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This Is Why Richard Branson’s Best Publicity Stunts Smash It

Richard Branson's Best Publicity Stunts


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If you’ve never heard of Richard Branson, you haven’t been paying attention. Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, which comprises all the Virgin brands you’re familiar with: Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Hotels…the list goes on. While other major company owners are famous for owning their respective businesses (Think Bill Gates and Microsoft), Branson is perhaps more known for some of the crazy stunts he’s performed over the years in the name of getting his brand noticed. While most publicity stunts are blatantly obvious grabs for attention that result in little more than a collective eyeroll and groan from the general public, Branson’s antics are usually enough to turn heads and get people to give more than just a passing glance to the service or product he’s promoting at the time. More importantly, the stunts Branson pulls often come with underlying lesson that the budding entrepreneur can take to heart while getting publicity for their business. Even the more ridiculous of his stunts can teach us one thing or another about best practices when it comes to getting the word out about your company.

Attempting to Circumnavigate the Globe in a Hot Air Balloon

richard branson balloon

What Richard Branson Did

Always the adventurer, Branson set out on multiple occasions to fly all the way around the world in a hot air balloon, which he dubbed the “Virgin Atlantic Flyer.” Before attempting the full flight, he had successfully crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (on separate occasions). During these excursions – to make a long story short – Branson faced seemingly unsurmountable danger – but was always able to figure out a way to safety. Unfortunately for Branson, two professional balloonists beat him to the punch in 1999 when they circumnavigated the globe from thousands of feet above, at which point he gave up his pursuit of being the first to do so.

What You Can Learn From Him

Right from the get-go you should be able to tell that Branson thinks outside the box when it comes to getting his company noticed. And he thinks big. The Virgin Atlantic Flyer was, at the time, the world’s largest hot-air balloon. Think about that for a second: Branson, who was – and is – not a professional hot-air balloonist, specifically had the largest balloon in the world created for a publicity stunt. That’s like hiring Eric Clapton to play the background music for your 10-second TV commercial. The huge balloon flying across beautiful scenery made for a wonderfully visual publicity stunt. It’s absolutely crucial that your publicity stunt looks good. It’s more or less pointless to try and organise a stunt that can’t be summed up in a picture or a 10 second video that can feature at the end of the TV news or get shared on social media.  While it might seem over-the-top – and it just may well be – Branson’s world record attempt did get the word out about Virgin Atlantic. It also helped portray Branson as a brave maverick, which neatly fitted in with Virgin’s brand values. 

Carried a Famous Burlesque Dancer Around During a Photoshoot

branson von teeseWhat Richard Branson Did

To help promote the announcement of Virgin Media in 2007, Branson enlisted the help of professional burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese. Never one to shy away from the camera, Branson took full advantage of the situation, picking up Von Teese while hamming it up for the cameras. Branson took the image of the prim and proper billionaire and tossed it square on his head during this photoshoot. While it definitely wasn’t the craziest thing he’s ever done, it made it incredibly clear that Branson is not your “typical” rich man.

What You Can Learn From Him

A well-placed celebrity appearance can do a lot for your brand. Branson has used the power of celebrity marketing again and again. He knows a celebrity instantly makes a story more interesting to a journalist. He also knows that consistently appearing next to celebrities over the years has massively contributed to himself being seen as a celebrity. It’s no secret that people idolize famous people, and would do anything they could to live the life of their favorite celebrity. When they hear that this actor wears a certain brand of clothes, or that athlete eats at a certain restaurant, they’re more likely to patronize that brand, believing it will bring them one step closer to the person they want to most emulate. Even as a small business owner, you can leverage your customer base in a way that grabs the attention of those in your niche. For example, testimonials on your website from known figures within your industry will lend credibility to your company. If fans of another professional’s work see that he was able to find value using your product, they’ll be much more likely to engage in business with you as well. Finally don’t assume a celebrity appearance will be expensive. Remember that celebrities’ life blood is the media. So if you have some media coverage lined up, it’s worth approaching an appropriate celebrity to see if they might be willing to take part on the strength of the publicity alone or in return for a discount on your product or service. Midlands Hot Tub supplier Danz Spas credits a discounted hot tub they gave to Sophie Ellis Bextor with pushing their revenue past £1 million per annum.

Dressed as a Zulu Warrior to Promote South African Flight Route

branson zuluWhat Richard Branson Did

This one really doesn’t need much explanation. Richard Branson once dressed as a Zulu warrior while promoting Virgin Airline’s new flight route to South Africa. There are so many ways this stunt could have backfired. Branson could have easily painted his face and chest, bought some fake weaponry that looked appropriate, and taken some photos without thinking twice about it. If he went about it that way, he would have run the risk of offending an entire demographic of people by making assumptions and taking liberties with their culture. Instead, Branson met with members of Johannesburg’s cultural center to create an authentic outfit that was true to the Zulu people.

What You Can Learn From Him

Do. Your. Research. If you haven’t noticed, people nowadays will seemingly jump at an opportunity to be offended. It’s almost like a competition to see who can find the most fault in seemingly innocuous advertisements, tweets, or even press releases. Be aware of the cultural climate of your target audience at all times. What might seem like a harmless joke to you might end up offending an entire group of people. Not only that, but if you end up offending one group, it’s more than likely that advocates from other groups will join the crusade against your brand. Furthermore, you need to know what’s socially and culturally acceptable in different parts of the world. For example, many hand signals that convey a positive meaning in Western culture have totally different connotations elsewhere. If you make the mistake of doing something that offends another culture, ignorance will be no excuse. The mob who will have riled against you will simply wonder why you didn’t do your research – insinuating you didn’t think the offended culture was worth looking into in the first place.

Dressed as a Female Flight Attendant After Losing a Bet

What Richard Branson Did

Who among us hasn’t made a bet revolving around public humiliation rather than money? Okay, so when we make these bets, we’re betting on our favourite sports team rather than the team we own. Aside from that fact, though, sometimes billionaires are no different than everyone else. In 2013, Branson made a bet with fellow airline magnate Tony Fernandes of AirAsia involving their companies’ respective F1 racing teams. The loser had to not only work as a flight attendant for the winner’s airline for a day, but he also had to do it in drag. Needless to say, the pictures are nothing short of disturbing, but a bet is a bet, right?

What You Can Learn From Him

You can turn any unusual situation into a publicity stunt. This situation may have evolved from a wager. But you can bet (excuse the pun) Branson saw the potential for headlines as soon as he and Fernandes shook hands. Why for most people they last thing they would want when forced to dress in drag is a camera within 10 miles of them. But Branson knew it would make great publicity, and he was spot on. These photos showed the fun side of Richard Branson, and, by extension, Virgin.  The bet between Branson and Fernandes showed them both to be a sort of “everyman.” They made a bet similar to one you or I may have made back in our university days. Instead of setting themselves apart from “commoners” by wagering vast sums of money, the bet showed that, in their hearts, they’re really no different than their clientele. You may be a businessman and entrepreneur, but you’re a person first. So if you’re in an unusual situation where you can show off a bit of personality, even via sticking a selfie on instagram, make sure you grab it with both hands.

Drove a Tank Down Fifth Avenue to Launch New Cola

What Richard Branson Did

richard branson tankYou read that right. Richard Branson once drove an actual tank through the streets of Manhattan to promote his newest business venture, Virgin Cola. But it was what he did with the tank that is even more surprising: He “fired a missile” at the famous Coca Cola sign in Times Square, apparently blowing it to pieces. There were even pyrotechnics involved to make the stunt look as real as possible. Of course, Branson and his team were careful not to cause any actual damage. And, I’m sure you know a stunt such as this would not be at all possible in the post-9/11 world. But it kind of makes you wonder how far he could have taken the stunt in the first place… Anyways:

What You Can Learn From Him

Sometimes you will need to declare war on your competition. Obviously, this stunt was all in good fun – but the message was clear: Richard Branson intended to take over the soft drink industry with Virgin Cola. It won’t work for everyone, but there’s no doubt aggressive marketing campaigns like this one will get you noticed. The media love a David vs. Goliath narrative. You wouldn’t create an advertisement that touted your product as average, right? It would make no sense to communicate the idea that your service is “just okay.” You want your audience to truly believe your product is the be all and end all when it comes to your industry. Even companies that provide products that aren’t all that exciting have found ways to make their services seem absolutely necessary to their customers’ lives. As an entrepreneur, you should always be finding ways in which your product will figuratively blow the doors off your competitors’ products. And you should always make sure your advertising campaigns make it clear that your product is the best around. Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Click Here to Get A Summary Checklist PDF To Print And Use Again And Again that will act as a reminder of all the key points you need to know.

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