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PR Stunt Watch: French athletic retailer Distance's latest work, ‘Rob it To Get It, sees customers invited to steal apparel from its Paris store

Been Caught Stealing is both a fine song by Jane’s Addiction and also the theme of this week’s Stunt Watch. It’s often been argued that all great creativity is theft. Pablo Picasso once stated ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’, but here is an example where the the theft IS the creative.

Shoplifting has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. That covers everything from the rise of middle-class supermarket shoplifters, where shopping lists are replaced by shopping lifts (‘Darling, can you pop down to Waitrose and pilfer some Jamon Iberico…acorn fed, of course!’) to gangs of youths steaming into fashion stores and sprinting down the high street with expensive designer merch.

The latter phenomenon is not unique to these shores, so it’s a very brave brand – especially one in retail – that turns to shoplifting for creative inspiration.

French athletic wear retailer Distance did exactly that with its latest provocative work, ‘Rob it To Get It’. For one day, customers were invited to rob apparel from its Paris store, and they could keep it on one condition. They had to outrun the store security guard.

There was just one catch. The store security guard on this day was French Olympic sprinter Zeze, who has previously clocked 100m in under 10 seconds.

According to the brand, 74 shoppers were nabbed and 2 managed to get away with the goods – all captured here in a beautifully crafted viral video by BETC, the ad agency behind the campaign.

Which raises the question as to what extent this was staged and choregraphed? Yes, there are the close-ups of runners and the good fortune to have positioned multiple cameras en route of the shoplifters. That’s one thing. The PR side of this creative’s director’s brain – in planning, ALWAYS ask the question ‘What could go wrong?’

What about the legal consequences when a member of the public is incentivised to steal, chased by an Olympic sprinter, trips on a kerb and then is either being beaten to a pulp by a mob of unwitting vigilantes or crushed to death by a bus in front of traumatised children?

This is nit-picking. The brief was to go viral and it did exactly that, with stacks of global coverage, such as this feature in The New York Post.

It’s not the first time Distance has tapped into topical urban issues and lawbreaking for a stunt. Back in 2021, BETC delivered the fantastic Outlaw Runners following the introduction of a new 30km/ph speed limit for vehicles. The brand recruited professional athletes and challenged them to trigger a speed camera and get snapped going faster than 30km/h.

Distance used the speed camera pictures as marketing content, displaying the black-and-white images on social media and in its store windows. Not content with that, Distance placed a speed camera outside its flagship store and challenged amateur runners to beat the speed limit in the week building up to the Paris marathon.

As sequels go, ‘Rob It To Get It’ is a fine piece of work and, like Outlaw Runners, will doubtless pick up D&AD and Cannes awards at Cannes.

The moral of this campaign is that crime does pay, certainly if you’re Distance or BETC. In fact, I might steal something from it myself for creative inspiration and, if its good enough for Picasso, encourage you to do the same.

This week's PR Stunt Watch was written by Mark Perkins, executive creative director at creative comms agency Cow.

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