They say nothing in life is free. However, when it comes to PR and marketing, with some creative and courageous thinking – plus some effective timing – it can be possible to gain exposure, through publicity stunt techniques, without forking out the traditional costs. Richard Branson is an expert at creating these moments – from flying a hot air balloon over the London eye when it was delayed in going up, to driving down Fifth Avenue in a military tank to launch Virgin Cola.

His books are full of hilarious, unique and sometimes spur-of-the-moment ideas that have gained him significant press exposure without having to pay millions for global advertising spots. Quite simply, the media has picked the stories up for free due to being newsworthy and witty.

Recently, Fiji Water has hit headlines for similar reasons. Taking tips out of Richard Branson’s guide to PR, ‘Fiji Water Girl‘ earned herself memes, a spoof Twitter account and trending hash-tags on social media simply through photobombing numerous celebrity photos at the Golden Globes while holding the sponsor’s water. Within hours, the newspapers were awash with tales of this unusual sighting and dozens of branded photos.

The mysterious brunette, who was later named as LA-based model Kelleth Cuthbert, was seen posing in a bright blue dress, holding a tray of Fiji water and staring straight into the camera. So brilliant was her photobombing that it almost looks photoshopped. Fiji Water, who sponsored the award ceremony, later tweeted: “We’re so glad everyone is talking about our water!”

Indeed, they’d turned the spotlight for the entire event onto their own brand. How many times can we usually remember the name of the headline water sponsor? On this occasion, Fiji Water Girl made sure no one could forget.

Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for FIJI Water

Fiji Water have undeniably caught the attention of the world, ensuring their sponsorship of the event gains significant press coverage and lasts long after the moment in memes. So how can other businesses create a viral marketing campaign without having to pay a penny?

Piggyback on to existing events

Businesses who achieve this kind of success will often be looking at every news story and event to see what opportunity it holds for them, even when not obvious.

When LadBaby went to Christmas number 1 with his song ‘We Built This City With Sausage Rolls’, Wall’s were quick to put their name behind his campaign, sponsoring a year’s supply of sausage rolls for his 3 million + audience. They even produced a sausage roll suit for him to wear. It’s unlikely they had planned a campaign around the Christmas number one song, but through quickly piggybacking off the moment, they gained attention.

The result? Free publicity without having to spend a penny. It’s all about finding moments that you can use to your advantage to capitalise your brand. Whether it’s the failure of your competitor (in Richard Branson’s London Eye example) or an event you are sponsoring that will be heavily photographed and promoted because of those attending (in Fiji Water’s scenario).

LadBaby in his Wall’s Sausage Roll suit

Be memorable and creative with your ideas

In the same way Richard Branson driving a tank through the centre of New York was always going to get attention, Carlsberg ensured their publicity stunt was memorable when they fixed a free beer pump into their advertising billboard. OK, so they’d had to pay for the advertising space initially and cover the product cost, but it got far more attention than if it had simply been a picture of their beer.

Alongside their catchy, memorable and witty marketing tagline, it meant people could try their beer for themselves and come away in agreement, no doubt, that the brand was probably one of the best. Who doesn’t like free beer? And, of course, thanks to the humour and unique opportunity, people would start sharing about this on their social media and in the news to ensure everyone else knew just how good the billboard was.

Carlsberg Publicity Stunt

Consider what people care about

When Deliveroo enabled customers to order the infamous meat and custard trifle from US sitcom Friends, it was a publicity stunt that would unquestionably get people talking. It’s a hugely popular TV show with a large audience who would see the humour – and enjoy the opportunity to photograph themselves trying it too.

It marked 14 years since the final episode of Friends ended, tapping into a contextually relevant time. It’s unlikely the meat and custard trifle was going to be a Deliveroo best-seller, but it was a talking point that no one else had thought to offer customers. Even if no one purchased the product, it would get headlines which would then lead to future legitimate sales.

Friends Deliveroo publicity stunt

Plan it carefully to ensure it doesn’t go wrong

While a viral campaign can do amazing things for a business, there’s also the risk that your publicity stunt can go very wrong. Prior planning and preparation can count somewhat towards ensuring this isn’t on the cards for your brand. As Business Insider reports, “To promote the ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ movie, Cartoon Network hid glowing, metal, LED signs (depicting the show’s characters) around major cities. But, when Bostonians noticed the devices hidden around the city, they began calling the police and fire department to report improvised explosive devices. Turner Broadcasting and marketing company Interference Inc. ended up paying $2 million in damages for the stunt.”

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