3 Tips for Executing a Great Stunt

Amnesty International's latest terrifying stunt washed up on the beaches of Brighton and it was perfect.

In what Vice is calling possibly “@AmnestyUK’s best stunt yet,” the human rights organization placed 200 body bags on the beach in Brighton last week to raise awareness about the terrible spike in migrant deaths during crossings of the Mediterranean. The action was intended to highlight what the organization calls the UK’s “shameful” response to the situation.

According to The Guardian, there were actual people in these bags (along with balloons and other objects). The stunt was accompanied by the hashtag #DontLetThemDrown. Hundreds have died trying to get to Europe from Africa, more than 800 on one ship that sank off the coast of Libya.

“The stunt was the perfect embodiment of what Amnesty International does best—they use the powerful tools of art, advertising, and theater to wrench our attention towards the gross injustices facing disempowered people across the globe,” writes Vice. The outlet highlights a couple of other previous Amnesty stunts, including this one in which they put a woman in a transparent suitcase on a baggage carousel in Germany to protest human trafficking. Powerful and amazing stuff.

Many PR campaigns include an elaborate stunt; something that’s meant to get lots of attention and go viral. Unfortunately for many groups, not every stunt rises to this level. And it has nothing to do with whether the stunt is addressing something serious. The Oreo on-the-spot tweets that go viral are about cookies. But they work.

So if you’d like to use the stunt technique to get your client a little viral action, we have three suggestions to help get started.

1. Be ostentatious but tasteful.

The Amnesty stunt could have gone wrong if, say instead of body bags, they tried to put drowned bodies on display. The message comes through loud and clear without being offensive.

So many times, this is where other organizations go wrong. Many people agree with PETA; we should be better towards animals. But their efforts are so over-the-top, oftentimes, the message gets lost beneath the bombast.

For other brands, the idea that “sex sells” or “you can never be too outrageous” ends up being a hindrance rather than an attraction. As Nina Garcia says on Project Runway, take a good look at your “taste level” and make that one of the strengths of your stunt.

2. Have a good visual.

A stunt goes viral when there’s a good visual to pass around. This Amnesty stunt certainly had it. The aforementioned Oreo tweets usually have a cute graphic to go along with them. Celebrity participation is usually a good bet. Remember to think through what the stunt is supposed to look like in addition to what it’s meant to say.

3. Keep it simple

A stunt doesn’t have to be a circus. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be because if one piece of the show flops, it’ll bring everything down with it. Find a compelling way to boil your message down to a snapshot and let that do the talking. Keep the bells and whistles in moderation.

EU leaders came together on Thursday with a pledge of $9.7 million monthly to the Triton program to help with asylum seekers. Many see that as an inadequate plan, including Amnesty UK, which continues to promote its campaign on Twitter.