Oct 22

Some stunts should never see the light of day

Buried_aliveIn this time compressed, ADD-addled, 24×7 news cycle world of ours, marketers are going to ever  greater extremes to break through the clutter.

Some, like the Old Spice campaign, are remarkably smart and successful. Others, though, such as the stunt I'm about to relate are downright dangerous, if not completely harebrained.

So, to publicize the screen debut of a new Ryan Reynolds' thriller called “Buried”, the Alamo Drafthouse theatre chain came up with an unbelievable stunt. They found four local Texas women who agreed to be blindfolded, driven in silence to a burial site 30 minutes away from Austin's 'Fantastic Fest' and, get this, be interred in wooden caskets, lowered into the ground and have shovelfuls of dirt dumped on top of them. The specially-equipped caskets contained flat screen monitors attached to the coffin roof that enabled the women to view the movie.

I wonder if popcorn and a supersized Coke with flexible straw were provided as well?

Wow. That is just so, so wrong. Suppose one of the women just freaked out, had a major panic attack or, god forbid, suffered a fatal heart attack? I'm all for smart, guerilla marketing, but this stunt deserves a special place in hell.

At my firm, we're long on strategy and short on stunts. We'll do them. But only if they leverage a client's strategy and deliver measurable results.

And, while we've never produced anything that could cause potential bodily harm, we have had our share of clunkers. Quite a few years back, we launched an 'innovation tour' of college campuses to underscore one client's commitment to innovative thinking. We constructed huge white boards, took them to college campuses and invited students to write down any and all ideas for making America more innovative. Smart, no?

We received some great ideas from the college kids. But, we also got some unbelievably nasty, X-rated comments about the client and the client's CEO that our team had to quickly delete. All in all, it turned out to be a terrific learning lesson about the unpredictability of stunts.

Burying four people alive may generate some buzz for the movie (hey, I wrote about it), but at what cost? I know nothing about the director or his movie, but I've taken an immediate, visceral dislike for both. And, in my book, that's the antithesis of smart marketing. Why alienate a potential audience with a tactic that may resonate with a few core constituents?

Bury the buried alive stunt, Mr. Reynolds.

Oct 30

Do you really want mom or dad to spend eternity in a Wal-Mart casket?

Not content to undercut every other conceivable type of mom-and-pop store, Wal-Mart has now set it sights on the recession-proof business of death.

October 30 - walmart

True to its 'high price of low cost' form, Wal-Mart is now selling caskets and urns for less. For the moment, the products are only available on the Wal-Mart website. But, I have to believe it won't be too much longer before a Wal-Mart greeter, dressed in mourning black, suggests you visit aisle seven for the latest in low-priced funeral accessories.

Wal-Mart has clearly hit a new low (about six feet under to be precise).

Death is a big business that, until Uncle Sam & Co's emergence, was dominated by a few, large funeral chains and lots of mom and pop types. So, how do the latter fight back? The only possible strategy is to go up-market and adopt a value-added solutions provider positioning.

'Sure, Mr. Dimwitted, you can buy the Instant Karma model on Wal-Mart's web site for $500 less, but our 'afterlife' consultants are available 24×7 (yes, they work the graveyard shift as well). They'll help you choose interior color patterns for the casket. Would the deceased prefer paint, wood laminate or, perhaps, a floral wallpaper pattern? Wal-Mart can't help you with those decisions. And, an urn is an urn is an urn on the Wal-Mart website. Not so with us. Our afterlife consultants will custom fit the ashes. Could you imagine anything worse than spending eternity in a poorly-fitting urn? That's my idea of hell, Mr. Dimwitted.'

In a perverse kind of way, I admire ruthless marketers like Wal-Mart. They have no shame. And, they'll squeeze every supplier, underpay every employee and undercut every competitor. It's a sure fire formula for success in this world. But, will the Wal-Mart's of the world have to answer to an even higher authority in the next? I leave that to Brother Harold Camping and his followers to decide. Hey, just imagine the rush for Wal-Mart caskets on May 22, 2011 (that's when Brother Camping predicts the world will end).

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.