Whether his ventures have triumphed or failed, Richard Branson always knows how to make a statement. The famed entrepreneur has been known for his audacious publicity tactics, from high-profile stunts razzing competitors to a balloon trip across the Atlantic.
The daring Branson persona first took off when he launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984. "Believe it or not, I was actually quite shy in those days," Branson tells Inc. President and Editor-in-Chief Eric Schurenberg. "I had to overcome that and use myself to put Virgin on the map."
The idea to have Branson be the face of the Virgin brand was first suggested by the late Sir Freddie Laker, an entrepreneur who was the first to launch a low-cost airline in the U.K. British Airways drove Laker Airways out of business in 1982, but Laker shared some advice on how Virgin Atlantic could more successfully rival the bigger, wealthier airline with a multimillion-dollar advertising spend.
"Get on the front pages of the papers even if it means to make a fool of yourself," Branson says he was instructed. "So for our inaugural flight when we had only one plane, I turned up dressed as the captain and we made the front pages."
Ten years later in 1994, Branson took his audacious stunts to include literally taking down a brand name competitor in Times Square with German tanks, guns, and explosives.
After Virgin Cola began outselling both Pepsi and Coke in Britain, Branson wanted a bold introduction for his product in the U.S. The Virgin team had Branson driving a tank through Times Square, running over three tons of stacked Coca-Cola cans and pretending to fire a gun at the Coca-Cola sign, which had been wired with explosives the night before to make it look like it had actually blown up.
"It was before 9/11 so you could get away with things that would be unwise to try today," Branson said of his symbolical Coke coup d'état.
Of course, the risk with such high-concept stunts is that they don't always pay off. Coca-Cola drove Virgin Cola out of business shortly after.
To hear more from Richard Branson about his explosive stunt in Times Square, watch the video below.