A lot of companies seem to think that you can’t be creative in terms of PR (public relations) if you don’t have the budget for it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are plenty of creative PR ideas that can be executed on a budget. In fact, when you’ve got a restrictive budget, that’s exactly the time that you want to be creative with your PR efforts, so that is the only way that you can create the bang for your buck that you need.
Of course, you do have to create the right kind of creative marketing stunt. ‘Creativity’ does not have to mean ‘pointless’, but only if you consider in what elements you’re going to be creative and what elements you’re going to leave well enough alone. Not sure which is which? Otherwise, go with a more traditional marketing campaign.
Breaking the frame
Now, there are plenty of examples of creative campaigns.
For example, the Icecreamists – a company that makes ice cream – decided to create ice cream made out of breast milk, knowing full well that in doing so they would court controversy and get a huge amount of media attention.
Similarly, a Thai anti-smoking campaign had a young boy ask for a light from adults. The adults then gave all kinds of reasons for why the child shouldn’t smoke. This was then turned around to suggest that the adults should stop smoking as well.
What many seem to do, however, is break the frame of reference. Both the examples above do exactly that. The first one uses an odd milk that we would never think of as a food product (but most certainly is) and thereby draws attention.
The second one makes it clear how bizarre smoking really is and how we all know it’s bad for you (and would never let kids do it). It then nicely brings home the message by pointing out that adults shouldn’t do it to.
The breaking of the frame is necessary for two reasons.
- Creative campaigns aim to stretch beyond their budget by getting people to talk about the product and the campaign far beyond the original audience.
- By breaking the frame, the wall that we’ve built between ourselves and traditional marketing campaigns gets broken down and the campaign (hopefully) gets lodged in our memory.
Piggybacking current affairs
Another similar strategy is to use something that is hot or much discussed at the moment and use that to piggyback your idea into general conversation.
A great example of this was a stunt Oreo pulled, where they had a billboard coincide with a solar eclipse that everybody was talking about. In this way, they made it far more likely that when the original event came up, their brand and the stunt they pulled to couple it with the news event was far more likely to get mentioned as well.
Of course, there is always a risk when you follow this kind of a strategy that the publicity you get won’t be at all good publicity, but will instead tarnish your brand. For many companies, that is not what they’re after.
Some, however, decide to court this kind of controversy, under the idea that any publicity is good publicity.
When to court controversy
Bigger companies that are well established aren’t generally going to be well served by controversy. For smaller companies, however, who are trying to get into the public eye and simply don’t have the budget to do it, the controversy might be exactly what they need.
Take this example: A company in New Zeeland called Hell Pizza decided to get into the news by offering a rather unusual pizza – a pizza with rabbit meat. That, in and of itself wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s how they advertised this strategy that was.
They decided to build a billboard and cover it with rabbit pelts. Now, that is going to attract attention and it might well be very negative. At the same time, if they would not have pulled this stunt, then you would probably not have heard of their brand.
Where to draw the line
In both the more controversial cases I outlined above, like rabbit pelts and breast milk, the companies courted controversy but did not necessarily stamp over everybody’s sensibilities. Rabbit is eaten in plenty of places and breast milk is a food product, even if we’re not usually used to eating it.
You’ve got to stay left of that line. You can reimagine products in unusual ways, but you’ve got to stay clear or moral sensibilities and the minefield they imply. For example, any product making use of human fetuses is not going to fly.
Similarly, stay away from loaded topics like abuse, death or any other topic similar like that. The rule of thumb I usually use to determine if the topic is open to be used for marketing is whether people talk about ‘rights’ when they discuss the topic.
As Joshua Greene argues in his book Moral Tribes, ‘rights’ is often shorthand for ‘I will not discuss this in a rational manner and will instead have a kneejerk reaction wherein anything that you say will be automatically condemned.’ That really is not a field you want to enter, whatever your PR agency may say, so avoid it, and other content marketing myths, like the plague.
Creativity by nature means breaking down barriers. This can be barriers between what two topics are linked together (like in the piggybacking heading above). This can be breaking the barrier between how something is normally approached and how you’re approaching it. Or it can be breaking down the barriers between what is acceptable and what is not.
There is always a risk involved in breaking down barriers, however, which is that people might not like the barriers you’re breaking down. For this reason, always consider carefully whether you’re willing to open the can of worms that you’ve got before you.