With the Olympics looming ever closer the hype is already beginning to build and people’s thoughts are turning towards the world famous Olympic Torch Relay which is set to make it’s visit to Birmingham on Sunday 1st May.
Although its origins lie in an ancient Greek mythology commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus, the modern day torch relay was first established as part of the 1936 Summer Olympics. The torch relay we all know and love transports the flame from Greece to various designated sites which this year include a tour around the UK.
Although the Olympics is undoubtedly an event which already attracts a huge amount of international publicity on its own account some could argue that the now world famous torch relay began life as a well thought out PR stunt which has gone on to become a regular feature of the Olympics. When the revamped version was first introduced by Carl Diem in 1936 it was surely to raise the profile of the games but over time has established itself as a key symbol of the games repeatedly generating mass international publicity for not only the Olympics but also the athletes and sponsors.
This got me thinking – are there any other PR stunts which over time have grown into integral elements of that company’s particular brand. So after doing some research I’ve outlined my top two below and also snuck in a couple of my very favourite PR stunts:
1. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
For our friends across the pond Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has become synonymous with the annual holiday, and what started out as a much smaller affair in 1924 to draw attention to the store has become a national event watched from around the world. The first parade saw the employees at Macy’s walk 6 miles in fancy dress accompanied by animals, on floats, from the city’s zoo. It was such as success that 88 years later the parade consists of around 30 floats, marching bands, inflatable characters and around 3.5 million New Yorkers lining the streets. Definitely a PR success if you ask me!
2. Tour De France
Well, believe it or not but this hugely popular bike race around France actually started off life as a PR stunt. In 1903 a new French newspaper entitled L’Auto was set-up and appointed prominent cyclist Henri Desgrange as its editor. At the time long-distance cycle races were a popular means to sell more newspapers and in order to outshine its rival paper Desgrange organised the longest cycle race around France to date. The race captured the imagination of the public, doubled the circulation of L’Auto and put its rival paper out of business. 100 years later and The Tour De France is still going strong attracting both cyclists and journalists from around the world. Despite changing its name to L’Equipe in 1944 the newspaper also remains popular in France and in 2009 published its 20,000 edition.
3. Calendar Girls
Now hands up who hasn’t heard of / seen the film / been to the theatre production of Calendar Girls? Not many I imagine. This is one of my very favourite PR stunts because it’s still very successfully promoting the Women’s Institute around the world. For those that don’t know, in 1999 a group of eleven members of the Women’s Institute in Yorkshire posed nude for a charity calendar with only an assortment of baked goods and flower arrangements to retain their modesty. The calendar was created to help promote their work and raise money for leukemia research but took the world by storm and has gone on to raise almost £2 million. Julie Walters and Helen Mirren starred in a hit movie about the ladies and a theatre production starring an assortment of female celebrities regularly tours the UK. The best bit – the calendars (albeit an updated 2009 version) are still available today!
4. Bubble wrapped street
Anyone that knows me can vouch for the fact that I am actually quite clumsy which, coupled with the fact that I bruise like a peac,h doesn’t bode too well. Therefore you can understand why this particular PR stunt caught my attention! In 2010 the most accident-prone street in Britain (typically my neck of the woods – Worcester) was wrapped in 1,500 sq meters of bubble wrap by Confused.com. The comparison website wrapped everything from cars, trees, pavements and even the garden gnomes on Somerville Road because it was identified as having one of the highest number of car insurance claims in the UK. The stunt was a huge publicity success for the brand and saw Confused.com receive international print and broadcast coverage.