When Done Right, Extreme Stunts Can Catapult a Brand Into the Public Eye

But when done wrong, it can be humiliating and require damage control

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and Elon Musk's Roadster took a trip to space earlier this year. Tesla
Headshot of Sydney Lucken

In the ever-flowing sea of content, whether it be ads or branded messaging, brands are having to find more exciting ways of ensuring their audience both sees and engages with their efforts. Some brands, however, are taking it further than others. Extreme marketing involves a brand pushing the limits of human endeavor, often by performing risky or dangerous stunts, in an attempt to create content their audience will engage with.

Whilst by no means a new idea, the use of extreme strategies came to popular fruition with Red Bull and their infamous Red Bull Stratos freefall jump. Watched live by 52 million people across multiple online platforms, the event broke world records and took the already iconic energy drink to another level of global recognition.

Here are a few other brands that went to extremes that either did or did not benefit them in the long run.


In February 2018, Elon Musk, CEO for SpaceX and Tesla, sent his Roadster for a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, becoming the first car in space.

Did it work?  

Yes. With no ad budget, the launch received over 2.3 million concurrent views on YouTube, generating significant press coverage and attention on social media. Instead of just sending a rocket into space, the addition of a Tesla and a dummy at the wheel with its arm hanging out of the window added humor and character to the electric car brand, drawing attention to Tesla’s place at the forefront of automotive innovation and reinforcing their reputation as a brand with copious amounts of personality.

Takeaway: Show personality

If you want your audience to care about your brand, show them who you really are. Through this stunt, Tesla gave its brand a personality that resonated with people and brought a smile to their faces.

Audiences can’t just forget what they’ve seen, especially if the stunt is live, and that image could remain with your brand for decades.

Land Rover 

In an effort to showcase the Range Rover Sport Plug-In Hybrid’s power, Land Rover created two films showing their attempt at the Dragon Challenge, which involves a driver taking on the 99 turns and 999 steps of China’s Tianmen Mountain.

Did it work?

Yes. In becoming the world’s first vehicle to complete the challenge, Land Rover drew attention to exactly what their product could do in the most extreme conditions and created aesthetically stunning videos in the process. With the 999 steps film in particular, the first three seconds provided a compelling hook that, together with the exciting narrative, made it almost impossible to stop watching for its entire six-minute duration. This resulted in three million views, 45,000 likes and 2,000 comments on their global YouTube account.

Takeaway: Tell a story 

Don’t just make content for content’s sake; tell a story that matters to you and your audience. Land Rover’s adventure gave its product a tale to tell that truly entertained and engaged its audience.


In a bid to break the men’s marathon world record, Nike revealed its Breaking2 project, a live broadcast of three long-distance runners attempting to run a marathon in under two hours.

Did it work?

Surprisingly, yes. Despite Nike failing to break the world record (with Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge just missing the two-hour barrier at two hours and 25 seconds), the engagement received was huge: 13.1 million people tuned into the live stream via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube with 500,000 viewing at its peak, and in the two days following race day, the campaign generated 84,459 mentions on social media.

Takeaway: Be innovative 

Creativity is a key way to reach and entertain your audience. Nike combined its passion and innovation for running to gain attention, which meant that even when they failed, people still wanted to see and share the event.


In 2005, Snapple attempted to surpass the Guinness World Record for the “World’s Largest Popsicle” by freezing a 25-foot, 17.5-ton kiwi-strawberry ice pop.

Did it work? 

No. The giant ice pop was erected in Times Square on the first day of summer where the temperature rose to an unexpected 80 degrees, meaning that the sculpture melted and flooded the street with mushy pink goo before the record judge could even measure it. With the fire department called to close off streets and wash away the mess out of fear that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers would be in danger, Snapple’s stunt has gone down in history as one of the worst PR disasters.

Takeaway: Be prepared for every possible outcome 

Extreme stunts can go horribly wrong, especially if brands aren’t prepared for them. Snapple’s decision to elevate an ice sculpture in hot weather, an issue they had obviously not considered, took their brand from being one of New York’s favorite soft drinks to “Is that the company that flooded New York with pink goo?”

Should your brand adopt extreme marketing?

Only if the end result is a true reflection of your brand, audience and the values you both stand for (and if you have a big enough budget to pull it off). However, there is a high risk of failure with extreme marketing. Audiences can’t just forget what they’ve seen, especially if the stunt is live, and that image could remain with your brand for decades.

Brands need to be prepared for both possible outcomes when embarking upon extreme campaigns. Yet if Tesla, Land Rover and Nike have taught us anything, with huge risk can come huge reward. It’s now up to you if you want to take

@navigatevideo Sydney Lucken is the business and marketing executive at Navigate Video.
Publish date: May 31, 2018 https://dev.adweek.com/brand-marketing/when-done-right-extreme-stunts-can-catapult-a-brand-into-the-public-eye/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT