The 15 Best Branded Stunts and Activations of 2018 (So Far)

From space shots to Bowie, it's been a banner year

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

This year’s abundance of branded stunts and activations may make it feel like a recent trend, but the tactic has been a marketing staple since the 1800s. One of the first stunts of this kind to enjoy national attention was in 1896, where a rail line in Texas staged an event in which two trains smashed into each other. An impressive crowd of 40,000 people attended in the aptly named town of Crush, Texas.

While we may not have seen any head-on train collisions lately, 2018 has definitely provided a bumper crop of engaging, compelling and sometimes polarizing stunts. With that in mind, we’ve picked 15 that achieved the goal of standing out in a crowded advertising field.

IHOb Name Change

Brand: IHOP
Creative Agency: Droga5

It’s hard to imagine a pancake restaurant creating so much angst. But, in an attempt to get a little action going, the chain swapped its name from IHOP to IHOb, focusing on their burger line. With about 500,000 social mentions and some good-natured ribbing from other brands, we came to find out that this was merely temporary (though we had an idea that was the case), with the brand reverting back to its griddled staple.

SpaceX Carries a Tesla Into Space

Brand: Tesla
Agency: In-house

Red Bull may be the gold standard in stunts involving space, but that didn’t stop Elon Musk from launching his Tesla Roadster into space aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. It’s was a marketing double-whammy, promoting two of Musk’s ambitious companies at once. While it didn’t cost Tesla any marketing dollars, sister company SpaceX’s investment in the development and launch of the rocket was in the ballpark of $500 million—so it wasn’t exactly cheap.

Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home

Brand: Tourism Australia
Creative Agency: Droga5

Never has a movie that wasn’t a movie elicited such strong responses. A reboot of the ’80s classic with Danny McBride, the brothers Hemsworth (Chris and Liam) and a gaggle of A-list Aussie talent? Yes, please. Though Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home isn’t real (yet), a fact revealed during the Super Bowl, this was one hell of a way to promote tourism.

Everlight Underwear’s Money Hiding in Plain Sight

Brand: Fruit of the Loom
Agency: CP+B

It’s the scavenger hunt New Yorkers didn’t know existed in the first place. But the prize was what everyone loves: cold, hard cash. Hiding stacks of money in 11 locations, Fruit of the Loom made it easy to find the loot—as long as you paid close attention to ads. The instructions are in (relatively) plain sight around the city and, as of the end of last month five little piles of cash, and fancy new underwear, were still waiting.

Jurassic Jeff

Brand: Now TV
Agency: Fever PR

When celebrating the 25th anniversary of a film, what do you do? A new collector’s edition disc release is nice. Maybe an event at a theater to mark the occasion. But, if you’re Britain’s Now TV celebrating the legacy of Jurassic Park, you put a massive statue of sexy Jeff Goldblum smack in front of London’s City Hall and Tower Bridge. The seductive work of art was a big surprise and a decidedly hilarious way to get people to watch the carnivore classic on Now TV.

Winter Olympics Drone Show

Brand: Intel
Agency: In-house

One of the Olympics staples is fireworks at the opening and closing ceremonies. But can you really get the exact shape you want? Enter Intel’s drone extravaganza from the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. After months of preparation, 1,200 drones were choreographed in the sky above, breaking a record (also held by Intel) for the most flown in the air at the same time.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.