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The 10 best marketing stunts ever!

November 26, 2008

Text: Larry Olmsted

Many marketers misjudge the razor line between buzz and bust when it comes to offbeat marketing campaigns. When these crazy stunts work, they can be very successful, often resulting in millions of dollars in free advertising. When they fail, they can cause spectacular embarrassment, cost jobs, and even attract lawsuits.

In 1978, WKRP in Cincinnati, a classic television sitcom about a dysfunctional radio station, aired its most popular episode ever, Turkey Drop. As a promotional stunt, the station's incompetent manager hires a helicopter to toss live turkeys over the city on Thanksgiving Day. After this fiasco backfires with bloody results, the manager, Arthur Carlson, replies, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"

Carlson was not the first manager, real or fictional, and certainly will not be the last, to grossly misjudge the razor line between buzz and bust when it comes to offbeat marketing campaigns. When these crazy stunts work, they can be very successful attention-getters, often resulting in millions of dollars in free advertising. When they fail, they can cause spectacular embarrassment, cost jobs, and even attract lawsuits.

Several of history's most outrageous marketing stunts are chronicled in Getting Into Guinness, my recent book on the cultural impact of Guinness World Records, which itself started out as a promotional gimmick. The beer giant thus spawned an entire genre of marketing stunts. Here's a list of what are arguably the most bizarre.

Image: Luke Smith completes a freestyle motocross backflip over an America's Cup yacht at the Viaduct Harbour on October 13, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand. The stunt was to promote the Crusty Demons 2009 Unleash Hell Tour of New Zealand. | Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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