The Fame Game: Shot Bro, Noah’s Ark and other PR activations with a real sense of purpose

This month on The Fame Game, Kelly Grindle takes us on a journey into the world of PR that’s somewhat thought-provoking and sure to rouse emotion.

Shot, bro!

The governments first fleet of COVID-19 vaccine buses have hit the streets of Auckland and have got off to a jabbing start.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rolled out a well-worn social media approach by asking the public to name the new buses through a social poll.

Learning from the UK’s ‘Boaty McBoatFace’ disaster she provided a shortlist of options of which Shot Bro was selected.  Full credit must be given to public comments however, with ineligible popular options including ‘Jake The Bus’, ‘Mr Sticky’ instead of ‘Mr Whippy’, and ‘Chariots of Pfizer’.

This is a wildly simple mechanic to help engage – and appeal to – younger Aucklanders who have had the lowest uptake on vaccination. 

The extensions from this activation are obvious – “Shot Bro” stickers in place of the traditional sticking plasters, or social media filters to proclaim you’ve had a “shot” instead of the pixelated selfie of a medical vaccine card.

We’ve all got our fingers crossed that vaccination rates continue to climb, and the communications effort has been bolstered by high profile campaigns from the likes of the New Zealand Herald with ‘The 90% Project’.

However I’d humbly suggest that Prime Minister Ardern missed a political touch-down by excluding ‘My husband’s Samoan, so Talofa’ from the social media shortlist, but that’s arguably why I’m not in government relations.

Johnnie Walker talks to the dads

Who doesn’t love a yarn with their dad?

Johnnie Walker is helping to keep our dad’s stories alive for generations, through a unique Father’s Day campaign that allowed dads to give their families a gift that will last forever.

Finally – some real innovation in Father’s Day gifts that doesn’t involve the same cliched fragrances, power tools or Working Style ties.

The centrepiece of the campaign is a voice-enabled Whiskey Case that preserves your fathers’ stories, and allows you to record new memories, so the next conversation with your dad can live forever.

Truth be told, if I’d given my father a few glasses of whiskey, I’m not entirely sure the conversation would be suitable of preservation – but this is certainly an example of clever technology and brilliant cultural insight, in a category that’s ripe for disruption.

Alcohol brands always have the power to invoke memories and emotions, and for me, this smart execution hits the right note.

Extinction Rebellion predicts the end of days

Extinction Rebellion have finally executed a PR stunt that doesn’t involve disrupting frustrated commuters on their way to work – and it’s a doozy.

The charity has constructed a 20-metre-long, six-metre-high boat frame to replicate that of Noah’s Ark and sits high above the Scottish village hosting the COP26 climate conference later this year.

The message is brutally simple.

When asked by local council if the charity had permission to create a permanent structure, the reply made headline news: “It’s not permanent. Just in the same way that humanity won’t be if we don’t take urgent action on the climate.”

With sea levels rising, temperatures skyrocketing, and coordinated climate action remaining elusive it’s a powerful symbol that will quite literally loom over opinion leaders and decision makers from some of the most powerful countries in the world.

With the stunt already scoring global headlines around the world, Extinction Rebellion have pondered a clever campaign extension: fighting to gain planning permissions until 2045 when the Scottish government has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions.

This column will check back in on progress in 24 years…

Booking.com does it with pride

Booking.com has sprinkled some much needed glitter over a fairly dreary month of lockdowns by partnering with award-winning Kiwi photographer Becki Moss to raise funds for LGBT+ charity OutLine Aotearoa.

The photo-series – termed Postcard from Pride – is designed to highlight the challenges faced by the LGBT+ community whilst travelling and to celebrate how travel can make the world a more inclusive place.

It features local LGBT+ icons such as drag superstar Kita Mean and television presenter Aziz Al Sa’Afin to raise awareness of the fact that more than half of LGBT+ Kiwi travellers say they prioritise safety and wellbeing when planning a holiday.

The campaign was created to coincide with Booking.com’s sponsorship of Winter Pride in Queenstown, which was cancelled due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

Whilst you must feel for the PR team’s unlucky timing behind the initiative, my sympathy only extends so far after five weeks of filling my time with re-runs of Below Deck and endless zoom meetings.

It still does a remarkable job of highlighting the firm’s enviable LGBT credentials – something our marketing is broadly lacking when compared to markets such as Australia and the UK. 

More importantly, Booking.com are communicating with a real sense of purpose and are encouraging Kiwis to donate to the important work from OutLine Aotearoa.


At the risk of sounding like a lobbyist for the beleaguered tourism industry, Airbnb have once again delivered a masterclass in cultural relevance.

They’ve created a Winnie the Pooh-inspired house in the original Hundred Acre Wood available to book as part of Disney’s 95th Anniversary celebration of the loveable children’s character.

Hosted by the original illustrator Kim Raymond, the Winnie the Pooh house not only hits the mark of cultural relevance – it is produced to the standard that has consistently won Airbnb global acclaim.

The detailing of tree wrapped branches, bespoke wallpaper, and cupboards filled with honey-pots have transformed this experiential activation to a true work of art.

Beyond the finesse of the physical execution, it’s rooted in a global news moment, it embeds the brand in popular culture, and it continues to reinforce the epic platform of “Belong Anywhere.”

How long can Airbnb keep rolling out similar executions of the same idea you ask?  When it’s done to this standard, my guess is forever. 

And an honorary mention to the King, Lil Nas X

Who says good PR has to be restricted to brands or government?

Lil Nas X has not just released an album – the rapper has created an entire god-damn universe around his debut album that rivals the cinematic creations of Disney.

From his outrageous Met Gala outfits, to the social teasers chronicling the final weeks of pregnancy before he birthed his new album, Lil Nas has manged to break every social convention – and every PR record – in the process.

We haven’t seen this level of creativity from a pop icon in years, and it’s arguably going to leave Lady Gaga quaking in her meat-dress.

But like a true modern icon, he has also delivered this campaign with purpose raising more than $100,000 for charity. 

His baby registry that chronicled the birth of his album raised funds for 13 LGBT focused charities, and his ‘Industry Baby’ video helped raise awareness and funs for The Bail Project – a non-profit to combat mass incarceration.

Brand endorsements have obviously come rolling in – and I wouldn’t be an objective columnist if I didn’t point to the partnership that Special facilitated between Lil Nas and Elton John for America’s latest iteration of Uber Eats, Tonight I’ll Be Eating

Love him, or hate him, there’s no doubt that Lil Nas has got people talking – and that’s what The Fame Game is all about.

Submissions for October’s column are welcome – PR, influence and activation case studies can be sent to: [email protected]

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