Events have long been utilized in marketing to spread brand recognition, beliefs, or a political agenda. Whether one’s ultimate goal is driven by dollar signs or just plain old “buzz”, the awareness one achieves can make all the difference in the world (for better or worse).
Presented below are 15 Over-the-Top Event Marketing Campaigns. Whether they are successful or not is immaterial. The point is they all used boldness and/or creativity to touch a specific nerve. They are memorable, regardless of the outcome. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
1. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
“Over-the-top” doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, as is the case with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For the better part of a century, this tradition has incorporated popular characters of the day and involved hundreds of different balloons and floats that are taller than many buildings. It’s even crossed over into the television world, playing a memorable role in one episode of “Seinfeld” as Mr. Pitt, then-boss of the character Elaine Benes, seeks to fulfill his lifelong wish of holding one of the strings to the Woody Woodpecker balloon, with hilarious results. Every year at 9:00 a.m. EST, Americans from all walks of life have come to associate the famous event with the Macy’s name.
2. The Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army
July 12, 1979. Radio station WLUP, known as “The Loop,” set out to put an end to disco once and for all in this, some would say “infamous,” event that certainly got people buzzing about the radio station. Steve Dahl had just been hired by WLUP after losing his job at a radio station that decided to ditch rock and start playing disco. Dahl spearheaded a movement that would come to be known as “Disco Demolition Night,” where he, rock girl Lorelei Stark, and security, marched a crate of disco records rigged with explosives onto centerfield of Comiskey Park before the second game of a Chicago White Sox-Detroit Tigers doubleheader. Dahl led chants of “Disco Sucks” as well as a countdown at which point the explosives were set off and all hell broke loose. Comiskey Park officials planned for 12,000 people to be in attendance for the event. There were more than 90,000, and many of them ended up on the field prompting a White Sox forfeit.
3. Anheuser-Busch Tour of the Clydesdales
The famous Clydesdale horses became the face of Anheuser-Busch in 1933 to mark the end of Prohibition. Since that time, the eight-horse touring company has traveled all across the nation, originating in St. Louis, and making stops in San Diego, San Antonio, Menifee, Calif., and Merrimack, N.H., all while spreading the gospel of Bud to the masses. The Clydesdales are also immortalized in at least one of the many Super Bowl commercials that the big brewer buys each year ensuring they always remain at the forefront of the American consumer consciousness. They have also been commonly associated with another longstanding American tradition on this list. (See No. 8).
4. Cleveland MLB Ten-Cent Beer Night
Generally, when you plan an over-the-top event, publicity is the number one focus. But sometimes that publicity can go horribly awry. Take Ten-Cent Beer Night. The Cleveland Indians organization instituted this extravaganza, during which they invited fans out to Cleveland Municipal Stadium on June 4, 1974, to indulge in limitless 8-ounce cups of beer at the going rate of 10 cents each. Nothing like pulling in tens of thousands of fans and giving them that sweet nectar of all unholiness all at a rock-bottom price, what could possibly go wrong? As a result, one fan leapt onto the field in the ninth inning and tried to steal Jeff Burroughs’ baseball cap (playing for the Texas Rangers). Rangers Manager Billy Martin feared his player was being assaulted, so he marched onto the field to do something about it. So did hundreds of fans. What ensued was a melee between the Indians fans and the Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians, who were actually fighting their own fans. On a positive note, the event did bump Indian attendance from 8,000 to 25,000 in one year’s time, so not all was lost.
5. Disaster on a Stick
June 22, 2005. In a publicity stunt for the ages, Snapple attempted to build the world’s largest popsicle at 25 feet tall to draw attention to a new line of frozen treats they were launching. Apparently, no one told company organizers that frozen confections actually melt under 32 degrees Fahrenheit. With temperatures hitting 80 degrees during the attempt, you can probably guess what happened next. MSNBC dubbed the event, “Disaster on a Stick,” as it drenched Manhattan’s Union Square in strawberry-kiwi sugary goo. While there are worse things we can envision running amok in New York City, any time you have to get the fire department involved in closing down streets, things are not going as planned.
6. Bruno Comes to Fort Smith
Sacha Baron Cohen is in many ways a modern day P.T. Barnum in that he goes to great lengths to attract attention for his products. Take Bruno, his mockumentary about a gay man looking to be famous. Much of Cohen’s humor comes from irritating the masses while not letting them know they’re in on a joke. Such was the case when he came to Fort Smith, Ark., on a June night in 2008. At a cage fighting event known as “Blue Collar Brawlin’,” Cohen pretended he would be fighting in the main event. When he and his “opponent” stepped into the cage, they started making out, touching off a surge of outrage that made its way into the cage via flying objects with varying degrees of danger. Worldwide, the low-budget comedy ended up with a gross of more than $138 million showing that even BAD publicity is still publicity.
7. Westboro Baptist Church Funeral Protests
Love them or hate them, the Westboro Baptist Church knows how to market itself. The WBC has harnessed the power of its infamous over-the-top funeral protests of military servicemen (and women) into financial success. They’re able to spend $200,000 per year in travel expenses, thanks in part to successful lawsuits and self-funding. With just 40 members, the supposed non-profit organization, led by minister Fred Phelps, has taken its extreme stance against homosexuality and ignited reactions resulting in financial gain. The WBC, which practices out of Topeka, Kansas, has sued its home city successfully, and is currently seeking an additional $100,000. They’ve also used their events to get hundreds of mentions on the news and land appearances in several documentaries.
9. The Gibbs Aquada
June 14, 2004. Virgin, Inc’s, Sir Richard Branson is always at the front of elaborate publicity stunts, and it probably doesn’t get much more elaborate than his drive across the English Channel in an astounding 100 minutes and six seconds. The previous record had been 6 hours. How’d he do it? With the Gibbs Aquada 007-inspired car of course. Traveling 30 miles per hour in a hybrid car with aqua-travel capabilities, Branson made short work of the famed Channel and opened eyes across the world as to the future of automobile travel. With his next venture Virgin Galactic set to ferry the first humans on paid for-profit sub-orbital rides early in 2013, it will be very interesting to see what grand scheme he has up his sleeve to draw attention to the first launch. Stay tuned!
10. The Great Throwdini
Winner of the “Fastest and Most Accurate Knife Thrower” distinction from the Guinness Book of World Records, Throwdini’s (aka, David Adamovich) entire business model is one marketing event after another, except that he’s also able to make money selling promotional DVDs and books as an offshoot of his appearances. The holder of a coveted Merlin Award in magic (one of the ONLY non-magic users to get such an award) and holder of 20+ Guiness World Records, a Throwdini show is an event in-and-of itself. Nothing more over-the-top to us than throwing sharp objects at willing participants, knowing that one misstep could lead to a dead person and a lot of jail time.
11. The Great Halfway, Oregon, Name Change
The eCommerce site Half.com was small potatoes when it offered Halfway, Ore., the opportunity to change its name to “Half.com,Ore.,” in 1999 becoming America’s first dot-com city in exchange for $100,000 and about 20 donated computers. The event put the site on the map and eventually led to its buyout by eBay in 2000 for $350 million. In actuality, Halfway is still officially known as Halfway on the books, but the temporary name change was enough to give a struggling “dot-com” site the push it needed in an era that was flooded with sites just like it. Half.com is still going strong as an eBay company and is very popular with students thanks to its large half-priced textbooks selection.
12. P.T. Barnum’s Elephant Plow
You could fill a book with all the ways P.T. Barnum promoted his circus throughout its long history, but one of the most over-the-top events was his elephant plow scheme. Setting up near the railroad tracks around New York City, he plowed six acres with the aid of a lone elephant because he knew it would attract publicity. It wouldn’t be long before Barnum’s exploits “went viral” across the nation in a time when personal computers were science fiction. Barnum’s philosophy was simple: give the public a good value and use ALL the free advertising you can get.
13. Cash Giveaway
March 2008. Looking to promote its website, Cashtomato.com staged a New York-based cash giveaway that attracted dozens of homeless people rabid for greenbacks. Rather than spreading the message of the brand, the way every great marketing event should, the scheme resulted in a riot that put one in the hospital. Scheduled to begin at 2:29pm, timed to mark Leap Day, the crowd instead rushed the three Cashtomato employees (dressed as Tomatos no less), knocked the bags and cash-stuffed envelopes out of their hands, and elbowed each other to grab the loot. What was in the bags of cash? Twenty nine bucks.
14. Warren Buffett Challenges the GOP
Sometimes marketing can be used to forward a political agenda. Such was the case recently when investor superstar Warren Buffett challenged the Republican members of Congress to donate some of their own money to paying off the national debt. For each dollar donated, Buffett would donate a dollar as well. For Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Buffett said he would even give $3 for every George Washington the GOP politician chipped in. As of Jan. 22, 2012, the event has resulted in about $58,000 in funds toward paying off the national debt.
15. IntraLinux Wrestles Microsoft
Around the start of the new millennium, when competitor Microsoft was getting ready to launch Windows 2000, the IntraLinux brand, represented by a penguin mascot, staged a mock wrestling match with a Bill Gates lookalike outside the unveiling at the Moscone Center in San Francisco that attracted hundreds of onlookers and news mentions nationally. The penguin won, and served as a P.T. Barnum-esque example of how one company can use the momentum of another to steal publicity. Total cost of the stunt, $3700! Estimated free press from the event? Priceless!