art marketing
Art Business

Whoa! How Viral Art Marketing Stunts Succeed

Marketing can be tough. Knowing exactly how to get the audience you want to be invested in your work can take time and research, and the larger your audience is, the more you need to account for in your marketing. It’s also easier now more than ever for the average person to tune out marketing tactics. Thousands of people can pass by big billboards or subway ads without ever giving them a second thought. Online marketing is even harder; the use of ad blockers can keep some people from ever seeing ads! You can respond to this by making your website unavailable without turning off ad blockers, but most people will simply not go to your website instead of turning off ad blockers. So, in this particularly difficult era of grabbing people’s attention, how do you successfully market your product?

More and more often, advertisers are turning the use of various “marketing stunts” and viral marketing in order to draw their audience in. These stunts can sometimes be controversial and cause social backlash if not handled right. The worst that could happen is the conversation about your ads becomes about how you failed, and the potential larger conversations you may have created, rather than you. However, if you can make a successful marketing stunt, you have the potential to create huge waves for you and your business! So, the question is, how can art be at the epicenter of this? What an art marketing stunt look like? How do you create a viral art marketing stunt, and make it succeed? We’ll look at some examples, successful and otherwise, to see where they went right or wrong.

It’s All in the Timing

art marketing
Takes some risks in your art marketing stunts and be controversial!

First, Let’s establish what you want to do when you pull off a marketing stunt. When thinking about your ideas, there are at least 4 things you want to keep in mind. One of the most obvious and important is timing. If you can tie your promotion into current events, this would be obviously recognizable to everyone, you give yourself a better chance at getting people involved that may not have cared otherwise! This can be especially helpful if you can make a witty retort on the event that occurred. One great and recent example of this is Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” ad, which was a direct response to Pepsi’s dismal ad with Kendall Jenner. Heineken was able to delve into the nuance of people’s difference of opinion and relate it back to their core product in a way that was insightful and heartfelt. This ties into the next point: getting emotional. If your campaign can strike an emotional chord with your audience, your audience may develop a more personal connection with you and your product, thus becoming more emotionally invested in you.

However, even if your timing is perfect and your work with emotions, you need to give viewers something worth stopping for, something they haven’t seen yet. When more and more companies are pursuing marketing stunts, finding ways to stand out is key. A recent example in Super Bowl marketing is Skittles. In 2018, they made an ad which was only ever shown to one person.: What the final ad recorded was that person’s reaction, along with some vague discussion afterward. In 2019, They put on a 40-minute Broadway show once, unrecorded, which was a meta performance about being a commercial within a Broadway show. On the surface, these ads seem not only completely bizarre, but downright terrible business decisions. Why spend so much money on resources aimed at the least amount of people possible? What do these commercials have to do with skittles beyond name? As strange as these ads seem, it becomes more obvious when you see the excitement of people online. They capture the online zeitgeist almost perfectly. These ads aren’t for everyone, but the people that care, care a lot. These marketing stunts show excellence in timing and thinking outside the box.

Be Radical!

art marketing
In planning art marketing, keep your core audience in mind.

The final point to consider is controversy. Controversy can come in many forms, from a radical change in how people see a brand, such as IHOP’s brief rebranding to IHOB, to approaching a serious political issue, like the infamous Pepsi ad. Both of these campaigns are examples of failures, to greater and lesser degrees, and speak to different points to consider when attempting radical or controversial advertising techniques. The Pepsi ad was an example of being tone deaf to serious issues that extend far beyond the Pepsi brand, simplifying an issue which for many could be life or death to the sip of a beverage. The IHOP example, on the other hand, is an example of being tone deaf to the brand, and what makes people want to eat at IHOP. Most people aren’t thinking about burgers when they think about IHOP, so the idea of making that central to their brand, even for a little bit, didn’t make sense. It was a rebranding that didn’t make sense for them. However, is it possible to make very successful controversial marketing stunts, it just required tact and well thought out final execution. To get to the heart of the matter, let’s look at a controversial art stunt that happened last year.

One of the most recent and popular cases of an art marketing stunt was the shredding of the Banksy piece, “Girl with Balloon”, which was being auctioned at Sotheby’s Auction House in October of 2018. The piece was supposed to be shredded all the way, but a malfunction at the auction house caused it to be only shredded halfway. Obviously, Banksy isn’t someone is desperate need of recognition, but this whole event does make some significant statements on the culture of art collecting. The piece was originally auctioned off at 1.3 million pounds, but after shredding, had doubled to 2 million, and became the most expensive piece of performance art ever sold at an auction. There is a discussion to be had on whether Banksy has changed or revealed a change in the relationship between auctioneers and artists; the art auction world has opened up a little more to the inclusion of performance art and may allow for the inclusion of more types of art in the future. This example is obviously quite different from the previous examples, as Banksy wasn’t marketing anything directly as much as he was making a statement. However, in this example, he still showed excellent use of igniting controversy, timing, and thinking outside the box. This engaged both auctioneers and art lovers in a way that set the stage for a shift in auction house culture, invoking new kinds of emotion in the audience at hand. 

As time goes on, it only gets harder to get the average customers attention. Looking at the wave of popularity among certain social media accounts, such as Wendy’s twitter, shows how far some companies are venturing off to bring customers in and get them engaged. Even so, as long as you keep in mind the 4 key guides above, and remember who your core audience is, a marketing stunt can put you on the map in the way a banner ad on a website or an ad on YouTube would never be able to do.

Have an example of a project you’ve worked on that went “viral”? Any marketing stunts that you can share? Leave your insights in the comments below!

About the author

Clay Sisson

Clay Sisson is an intern at Orangenius. Studying new media and digital design, Clay's interests include sculpture and abstract art.

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