The Fame Game: Fireproof fiction, child-free cruises and a Netflix rift

Special PR’s Head of PR & Influence, Kelly Grindle, selects five of the most attention-grabbing campaigns that made a big difference for their respective brands.

Have a submissions for the June column? Email [email protected]

An incendiary PR stunt from Penguin Random House

What on earth is happening in the United States?

Abortion rights are under attack, gun violence is on the rise, and inflation is widening economic inequality; yet a significant chunk of the government is focusing on a domestic culture war.

Since August last year, more than 1,500 books have been banned from US school districts – most of which focus on people of colour and LGBT communities.

So, to highlight the importance of words and freedom of expression, an ‘unburnable book’ has been created.

A fireproof edition of The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale of a divided American society in the face of falling birth rates – has been released by Penguin Random House.

Sewn, handbound, and made of entirely fireproof materials it was put to the test by Margaret Atwood who attempted to personally burn it with a flame-thrower.

The Handmaid’s Tale has been subject to censorship itself – since its release in the 1980s, the book has consistently ranked in the top ten most challenged books in US schools for its “profanity, vulgarity and sexual overtones.”

The book is being auctioned online to raise funds for PEN America – a charitable organisation that stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression.

The simplicity of this stunt, and the author chosen to front it, has seen the news spread globally.  It speaks to a significant cultural issue and is designed to raise both funds and awareness for an important cause.

I’d call it one epic political burn, from one of America’s leading literacy voices.  

This gets a 10/10 from me.

Pet insurance is in the spotlight

High-visibility fashion for your pet?

It sounds absolutely bonkers, but ‘bonkers’ is often the secret ingredient in any PR campaign.

Southern Cross Pet insurance has a mission to help pets live their best lives for longer. With road safety leading to a tonne of injuries and fatalities for our four-legged friends, the insurance giant delivered an innovation to help pets be safer around roads.

They partnered with fashion designer Matthew Adams Dolan to create a range of high-fashion garments that kept pets warm, comfortable, and most importantly visible. Made with reflective materials, the outfits were designed to reflect car headlights, and make pets more visible on the roads.

Is anyone actually going to use these products?  I sincerely hope not.

But that doesn’t matter, because the conversation is on our radar, and awareness of the Southern Cross pet insurance portfolio has spiked.

What I love about this campaign is the detail that’s been considered in execution.  

The use of fashion cliches in photography, the engagement touchpoints encouraging fans to “get their paws on” the product, through to the storytelling surrounding the real-life pets that star in the campaign.

It ticks all the boxes you need – addressing a societal issue, a quirky real-life solution, some killer content, and of course, cute pets.

Practically purrfect.

Kids call bullsh*t on Virgin’s new cruise line

One of the biggest attractions of Sir Richard Branson’s new cruise line Virgin Voyages is the fact it’s an adults-only experience.

It just hasn’t gone down well with everyone.

Branson has received dozens of complaints and letters from kids all over the globe, frustrated that their parents are heading on a holiday without them.

Ever the showman who can spot a PR opportunity, he shared the news with the team at Virgin Voyages who released a tongue-in-cheek protest video.

Called “No Kids On The Ocean” it’s a music video juxtaposing angry kids singing about being left behind, against shots of the stunning luxury cruise line.

I can imagine that this approach would divide creatives – is it an advert? Is it a PR stunt?  Does this appropriately deliver the brand story? Are the leaping dolphins just a bit… weird?

But at the end of the day, it has literally scored thousands of global headlines, and millions of online impressions that talk to a core selling point: “Child-free cruises.”

In Virgin Voyages other press releases, that statement is buried in a list of talking points about the brand and is often overlooked. Journalists have tended to concentrate on sexier headlines such as Virgin’s at-sea tattoo parlour, the drag-queen brunch, or their private island beach resort called Bimini.

Here, a simple creative execution has allowed Virgin Voyages to elevate the child-free message – with the heart-warming, funny tone Virgin is world-famous for.

As much as I love my own nieces and nephews, I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck on a cruise ship with them for a week, so this is a winner in my books. 

Cloudy Bay’s immersive wine, food and music experience

Is there any industry that’s more homogenous than the wine industry?

With the exception of quirky pioneers such as Invivo, it can often feel a little same-same, particularly at the luxury end of the market.

So Cloudy Bay has decided to shake things up through the creation of Wonderscape.

It aims to connect people to the brand’s Marlborough home through each glass of wine, evoking New Zealand’s natural wonder and sense of simple luxury.

Wonderscape was a series of ticketed events which celebrates the very best of natural Aotearoa New Zealand with wine, food and sound.

At its heart was a long-lunch activation which was nothing short of spectacular.  

Located at the stunning Mawhiti pavilion on Waiheke Island, the event included transportation on superyacht Rua Moana, a three-course menuscape by chef Hercules Noble, creative direction and table styling by Kayla Jurlina, and a soundscape by Sanon Ihaia from Sweet Mix Kids.

For those who couldn’t attend the ticketed event on Waiheke, Cloudy Bay has released ‘at home’ kits featuring menus, wine and entertainment and styling advice. 

This was a first-class luxury promotion from conception to execution – from the creation of the experience, to the selection of brand ambassadors, to the finesse around content and design.

Perfectly positioned, and flawlessly executed.

The Upside Down has arrived Down Under

Netflix’s smash-hit Stranger Things has returned to the streaming platform, so to celebrate its launch a ‘Rift’ has taken over Bondi Beach.

For all of those who aren’t sci-fi geeks, the ‘Rift’ is essentially an inter-dimensional gate to a different world, known as the Upside Down. 

The stunning piece of experiential theatre – held in one of Australia’s most iconic locations – saw a 20-metre by 16-metre glowing red void, complete with brand-like vines, scientists in hazmat suits patrolling the scene, and lifeguards setting up a perimeter.

The stunt was open for several days, encouraging Sydneysiders to take a detour on the way to work and get excited about the return of the show.

Australia is one of fifteen concurrent stunts all around the world – including Duomo Square in Milan, the Empire State Building in New York, the Gateway of India in Dubai and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Is this the most creative PR execution?  No.

But it ticks the boxes for everything you need in a picture stunt: it is visually arresting, it is highly unusual, it’s in an iconic location, and it leverages a Netflix IP that’s been ingrained in popular culture.

This type of PR and activation is still very rare in New Zealand, in large part due to our small media scene and lack of tabloid journalism – here’s hoping that the day will soon come when New Zealand can play its part alongside the likes of Milan, New York and Bilbao.

For more from Kelly and The Fame Game, click here.

About Author

Kelly Grindle is Head of PR & Influence at Special PR.

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