You Can’t Do That In PR- Part I

Today’s guest RepMan post is by WALEKPeppercommer Stefan Prelog.

cant do that on tv 9.99 80steesToday’s GenX and Yers may remember the Nickelodeon’s show “You Can’t Do That on Television,” featuring sketches that were used to set up “sliming” a cast member with  green goo when they said, “I don’t know.” This 1990’s show permeated pop culture with its sliming stunt and everyone from ‘The Onion’ to ‘Family Guy’ has lampooned it.

I use this show as an example to highlight the problems with PR stunts. Poorly conceived stunts may generate some short-term exposure, but in the process they risk overshadowing the bigger strategy and the offending company or brand risks getting, well, slimed.  But if a stunt is strategic and properly executed it can become memorable enough to live on in the annals of pop culture  and maybe even history, i.e.,  P.T. Barnum famously led 21 elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge in 1884 to squash the growing concern that the bridge wasn’t stable.

So in honor of that unforgettable show, here is the first edition of “You Can’t Do that in PR.” Stunts are rated in effectiveness from one to five slimes.

Snakes in a Taxi
Comedian and former taxi driver Jimmy Failla promoted his book, Follow That Car!: A Cabbie’s Guide to Conquering Fears, Achieving Dreams, and Finding a Public Restroom, by picking up unsuspecting New Yorkers and filming their “holy s*it” reactions as he scared the bejesus out of them with a 10-foot Albino Phython.  The snake was real but the danger wasn’t—a professional snake handler hid in the front seat.  Nonetheless, the freaked out passengers evoked so much venom (sorry, I couldn’t resist) that the videos went viral and got tons of publicity. Failla was allegedly even approached by two producers who wanted to pull the prank in other places. It’s tough promoting a book and, even though the stunt got a lot of attention, it was a ten-foot reach.
One slime for Failla.

A President Between Two Ferns
Our Commander in Chief makes our inaugural list for his appearance on the Zach Galifianakis online video series “Between Two Ferns.”  The appearance was an attempt to encourage people to sign up for health care coverage on the beleaguered government website.   President Obama had the timing and chops to counter Galifianakis’ barbs but you had to cringe watching it.
The appearance received an enormous amount of publicity and gave Republicans more fodder to criticize the President.  The stunt clearly showed the President’s desperation to get people to sign up on the site.
Two slimes for the Pres.

A Close Encounter of the Underage Kind
James Franco is everywhere.  Movies, plays, soap operas, sitcoms, you name it. So when news broke that he had tried to hook up with an underage Scottish girl on Instagram, it looked like exhaustion took its toll.  Almost immediately after the news came out, it was reported Franco’s attempted pick up was part of a viral marketing campaign for an upcoming Franco movie called “Palo Alto,” which is based on a collection of shorts which he of course wrote.  The stunt has not been confirmed.  Franco is either a creepy social media troll or part of a failed movie marketing campaign.   But since he’s just so damn prolific, I have to give him a pass.
Three slimes.

Until next time, keep your brand from getting slimed and when in doubt, lead a parade of elephants over a bridge.  That’s always worth five slimes.

6 thoughts on “You Can’t Do That In PR- Part I

  1. I think you point out an important fact – that if you want to orchestrate a stunt, you’d better know what you’re doing, or it can go terribly awry. The ones that turn into nightmares really give PR people a bad name. Nice post about an aspect that isn’t often covered.

    • Thanks Linda. Glad you liked it, and hope to bring you part two soon.

  2. Stefen, better go back and eliminate “A President Between Two Ferns” from your post. It’s beyond inaccurate. Sure, the appearance gave conservatives fodder for criticizing the President. Heck, he could breathe and generate just as much ire.

    But, if you did a hint of research, you would know that the video was watched online more than 11m times on the day it appeared and drove significant traffic to, a 40% bump as the website racked up more than 890,000 visits total. As for desperation, not so much. Part of the strategy was to target younger adults and it’s possible the appearance did just that.

    • Thanks Bob. Appreciate the comment. It’s a subjective rating system and I did give him two slimes. I’m not saying it wasn’t effective. I deducted mostly for style and cringeworthiness. Whether you voted for him or not, it evoked a lot of awkward laughs. A good stunt needs to be effective, part of your overall strategy and fit the style of the brand. I’ll note the criteria going forward.

      • Personally, I thought it was a brilliant strategic play to build visibility among a key demographic that was critical for the ACA’ success.