In the media hungry world, you need to stand out from the crowd to get attention. Publicity stunts are seen to be the answer for many individuals, celebrities and organizations. The motive for a celebrity publicity stunt may be to resurrect a career or to give a boost to the latest project. For protest groups, it’s an opportunity to get a political message across. Serious or fun, publicity stunts grab the headlines.
Rock Hudson was blessed with a handsome face and a fine physique but being a Hollywood star in the 1950s brought its problems. It wasn’t acceptable to be a gay man and Rock was forced to hide his sexuality from his fans. In 1955, ‘Confidential’ magazine was about to print an exposure of the actor’s personal life and his career faced ruin. Rock’s agent, Henry Wilson, responded by revealing scandals on two of his other clients, Rory Calhoun (a prison sentence) and Tab Hunter (arrested at a gay party). These were lesser stars and were thrown to the wolves to save Rock. A publicity stunt was also needed to reinforce Rock’s macho image, so a marriage was arranged between Rock and Wilson’s secretary, Phyllis Gates. The marriage lasted three years but served its purpose. Phyllis Gates’ motives for marrying remained unclear.
Anarchy on the River
The Sex Pistols
It was 1977 and the Silver Jubilee celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne were in full swing. The Sex Pistols’ single, ‘God Save the Queen’ offered a punk alternative to the festivities and was selling well, despite being banned by many radio stations. Their manager, Malcolm McLaren, and the Virgin record label hired a private boat to sail down the River Thames on which the band performed, whilst passing establishment buildings such as the Houses of Parliament. The stunt was designed to imitate the Queen’s procession on the river, scheduled in two days’ time. It got more publicity than they had bargained for when the river police force ordered the boat to dock and arrested the band members and McLaren.
Michael Row the Boat Ashore
The River Thames played its part again in a marketing campaign to sell records. This campaign from Sony cost $30 million and was to promote Michael Jackson’s compilation of hits, ‘HIStory’ in 1995. A statue of the Prince of Pop was floated up the river and it made a very surreal sight. The statue was one of nine identical ones, each one measuring 10 meters in height and constructed from steel and fiberglass that were taken round Europe.
An Expensive Bonfire
The thought of burning money is obscene to most people. In 1994, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the two members of the acid house band, the KLF, burned a million British pounds on the Scottish island of Jura and captured the event on film. This was the majority of their earnings from the K Foundation, which they had set up as an arts foundation. The KLF were already notorious for anarchic stunts. People tried to interpret the shocking act. Was it a piece of performance art or a serious political statement? Drummond and Cauty have said that it was about controlling money instead of it being in control of us.
Holy Publicity Stunt
Fathers 4 Justice
The Fathers 4 Justice campaign group began in the UK and has opened branches in other countries. Their aim is to reform family law and bring in a fairer system enabling equal contact with children for mothers and fathers, following divorce. The group has been involved in a number of protest stunts, including throwing purple flour bombs at the Prime Minister, but it was Batman on the balcony of Buckingham Palace that made people smile or shake their heads in equal measure. Jason Hatch, dressed up as the crime fighter, beat security and stood on the ledge for five hours with his banner. There were no members of the Royal Family in residence at the time.
Statues Get a Makeover
Menie Liberation Group
Business tycoon, Donald Trump has faced opposition to his plans to build a resort in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Local residents have been issued with compulsory purchase orders for their properties but are refusing to make way for the proposed 950 holiday homes, hotel, 500 houses, and two 18-hole golf courses. Estimates for the cost of the complex are a billion British pounds. Anti-Trump feeling is high in the Menie Liberation Group. They came up with a stunt to place Donald Trump masks on the faces of 20 statues, including one of Queen Victoria, in the capital, Edinburgh and in Glasgow, Stirling and Aberdeen.
Girl on Girl Action
Madonna and Britney Spears
One of the most famous kisses in the world appeared on newspaper front pages and on You Tube to the delight of some and the bewilderment of others. The news that Madonna and Britney had a full on the mouth, lingering kiss dominated coverage of the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Madonna also planted one on Christina Aguilera but that didn’t get the same media coverage.
What Would Lincoln Say?
In July 2009, eleven Greenpeace activists climbed on to the Mount Rushmore memorial in South Dakota to unfurl a large banner with a picture of President Obama to highlight climate change. The banner read ‘America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians. Stop Global Warning’. The stunt’s timing coincided with the G8 meeting of leaders that was being held in Italy.
Supermodels Go Bare
PETA, (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)) have been involved in several controversial stunts. The ‘I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ campaign divided opinion. Various models, including Kim Basinger, Patti Davis, Christy Turlington, Eva Mendes, and Naomi Campbell posed nude for photographs, which were then put on billboards. Reality TV star, Khloe Kardashians also joined the campaign. The message was ‘be comfortable in your own skin. Let animals keep theirs’.
Give Peace a Chance
John Lennon / Yoko Ono
Following their marriage in Gibraltar in 1969, John and Yoko decided to devote their honeymoon to campaigning for peace. This involved staying in bed and inviting the media and celebrity friends to their hotel room. The first ‘Bed-In’ was at the Amsterdam Hilton and the second one was at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. The Montreal hotel room was the location for the recording of ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Everyone gathered in the room and joined in the chorus. The anti-war song became an anthem for the anti-Vietnam War movement.
If you are a Lennon fan and are interested in his take on peace and how he used advertising and performance art to make a statement, please visit http://www.peaceworksnow.com.