Win, Place and Show: The Three Best PR Campaigns of All Time

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Top_3_PR_Campaigns.jpgIt’s triple crown time (Go Nyquist!), so we thought it was a good time to pick the winners for PR. Anytime anyone declares the top three of anything based on subjective factors alone, there’s bound to be disagreement. We can’t really line them all up in a starting gate and ring the bell, so if you have other campaigns that you think should be contenders, we’d love to hear about it.  But, for me, these campaigns are in the money.

Win: DeBeers Diamond Company

Who says that engagement rings need diamonds and that they should cost about two months’ salary? DeBeers Diamond Company, that’s who.  Huge diamond mines were discovered in South Africa in 1870. The British financiers behind the mining efforts formed De Beers Consolidated Mines to create a monopoly over diamond prices. To create demand, they turned to the US market, and in 1938 they hired, Philadelphia ad agency N.W. Ayer. This was despite the fact that sales of diamonds in the U.S. had declined by nearly 50% since the end of World War I.

The agency did serious market research and found that diamonds were considered a luxury for only the rich by most Americans. To expand the market DeBeers needed to find a way to make diamonds accessible, and highly desirable to Americans of all income levels. In order to control prices, they also needed a way to keep people from reselling the diamonds that they bought.

They needed an emotional hook with strings attached. Making the connection between diamonds and marriage was genius. The idea of an engagement ring had been around for centuries, but they weren’t ubiquitous and rarely contained diamonds. DeBeers did nothing short of convincing men that diamonds were the ultimate gift of love, and women that they were an essential part of the commitment of marriage. If the young suitor likes it, he’d better put a ring on it, after all.

Of course, we now know that diamonds are ethically questionable, but the success of this PR campaign is not questionable at all.

Place: The Goodyear Blimp

This one makes my list because Goodyear proved that you can get awesome PR results by giving something away to exactly the right influencer.

The Goodyear Blimp was originally designed for military purposes, but in 1930 the Goodyear Blimp “Defender” became the first airship in the world to carry a lighted sign. That was a novel approach to advertising in itself, but in 1940, Goodyear took it to another level by outfitting blimps Reliance, Ranger and Resolute with a record player, microphone and attached loudspeaker. They would “blimpcast” recordings and live greetings to large public gatherings.  

On January 1, 1955, the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California was the first event broadcast live using an aerial platform.  Of course, today, Goodyear blimps are so closely associated with sports broadcasting, that they are part of the American experience. Goodyear offers their airships to TV networks at no charge, only asking that their name be mentioned whenever they talk about the blimp.

This is a brilliant example of how doing something that helps the people in the position to promote your brand, can lead to big returns.

Show: The Blair Witch Project

How does a movie made for about $25,000, in 8 days, with no script and no famous actors, gross $249 million worldwide? With genius PR. That’s how.

The Blair Witch Project, as I’m sure you remember, is the story of three student film makers who are investigating the local legend of the Blair Witch in the Black Hills. After asking around town a bit, they venture into the woods never to be seen again. A year later, the footage they shot is found and turned into a movie. When the film was first marketed and released, audiences didn’t know if it was real or not. The low budget nature of the film added to the effect, it certainly looked like it could have been real. The producers went so far as to place “missing persons” posters in strategic locations. The actors were listed as “missing, presumed dead for a year,” on IMDB.  

The plan worked. On its opening weekend, The Blair Witch Project grossed $1.5 million on only 27 screens. All screens were packed, and people waited in line for hours to be sure of a ticket. (Keep in mind, this was in 1997, before social media.) Brilliant PR turned three kids with some cameras in the woods into a mega hit. Since then, others have tried, but none have been able to replicate this feat.

These are three very different examples of how PR can change a brand’s relationship with its audience.  They all show that often, the most powerful PR isn’t third party coverage, it’s a well-executed strategy based on a clear understanding of what matters to the people you are trying to reach. Hopefully these examples have you thinking about how you can get your brand off to the races.


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