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Fifty Shades of PR stunts

photo credit: via photopin (license)
Rebecca Kincade on February 19, 2015 - 9:49 am in In Depth

Sex sells. Of that there is no doubt. So it would have been foolish to ignore the marketing potential that lay behind the release of Fifty Shades of Grey last weekend.

Earning an estimated $81.7 million in its first three days in the North American box office, this erotic drama has wiped the floor with previous Valentine’s Day releases, and, somewhat ironically, now sits just behind the highest February debut ever, Passion of the Christ.

There are some brands that could obviously capitalise on the film without raising too many eyebrows. Ann Summers opened up an entire section on its website devoted to ’50 ways to play’, perhaps a link best not clicked by those who would rather give the whips and chains a miss until the inevitable sequel hits our screens. This was a savvy move by any retailer hoping to shift a few extra sets of lacy lingerie off the back of such a popular franchise.

EL James, author of the less-than-risqué and nothing that hasn’t been seen before in a Mills and Boon novel, has been forming her own clever commercial partnerships in the wake of the film announcement, teaming up with Bluebella to launch her own Black Label lingerie range. How any woman can resist the oxymoron that is ‘multifunctional harness-inspired strapping’ is beyond me.

These are all natural fits when it comes to marketing and PR. Perhaps not so much when it comes to harness inspired underwear, but that review is for another day.

This is where the floodgates of marketing insanity begin to open. Jumping on the bandwagon, with absolutely no viable connection whatsoever, we have already seen:

  • ‘Fifty Shades of Kale’, a recipe book packed full of 50 ‘fresh and inspiring recipes that are ‘bound’ (oh stop!) to please.
  • Flirty Shades of Surf Liquid – Finally! I can give my laundry a damn good seeing to.
  • Innis & Gunn launched a ’50 Shades of Green’ aphrodisiac ale – Because sometimes champagne just doesn’t set the right mood. Not in the same way a ‘launched-for-publicity-purposes-only’ ale would anyway.
  • Marmite Body Paint – Don’t get your hopes up on this one. Apparently the product was never released for sale. It was only ever going to be a PR stunt. At least they admit that…


The sweet spot

Perhaps the most successful of all was when B&Q issued a ‘leaked’ memo warning its staff of a potential rush on customers’ stock piling rope, cable ties and duct tape and recommending that managers ‘anticipate the need for extra stock’. Headlines appeared across the national papers and gave the PR office exactly what they were hoping to achieve.

Commenting on this strategy, Head of Consumer PR at MCE Public Relations, Sinead Doyle, said: “B&Q’s PR stunt was more risqué than risky. The fact that their PR team were behind the memo as opposed to the company’s head office won’t matter to the majority of people. Nor will their customers care. It was a light-hearted, harmless and extremely effective way to capitalise on public interest in a massively popular film release. It also, for a fleeting moment, made DIY sexy and humorous, which is no mean feat in itself.

“What’s more difficult to gauge, however, is whether it will have any long-term positive impact for B&Q. PR stunts can help a business hit the headlines and gain a quick burst of brand awareness but it doesn’t necessarily lead to increased business performance and/or sales.

“If getting your brand out there is all you’re concerned with, this approach is fine but PR is about so much more than stunts. When done properly, PR can promote, protect and grow your business.

“Personally, I would advise clients to adopt a longer term strategy and build a PR calendar that is focused on delivering against their core business objectives.”


Rings and things

Either way, I am just glad that I was one step ahead and had purchased my cable ties in the January sales.

I have to say that my personal favourite so far has been when London Fire Brigade said they were anticipating an increase in call-outs following the release of the film. A PR stunt nicely wrapped in concern, they expressed their fears that there would be a spike in people trapped in handcuffs and other bondage paraphernalia.

What amused me the most was they then proceeded to provide a list of some incidents they have attended since April 2013 that I am sure those involved have been trying to erase from their memory ever since. This included 28 people trapped in handcuffs, the removal of 293 rings, including seven from male genitalia, and numerous times when they had had to release men’s genitals from toasters or vacuum cleaners.

Personally I would have thought that common sense would have been enough to prevent the majority of these from happening, but then again I am one of the lucky few who has never been sexually attracted to my toaster.

The stunts speak for themselves and, for the most part, they have fulfilled their purpose and raised brand profiles where required.

As for the film, well, much like the Marmite Body Paint you will either love it or you’ll hate it.

PR. marketing


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