The best PR stunts of 2021

Remember the furore over Weetabix claiming it went well with baked beans? Or the scandal over Brewdog’s gold cans that were not solid gold? It has been quite a year for PR stunts, and below we list the ones that scored some great (usually!) publicity.

February

easyJet lessons

Kelly O’Hanlon, senior lecturer in PR and media at Birmingham City University: “One PR stunt that stands out from February in the midst of a national lockdown is easyJet offering frustrated parents trying their best to home school their children a lifeline: the ‘easyJet Flightsize’ online video lessons, delivered by Taylor Herring. easyJet pilots fronted these classes, covering a range of topics from geography and science to revealing the mechanics of flying.

“This will have no doubt provided some relief to families trying their best to keep up their kids’ education and demonstrates how easyJet understood its core audience and remained agile during a challenging time for its sector. The videos added value and enhanced the brand image, building upon earlier campaigns - ‘Flybrary’ from a few years ago and the more recent Amy Johnson initiative focused on encouraging more girls to become an airline pilot - continuing even after lockdown was lifted.”

Beans on Weetabix

Mia Borg, junior account executive at agency Stellar PR: “My favourite PR stunt of 2021 was the viral meme of the Weetabix and Heinz baked beans, where Weetabix tweeted: “Why should bread have all the fun, when there’s Weetabix?” with an image of beans on Weetabix attached. This was my favourite as there numerous other companies responding to the tweet, such as NHS which responded ‘This tweet should come with a health warning’.

“The stunt created great talkability which engaged other brands, as there was great comedic value in the responses. The tweet was back in February when the third lockdown was at its height, so seeing brands playing around and having a bit of fun was a great highlight.”

April

Tesco - pop to your local pub

Jonathan Birch, creative director at digital marketing agency Glass Digital: “When it comes to a good PR stunt, or indeed marketing in general, the timing of your campaign is everything. That's something that Tesco got exactly right back in April when it encouraged customers to pop to their local pub, rather than Tesco, to support small businesses as they reopened.

“This message captured the hearts and the feeling of the nation and turned this humble ad into a viral campaign earning 32.8k likes on Twitter. In fact, during that month, searches for 'Tesco advert' rose 85% compared to the month before, reaching a total of 2,400 searches according to data from Google Keyword Planner.”

May

Rich Leigh, founder of agency Radioactive PR: “My favourite PR effort this year, and in fact, in recent years, is the Kiyan Prince QPR and FIFA 21 campaign. Kiyan 'became' the professional footballer he was destined to be in one of the most intelligent and most powerful examples of creative PR I've ever seen. Just wonderful, and one of those efforts that reminds me of the amazing things our industry can do, and how lucky I feel to work in it.”

Bud Light's 'Boxheads'

Jonathan Birch: “Who can forget the joy and magic of the 2021 Euros? While it may not have ended how we wanted it to, it was hard to keep away from the game - it was everywhere. Bud Light realised this and used it to its advantage by creating its own range of 'Boxheads' back in May. These were simply cardboard boxes displaying the faces of the England players, with the tagline: ‘Beer you can drink. Box you can wear.’

“This is a classic example of tangential marketing, where a company uses a topic that isn't directly linked to its brand, but is still relevant to the target audience. In this case, it knew that their audience would be buying its product to drink as they watched the match. And, as Bud Light is a brand that doesn't take itself too seriously, it made the most of the game by giving customers the option to turn into their favourite players. “

June

Mount Recyclemore

An award winner for our sister magazine Creative Moment, picked by editor Lucy Smith: “Recommerce retailer musicMagpie enlisted the help of the artist Joe Rush to create a giant Mount Rushmore-style sculpture of the G7 leaders’ heads, made entirely of discarded electronics, on a beach near to Carbis Bay where the G7 Summit was being held in June.

“The sculpture, named Mount Recyclemore, highlighted the growing threat of e-waste on the planet as leaders of the world’s most advanced economies prepared to discuss how to tackle climate change and build a greener future.

Depicting world leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, American President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the e-waste sculpture was created by musicMagpie and the artist and founder of the Mutoid Waste Company, Joe Rush, alongside sculptor Alex Wreckage. (We're guessing that those aren't their real names!)”.

Brewdog ‘solid gold’ beer can

Vicky Stoakes, communications director at design agency specialist Red Setter: “My favourite PR stunt has to be Brewdog’s ‘solid gold’ beer can. Why? I think the best PR stunts are the ones that people remember, either for good or bad, especially in an age of filtered media impact. This is one stunt that keeps getting mentioned to me (and not by PR people).

“Brewdog announced hidden solid-gold cans in normal packs of beer. It’s a grown-up Willy Wonka PR stunt. Except the cans weren’t solid gold and Brewdog has had to apologise to the ASA for a ‘misleading’ campaign. So the story keeps rolling and keeps Brewdog linked to controversy… its PR modus operandi. Not to everyone’s taste, but not such a bad thing when trying to fight for space in a competitive category and trying to keep front of mind.”

July

IKEA Euro 2020 cup

Picked by Lucy Smith, editor of Creative Moment: “Tapping into the near euphoric culture of England's historic victory against Denmark and finally making it through to a major tournament final, Hope&Glory PR and IKEA UK engaged in a bit of good old fashioned newsjacking.

“IKEA unveiled a new cup listed in the crockery section of the Swedish retailer's website and aptly named "KØMMÖNENGLAND".

“Announced on the IKEA social channels, and immediately raising a smile and picking up engagement across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the image of the cup valued as 'priceless' featured the tagline of It's coming home'.”

August

Win a campervan for the year

Libby Windle, head of PR at digital performance agency connective3: “I loved this concept because it tied into the news agenda perfectly. We were experiencing lockdowns, therefore working from home/flexible hours, and we also had restrictions on overseas travel, therefore many of us were opting for staycations instead. Plus, because of furlough and redundancies, a lot of people couldn’t/still can’t afford to pay for holidays, etc, so the concept was launched at the most perfect time, giving a lucky winner the chance to have something to look forward to… and paid for!”

Mattel's Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert Barbie

Natalie Arney, SEO consultant  adds “I have absolutely loved Mattel's Women in STEM Barbies so far, and picking the vaccinologist Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert was such a good choice and a move in the right direction for Barbie.”

September

Live performances in Manhattan for Rihanna

Matt Height, external relations officer, Birmingham City University: “Second to Adele’s stunt (see October) for me would be the stunt for Rihanna’s ‘Savage X Fenty Show’ on Amazon Prime. To promote the fashion special and to encourage viewers to stream it, the windows of a building in a busy Manhattan neighbourhood were lit up and featured live performances by models of all shapes, sizes and genders. They wore clothing from Rihanna’s new Fenty lingerie fashion line and stopped passers-by in their tracks. It was all very visually impressive which lent itself well for content creation and social media buzz about the stunt.”

October

Adele projections

Matt Height: “The stand out PR stunt of the year surely has to be the publicity teasing Adele’s comeback. The singer whipped fans into a frenzy with ’30’ projections appearing on landmarks around the world, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York. In terms of getting your product in front of the masses, before it’s even available, Adele really hit the nail on the head with her 30 promotional campaign.”

Cheated board for Thursday

Alex Whiteman, senior account executive at agency Stellar PR: “My favourite PR stunt of 2021 would have to be by the app Thursday. The reason why this stunt has to be my favourite of 2021 is because the app has turned to members of its target audience to get the word out through its stunts. This Thursday stunt went viral, showing that you do not necessarily need to create stunts on TikTok or Instagram to go viral, as long as you have the right people watching.”

November

Heura - Elephant in the Room at COP26

Natalie Arney: “Heura foods projected an image of an elephant and the message 'plant based diet reduced foot carbon footprint of 73%' in George Square in Glasgow.”

Food activist and Heura co-founder Bernat Añaños said at the time: "With the support of our Good Rebel community, we decided to take a stand and unleash the 'elephant in the room', through large-scale projection mapping designed to raise awareness and demand change."

Airbnb recreate Carrie’s SATC apartment

Rosa Mitchell, head of digital PR at digital performance agency connective3: “Sex and the City is such a popular show among audiences, and people queue for ages to get a pic outside of Carrie’s apartment when they visit NYC, so it’s no shock that this was widely picked up among the media. I loved how they launched the concept at the time when the reboot of the series was announced, to keep the momentum going. Not only that, but the cost was pretty cheap too, only $23 a night which is an opportunity not to be missed, especially due to the impact Covid has had on everyone’s finances.”

John Lewis spaceship crash

Kelly O’Hanlon: “For a Christmas campaign right out of the PR playbook, John Lewis ticked all the boxes with its Unexpected Guest ad tease. The spaceship crash sites a few days before release were imaginative and carried the clues needed for the public to start adding things up - by promoting the hashtag - whilst its social media approach was fun and set things up nicely for the big reveal. All bases were covered, and it achieved coverage pre-, during and post-reveal - like all best PR stunts do.”

The year isn’t over yet, so watch this space  so keep an eye on Good and Bad PR for even more shocking stunts that have gone brilliantly well or terribly badly.

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