If you're making as much as Elon Musk, you can send a car into space to generate buzz for your biz. But if you're not - and we're guessing you're not - read on to see what you can learn from that and other publicity stunts pulled off by companies in 2018. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
If you’re making as much as Elon Musk, you can send a car into space to generate buzz for your biz. But if you’re not – and we’re guessing you’re not – read on to see what you can learn from this and other publicity stunts pulled off by companies in 2018. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

An insane political season gave us more than our fair share of headlines to click on in 2018, to say the very least. But businesses were making news this year as well, by pulling stunts that made us think, laugh — even roll our eyes. Below, we’re looking at some of the splashiest, and how several entrepreneurial women tried the same tricks with their own ventures. Surely you can try some of these moves in 2019, too.

1. The ‘Palessi’ Prank

This one is definitely freshest in our minds. At the start of the holiday shopping season, shoe store chain Payless played a prank on social media influencers by inviting them to the grand opening of “Palessi.” This fake high-end store, set up in Santa Monica, Calif., took the chain’s discount heels, flats and sneakers and offered them at mark-ups of over 1,000 percent. A video of shoppers discovering that they had really purchased Payless shoes quickly made the rounds, both on social media and on various news sites.

It may not fall into the category of “prank,” but Stacey Abrams, who we covered throughout her campaign for Georgia governor, got some attention with this spoof interview on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” that was thick with references to the TV political drama “Scandal.” Lesson: People like clever silliness. It never hurts to inject your company’s messaging with some.

2. Lindsay Lohan’s Most Surprising Role

Actress Lindsay Lohan debuted as the spokesperson of Lawyer.com, a previously unknown attorney finding service, in March. It may seem like an odd pairing, given Lohan’s past legal troubles involving drunk driving incidents and accusations of assault. But she is very much in on the joke, smirking in her debut commercial while pointing to her personal need for legal representation as proof of her knowledge of the subject.

Humor can be a very powerful tool for boosting your business’ profile — or snagging the funding you need. The co-founders of Harper Wilde, a home try-on service for bras, used jokes to reach male VCs. For instance, they created a funny intro video that subjected a man to the Victoria’s Secret shopping experience. “The majority of investors are men, and it’s typically not men wearing our product,” co-founder Jane Fisher says. So they tried to win them over with humor, and earned both laughs and investments.

3. Tesla Takes to the Stars

Eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk has had quite a year — to put it one way. He began making headlines in 2018 when his company, Tesla, sent its Roadster into outer space. (Oh, to be rich.) On Feb. 6, the car took to the stars, and the common folk took to their phones and computers to discuss. Since the start of its news-making voyage, the Tesla Roadster has traveled past Mars.

For those of us confined to earthbound travel, a brand vehicle can still take your business places. Just ask Takia Ross, whose makeup and hairstyling business Accessmatized is taking on gigs and spreading the word with help from her company van. The “Pretty Mobile” is essentially a “driving billboard,” she told us, as well as a space for dolling up wedding parties and actors on location at commercial shoots.

[Related: 10 Tips for Marketing Your Business On the Cheap, Since You Aren’t Elon Musk]

4. Nike Makes a Statement

On Labor Day, athletic wear company Nike debuted a new ad featuring the face of embattled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The sports star has made a name for himself off the field, when his kneeling protests of police brutality divided football fans and made him either a pariah or a hero, depending on whom you ask. His Nike ad didn’t just spark conversation — it also made Nike a ton of money.

Considering changing your name as part of a publicity stunt? Make sure it's a winner, and not an IHOb-style fail! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Considering changing your name as part of a publicity stunt? Make sure it’s a winner, and not an IHOb-style fail! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Indeed, people seem to respond to messaging that combines a famous face and shared principles. Days for Girls, a nonprofit bringing reusable sanitary pads to women in poor communities around the world, saw a boost after Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle made the importance of good menstrual health a part of her royal biography. The takeaway: If appropriate, consider getting behind a cause that’s authentic to your brand.

[Related: Listen to how these social entrepreneurs do it in our “Good on the Ground” podcast series.]

5. IHOP Turns ‘IHOb’

Over the summer, restaurant chain International House of Pancakes announced a name change on Twitter. The shift from IHOP to “IHOb” was done to promote their new specialty burgers. Of course, the “flip the P” campaign was a fake-out — IHOP continues to be IHOP, and will still meet all of your breakfast needs. But that didn’t stop Twitter users from “meme-ing” the moment.

OK, we don’t suggest you try this one at home. It’s too difficult to come up with a brilliant name in the first place, and it’s too much work to get customers to remember it. Instead, check out these tips from Jennifer Fitzgerald, founder of buzzy startup Policygenius, on how to come up with an off-the-charts business name. True story: These tips saved her from naming her company “Safetynuts” — which may have gotten about the same reception as “IHOb.”

Editor’s Note: The Story Exchange is celebrating its 10th anniversary by launching the annual Women In Science Incentive Prize. Apply now for a chance to receive $5,000 in funding for your climate-related research or startup. Deadline: July 31. 

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