Viral Sensations

A horrifying tale made headlines this week after three women, held captive for decades, were abruptly freed in an escape aided by a neighbor. What we know about the event is that a concerned neighbor, hearing the cries of one young woman and suspecting domestic abuse, kicked in a door to free her. Her subsequent 9-1-1 call and rescue of her and her companions by police made national headlines. The story is still unfolding. The man, Charles Ramsey, is a colorful personality who seems to have a knack for creative sound bytes in news interviews. Even fast-food chain McDonald’s, prominently mentioned as the food of choice by the local hero, restrained itself in turning it into a publicity opportunity–likely out of respect for the families and their privacy. Internet sensations like these seem to pop up regularly and oftentimes a company must decide whether to jump on the publicity bandwagon or to pass up the opportunity in the interest of courtesy or human dignity. As we watch this play out in national media, let’s see who takes the high road.



P.S. In a recent update, McDonald’s confirmed it will offer him free burgers for a year. (Sensitively handled very well by their PR team.)


Rats in Manhattan: “Peoples nightmares are a good day for us.”

Hurricane Sandy brought out the rats. According to this CNN story, the floodwaters in New York subways drove these underground residents out of their homes and into the city:

The county health department, city officials, residents, local business owners and pest departments all have something different to say. For pest control companies, one owner put it this way: “Peoples nightmares are a good day for us.”

This was a PR opportunity for entrepreneurial companies who want to get featured in the news. Business is booming and one way to take advantage of the news cycle is to promote your services when the opportunity presents itself.

Rodents in Manhattan
Rodents in Manhattan

Another example is when the maker of Oreo cookies tweeted a response to the temporary power blackout at the recent Superbowl, “you can still dunk in the dark,” and almost immediately tens of thousands of followers retweeted the message earning instant media attention.


Can you think of any other recent examples of businesses taking advantage of current events?

Funny or Die

The latest in a series of celebrity spoofs use football quarterback Tom Brady as the spokesman for the Under Armour brand of undergarments. The video boasts some entertaining moments and tongue-in-cheek humor, but the brand message perhaps is lost of the viewer. After watching the video, I remembered the characters and even the quarterback, but I couldn’t really remember the products being promoted. Watch it here and then post your comment.

The Man Who Lived On His Bike

Publicity with video clips is a strange beast. Engaging video clips can capture imagination, tell a story, persuade, inform, offend–you name it and there is a reaction to fit any example. From a PR perspective, these are great opportunities to share and reach a large audience, particularly if it “goes viral” and it has millions of views. This particular video is particularly entertaining, but for 2-3 minutes. If there is a cause or a reason that the producer created this piece, it’s lost on me other than for pure entertainment. Take a look and tell me what you think:

Man Lives on His Bike

Charlie Sheen: The Ultimate PR Crisis

In more than 20 years of professional PR counseling, I’ve yet to tell a client to utter the words, “No Comment” to the press. It’s akin to saying, “I’m guilty” or “I have something to hide” in the world of public perception. However, today, I am coining a new term, “Pulling a Charlie Sheen,” which leads me to my inevitable conclusion.  If I were Charlie Sheen’s publicist–oh, that’s right, he just quit–I would tell him to simply keep his mouth shut. Whenever he does open it, he inserts his foot. Many American’s enjoy watching celebrity meltdowns on television or listening to their rants on talk radio – heck, even media sites like make a business out of provoking celebrities to anger in ambush interviews and paparazzi style photo opportunities. As a public relations teacher, we’ve enjoyed discussing the escapades of Charlie Sheen for the purpose of examining what not to do in a crisis PR scenario. It was actually a midterm assignment for my students. His story has all the earmarks of a disaster in the making. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is a disaster every day. What more do the students say? I will give every student in class 50 extra credit points if any of their blog comments to this post gets picked up by a national news outlet before our final exam on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Sorry Charlie! Coincidentally, a USA Today article here quotes him as saying that yesterday’s radio call-in rant could be his last. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing in disbelief. If you believe that, I’ve got a great at-home drug rehab program for you.

Savvy Marketing Video

It seems there’s a publicity stunt worth commenting about nearly every day of the year. This one has an interesting twist. It started as an e-mail being circulated about a band improvising music after its instruments were stolen. The link in the e-mail take you to an iPhone video posted on YouTube. That’s not unusual. What is unique is that the entire band performance, on a NYC subway ride, was performed using iPhones/iPods by the band members, including vocals, guitar, drums and keyboard. Plugged into a Mac laptop computer and some small speakers hidden among the band members and voila! an instant concert performed for commuters. What is also relevant is that in only 3 days following the Internet upload, the video was viewed a million times. About a month later, over 4 million views on YouTube. An instant hit for the band Atomic Tom. Watch the video here:

Christmas Flash Mob

Does the thought of Christmas shopping get you excited or wear you out? For a few holiday shoppers, the trend of flash mobs, a twist on the time-honored tradition of publicity stunts, turned into a cultural experience. Interestingly, a photography company tried a stunt, with the help of many, many dozen singers at a local mall. Watch and listen here for the results. (And by the way, Merry Christmas!)