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Social Stunts: How They Can Go Right—Or Very Wrong

By Snap Agency October 1, 2019

From sales and promotions to cutting-edge videography and compelling social content, every brand and company has different methods of promoting and growing their business. Today, 96 percent of Americans own some type of mobile device, and one in five of those users are self-proclaimed “smartphone-only” internet users. With a majority of people constantly connected to the internet and some form of digital platform, we’ve seen an increase in engagement-centered marketing through out-of-the-box social media campaigns. 


Designed with the intent of “going viral,” these stunts have the potential to increase brand awareness, help build a loyal online following, and provide promotional and partnership opportunities for those participating. If done poorly, however, social stunts can lead to brand dilution, controversy, or even misappropriation. To make the most of a viral moment, you’ll need to understand what other successful brands have done right, as well as carefully prepare an approach that utilizes your brand’s strengths. 

Viral Marketing Done Right

One of the easiest ways to do something well the first time is to learn from the marketing success of brands and businesses who’ve gone before us. When it comes to viral marketing, the most successful campaigns have specific characteristics in common. Stunts that utilize influencers include an element of surprise and are socially disruptive—in the right way—setting them apart from the fray. Here are two examples of successful social stunts from Cuvee Coffee and Payless Shoes. 

Cuvee Coffee

The internet went crazy over the summer with the rise of a blue-collar construction worker Omar Medani. Going viral due to his humorous Instagram posts mimicking the hottest social influencers, Omar claimed his daughter introduced him to the concept of influencer marketing. Soon after, it was revealed that the account was a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign for Cuvee Coffee. Cuvee’s owner explained that he wanted to showcase a different kind of influencer who could inspire people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. Although some people were understandably thrown off by the clever deception, the campaign was undeniably a winner, generating significant engagement.

Payless Shoes

Payless Shoes orchestrated another successful social media marketing stunt in early 2018. A “designer” shoe store called Palessi moved into a popular Santa Monica strip. Can you guess where this is going? Inviting several social influencers to its grand opening, Palessi—actually a Payless Shoe pop-up in disguise—sold the typically $20-40 shoes for up to $1800. Once the shoes were purchased, influencers were taken to a back room and let in on the ruse. The radically successful social stunt revealed the power of smart branding and was reported on by influential outlets, including AdWeek, Forbes, and The Washington Post.

Avoiding the Potential Pitfalls of Viral Marketing

Viral marketing can be beneficial when done right, as proved by Cuvee Coffee and Payless Shoes. But other campaigns have tried and failed to recreate the magic, falling short of viral status by making a few big mistakes. To avoid following in their footsteps, keep these points in mind when brainstorming your next social stunt. 

Keep It Real

Launching a potentially risky marketing campaign takes time and research. Dig into the conversations and needs of your ideal consumer base to ensure that your campaign will appeal to the right people. But if you’re promising an actual prize or experience, make sure you deliver. Remember the Fyre Festival fiasco? While the festival’s marketing and use of influencers did an excellent job of building anticipation for the event, it failed epically in its execution. Transparency matters now more than ever, so leave no room for your followers to be disappointed. 

Be Wary of Sales Pitches

The average American is exposed to over 5,000 ads per day, meaning we’ve become experts at tuning out a bad sales pitch. If your social media marketing stunt centers around a carefully-devised ad, consumers will see right through it—and probably won’t appreciate you snagging their interest only to try to sell them something immediately. Rather than playing all your cards right away, view this stunt as an opportunity to point consumers back to your central content

Pick Your Battles

While weighing in on controversial issues is a surefire way to catapult your brand into the spotlight, it might not help you earn the right kind of attention. Before tackling a high-stakes topic, consider what other similar brands have done. If you’re committed to contributing to the conversation, make sure your big moment will be in line with your brand voice, social track record, and location. 

Make Sure Your Brand Gets the Attention It Deserves

At Snap, we understand the power of a stellar social campaign, and we strive to help every one of our clients get the results their products deserve. If you aren’t confident that you have the time or resources needed to execute a powerful social strategy, contact us today! Our social strategists, graphic designers, and copywriters will work to give your social presence—and your brand—a digital marketing boost.