The best PR stunts of 2020

This year has not been the best (an understatement), but at least there have been some brilliant PR stunts that have lifted our spirits. Here is a calendar of 2020’s top efforts.

January

Madame Tussauds moving Harry and Meghan
James Gordon-MacIntosh, co-founder and chief creative officer at agency Hope&Glory PR:

“Remember those halcyon days before Covid? In those long-forgotten times, Madame Tussauds carried out the simple act of moving Harry and Meghan’s out of the Royal Family group as they renounced their royal titles. Simple, effective newsjacking for which the brand is rightly known. See also popping a Baby Bjorn on Boris with the birth of young Wilfred.”

April

Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday walk
Jo Chappel, creative director at agency Fever PR: So quick and steep has been Sir Tom’s ascent to lockdown hero it’s easy to forget it all started with a 100-lap walk of his garden to raise funds for the NHS – picked up by his local paper and then the world and tapping into our collective need for good news and hope.”

Thai Airlines Home Miles
James Gordon-MacIntosh: “This was my favourite early days of pandemic campaign. Thai Airlines re-jigged its loyalty app to reward people with Air Miles when they stayed at home. Customers popped their home address into the app and agreed it could track their location. They were then rewarded with Miles the longer they stayed home.”

Fortnite’s Travis Scott concert
Warren Johnson, founder of agency W Communications: “Over on Fortnite, more than 12 million people watched rapper Travis Scott’s 15-minute spectacular virtual concert live – the equivalent of 105 sold-out nights at the world’s biggest stadium. And that’s before YouTube and Twitch views on the night and after the event.”

#ratemyKFC
Nick Clark, CEO of PR firm Nelson Bostock, part of UNLIMITED: “ It’s been hard to tell fiction from reality in 2020 and it was also difficult getting through the months of schmaltzy ad campaigns set to a never ending soundtrack of haunting piano music and scenes of empty streets combined with promises of us all ‘getting through this together’.

“Some brands have been creative and managed to stick to their core values, communication style and audiences – #ratemyKFC is a great example.”

May

Specsavers – Should have gone to Barnard Castle
Nick Clark: “The winner of best PR stunt has to be Specsavers ‘should have gone to Barnard Castle’. The Dominic Cummings debacle was a PR car crash and perfectly epitomised 2020. I’m not even sure Specsavers had anything to do with it, but I don’t care. It was compelling viewing and great brand exposure.”

Earl of East – Scents of Normality
Sam Corry, associate director at PR firm Taylor Herring: “Earl of East launched a series of candles that smelt like the places we missed the most whilst in lockdown: the local boozer, the cinema and festivals. Now, weird scented candles aren’t a new thing when it comes to PR stunts, but this was a smart take, as a dose of normality and humour is what we all craved during the height of the pandemic.”

July

Marc Quinn’s A Surge of Power statue
Kim Allain, creative at PR agency MSL Group: “This year has been a truly turbulent one with a global pandemic, turbulent politics and increasing protests and cries for change. 

One such stunt that I felt rose beautifully from the chaos was Marc Quinn’s a Surge of Power statue. The sculpture saw the recreation of Jen Reid, a Black Lives Matter protester, who stood in a solid stance of resistance on the plinth which previously housed Edward Colston statue – known for philanthropy and more insidiously, his participation in the slave trade. The statue lived in Colston’s spot for a mere 24 hours before being rehoused in a museum; however, it was the first time that a black woman was immortalised in a position of brave and uncompromising power in the UK – standing up for what she believed in. It ignited some hope in me and others that change may actually be happening.”

Jo Chappel:2020 has seen statues and monuments start to fall around the world but what – if anything – takes their places? This sparked a constructive and vital debate which continues – long past the 24 hours it was up for.”

Roger Federer plays rooftop tennis
Lloyd Evans, brand communications consultant www.lloydgevans.com: “What does a pasta brand do during a pandemic? If it is smart like Barilla, it taps into culture, utilises its assets, arouses emotions and doesn't overreach. A smart way to keep Barilla top-of-mind as consumers stockpiled their staples in 2020.”

August

Brewdog F*ck You C02
Luke Bigwood, head of communications at power provider Good Energy: “A typically no-holds-barred stunt from the brilliant Brewdog. Never shy of a wee bit of controversy, the Scottish craft beer brand emblazoned the slightly obscured words ‘F*ck You C02’ on billboards in cities across the UK. Brewdog wanted to inform people about its not insignificant efforts to tackle climate change and become a carbon-negative operation.

“Right on cue, the ASA decided that it would cause such offense that it had to be banned, which – surprise, surprise – generated even more attention for Brewdog!”

September

Sky Arts Everyone Together
Jo Chappell:Pulling off a stunt of this scale and ambition during Covid has to be applauded. Created to mark the launch of Sky Arts on Freeview the installation smartly makes a virtue of the two-meter rule; using the negative space between each person to differentiate from Spencer Tunick’s past installations where bodies closely intertwine. The 220 unabashedly naked people – some front-line workers – was a stark and potent reminder of the arts’ ability to adapt, confront and unite people at the very time it’s under real threat.“

Burger King gives FIFA players Whoppers
Warren Johnson: “Burger King turned its IRL sponsorship of Stevenage Town into gaming PR gold by offering FIFA 20 players the chance to win Whoppers and other prizes through in-game challenges. Stevenage became Twitch’s most-used team, scoring global coverage and netting 1.2bn campaign impressions.”

Netflix #spoilers
James Gordon-MacIntosh: “Not strictly speaking a brand campaign, but the public and advertising students were given a remarkable canvas to work with during the year’s shutdown. Two enterprising wannabes created mock Netflix out-of-home ads which gave away plots to major shows – encouraging people to stay at home and avoid the spoilers.”

October

Borat floating down Thames
Kim Allain: “Some may hate me for adding this. Deep down I hate myself for adding this. I promise that is all the self-loathing I shall share about putting this forward, but I had to do it.

Borat floating down the Thames, let’s not lie was the lol’s we needed in a year devoid of much to laugh about (unless you’re as delirious as I am about 2020). The public loved it. PRs winced at it. But it was so worth it. The cliché was perfect for everything Borat stands for.”

November

London Underground gets a PlayStation make over
Sam Corry: “Oxford Circus Tube station signs were transformed into PlayStation's controller button symbols in one of the smartest pieces of creative out of home this year, setting Twitter timelines ablaze.”

Beano creates comic for adults
James Gordon-MacIntosh: “Simple, tactical stuff, but brilliantly executed. If there was ever a time ripe for satirising, it is the time we live in now. Creating a comic for adults gave Beano licence to make jokes at everyone’s favourite pantomime villains – also know as Her Majesty’s Government – at a point when every media outlet was happy to poke fun at Messrs Cummings and Johnson.”

Pornhub Black Friday Lifetime Plan
Warren Johnson: “And finally, to the brand fingering the pulse of the zeitgeist. Pornhub caused a big splash with the return of its Black Friday Lifetime Plan offer, making one-handed browsing accessible to everyone. A happy finish to 2020 for all.”

So many brilliant stunts in 2020 show that no matter how bad things get, you can’t keep a great creative down!


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