalists and bloggers in the United States. They sent each identified person five chocolate-covered grasshoppers in a branded, glossy-white bag with a hangtag instructing the recipient to visit a landing page with an inspirational video. The video urged them to take unconventional risks and try a chocolate-covered grasshopper. No letter was included and the grasshoppers were sent via FedEx to create a sense of urgency. The stunt earned the video over 8,000 views per day, while Twitter sharing of the stunt went viral as major influencers tweeted about the campaign, sharing it with 875,000 followers.
Mailbox is a redesigned inbox that allows users to treat their email as a mobile "to-do" list by allowing them to group emails into a chat-like version that makes them easier to follow and archive less important emails to avoid inbox clutter. When the app launched in early 2013, it already had almost 600,000 people on a waiting list. The waiting list was created well ahead of the actual launch date, creating anticipation for the launch. Those who registered received a text message with a unique "code" they were to use when their account was activated. Those who placed themselves on the waiting list were then given a date when they could download the app, even before the launch, to hold their place in line. In addition, they created a social media campaign telling users that if they sent out messages to friends about the app, they could move higher in the waiting list. The anticipation created led to a massive social media presence as people uploaded photos of the countdown dashboard and sent millions of tweets about the new app. In March 2013, the company sold for millions to Dropbox.
Dollar Shave Club
Dollar Shave Club is a website that offers razors at much lower prices than those found in stores. The product isn't new or exciting, so the company turned to YouTube to create attention. The video created featured the founder of the company, Michael Dubin, walking through a warehouse explaining why the blades through Dollar Shave Club were better than department store blades using humor, music and quirky camera angles. In the first 48 hours after the video launched, more than 12,000 people had signed up for the product. There has been virtually no other advertising for Dollar Shave Club, other than a few Google ads. The video, created by a college friend of Dubin's, cost just $4,500. The tagline, which uses an expletive regarding the blades, was a last minute addition to the video, but is now built into the company's branding.
The owner of the Manhattan-based yoga school, which opened in 2001, Jonathan Fields, teamed up with Adelphi University to do the first ever study of how many calories are burned in yoga. With fitness a growing market in the United States, Fields knew that the study would appeal to journalists. He sent out notes to several fitness magazines which offered an exclusive to whatever editor contacted him first. Self Magazine agreed to do a story and asked to be part of the study. After the article was written, the editor called Fields, commenting that a link to a video would be nice to link in the article and it was too bad that Fields didn't have one. Fields responded that they had a video in post-production, gave the editor a link, name and price. After the call ended, he turned to his partner and said "We need to make a yoga video." They put one together quickly and it sold out after the magazine reached the hands of consumers.
In an effort to let people know how fun and unique the beverage company is, they developed a unique publicity stunt. They announced that all executives would now have new titles that were more lighthearted and casual. The CEO became the Chief Entertainment Officer and the CTO became the Chief Tasting Officer. The founders, Mark Mahoney and Al Williams, hosted an annual conference for food and beverage writers, throwing a Jimmy Buffett-type "Caribbean island" theme. They handed out free sunglasses and samples of the products, encouraging the writers to include a mention of them in their articles. One year after the stunt, sales had risen to $10 million.
These five publicity stunts helped provide recognition for startup companies and allowed them to grow their market share significantly.