The average American is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads a day. This means brands need to work to cut through the marketing clutter in order to truly make an impression on consumers. Some brands take this very seriously, engaging in high-profile stunts to get noticed. While many of these stunts fall flat, others have been majorly successful in starting conversations and skyrocketing brand awareness. Of all the crazy, viral, and inspiring brand awareness stunts that have been pulled throughout the years, here are some of our favorites.

 

1. IHOP – IHOb

IHOb storefront and sign next to screenshots of tweets from the IHOP Twitter

In 2018, IHOP flipped its branding—literally turning the 'P' in their name upside-down to become a 'b'. This worldly house of pancakes wanted to be known for a different food—burgers!

On June 4, 2018 the IHOP account tweeted out, “For 60 pancakin’ years, we’ve been IHOP. Now, we’re flippin’ our name to IHOb. Find out what it could b on 6.11.18. #IHOb.” This was followed by a poll asking followers what they thought the ‘b’ could stand for, as well as ‘p’s swapped out for ‘b’s in their tweets (“The blot thickens, what could it b? Drob your guesses below”). By creating this air of mystery, it naturally got people talking and wondering about the chain restaurant, which translated to free publicity.

While the International House of Burgers existed for a little less than a month before returning to their original name, it’s a perfect example of harnessing the power of humor and social media to generate buzz. IHOP’s stunt wasn’t all just talk—their stocks increased by 30 percent during that period of time, resulting in market shares of over $80. So not only did IHOP stir up the social media sphere, they also brought people out to their restaurants and helped—or should we say, “helbed”—their brand in a tangible way.

 

2. Budweiser – “Tagwords

Side by side photos: one of a Budweiser mural with white words against a painted red brick wall, and the second of a screenshot of a Google search for "1987 california hip-hop budweiser"

Instead of spending thousands on licensing fees for high-profile images, Budweiser took a unique approach to influencer marketing. Using bold, graphic murals located around Brazil, they encouraged consumers to do some Googling of their own to find images of celebrities drinking their products. For example, if you search “1987 California hip-hop Budweiser,” the first result that shows up is a photo of the Beastie Boys surrounded by—that’s right—plenty of Budweiser beer cans.

By meshing together the palpable nature of murals with the all-knowing power of Google, this interactive campaign was able to boost active engagement with the brand and ad itself. If there’s one way to break through the marketing clutter, it’s with an advertisement that holds viewers’ attention for more than eight seconds. Even better if you can get them to follow your instructions!

 

3. Lyft x Netflix – "Strange Mode"

Graphic of the Netflix and Lyft logos in a red font against a black background

Perfectly timed before Halloween and the premiere of the second season of Stranger Things in 2017, Netflix and Lyft teamed up to bring the Upside Down (the twisted world from the TV show) to riders in an immersive way. For a few hours in October, Lyft users in Philadelphia and Los Angeles could request the “Strange Mode” experience on their ride. Bringing in elements from the show—such as flickering lights, shaking seats, and an Eggo waffle at the end of the experience—riders could momentarily put themselves in the world of Stranger Things.

This partnered brand awareness stunt place Lyft and Netflix among the whopping 77 percent of marketers who incorporate experiential marketing into their advertising strategies, which is an extremely effective way of increasing brand awareness.

By offering this experience, Lyft was able to differentiate their brand from competitors and position themselves as a brand that participates in pop culture.

 

4. Misereor – The Social Swipe

Two people standing in front of an interactive billboard for Misereor with an image of bread on it

Brand awareness stunts can be beneficial for more than just brands. Misereor, a German organization that seeks to support those in poverty and other difficult living situations, used an interactive billboard to encourage donations to their cause. Passersby could swipe their credit card down the middle of the billboard to give €2, with the motion either slicing a loaf of bread for a hungry family in Peru or cutting through bound hands of an imprisoned child—both problems that the donations helped to alleviate.

This unique approach serves a dual purpose—soliciting donations, while simultaneously spreading awareness about the organization. The billboards were placed in airports around Europe, allowing Misereor to take advantage of a public space where seeing someone at the machine could spark interest among passersby. The organization was also able to collect information from users to nurture them for future donations, giving the billboards both an instant and a longer-term purpose. 

 

5. Pepsi – The Pepsi "Like Machine"

People interacting with the Pepsi like machine, entering their information to like the Facebook page

“Likes” became a form of currency with Pepsi’s vending machine that popped up outside of a concert in Belgium. The machine was ready to dispense a free soda to those who showed the brand’s Facebook page some love. This mutually beneficial marketing stunt is a great example of how people are drawn in by freebies, even if it means following a Facebook page they may not have previously shown interest in. In fact, companies see a 32 percent increase in conversion rates after launching sampling campaigns, so it is definitely a worthwhile strategy to consider.

While Pepsi isn’t necessarily a budding brand that needs to grow its presence, their smart use of social media paired with the vending machine gave them a competitive edge. The brand put themselves on the pulse of their customer base by taking advantage of all the information collected from the “Likes” being traded in for drinks. Instant gratification for consumers and instant data collection for the brand—talk about a true win-win in the marketing world.

 

Conclusion

We live in a world that is steadily inundated by advertisements, which is why it sometimes takes stunts like these for a brand to stand out among competitors. Whether that’s accomplished through painting murals in the streets of Brazil, or going through a temporary rebrand, a bit of drama can go a long way for brands that want to make a memorable impact on consumers.