PR stunts are common. For generations, publicists for all types of companies have brainstormed “brilliant” events and tricks to garner attention for their product or service. PT Barnum is one of the more famous individuals in the stunt world, and PR Week published this list of PR stunts that would make Barnum proud.
It recently came to my attention that a car dealership in a northeastern Oklahoma town chose to promote itself by dropping a pickup off the side of a 19-story landmark building. Thousands of people attended this street party and publicity opportunity only to discover that there was no truck but instead the car dealership lowered a banner over the side of the building promoting a cash incentive on said truck. Here is the car dealership’s version; here is a take on the situation as written by a colleague of mine. Watch the video on YouTube here.
While PR stunts like this have been common for many, many years, I’m hesitant to encourage companies to attempt this sort of publicity because it rarely works — more often than not, it completely backfires. While this car dealership may not lose business in its’ small town, one has to wonder whether, in this age of transparency and openness, if the use of traditional tactics as well as as social media to promote an event where the end result focused on generating sales for the dealership is the right move.
I’m a proponent for being upfront, honest and above board with customers, employees and other stakeholders. It’s a matter of integrity for me. I don’t want anyone to question whether or not my business will treat them right or fairly. By choosing to launch a PR stunt like the one described above, it calls into question how the organization will respond in the future.
What do you think? Am I overreacting?