Eye-catching stunts always gain attention when it comes to PR, but the question is, will they gain good PR or bad PR?
This year’s Discovery Channel Shark Week started off a little differently than ones before, as Michael Phelps was set to race a great white shark, one of the most fearsome predators in the world. All the promotion leading up to the race was that Phelps — the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals — would race side by side with a great white shark.
Five million people tuned in. Everything was going swimmingly until viewers learned the shark was fake – it turned out to be a simulation.
“Why didn’t you race a real shark? That’s what you advertised…” Sabrina Yockey said.
“Phelps racing a fake shark is like when your teacher says there’s gonna be a sub but shows up the next day,” said @reqnna on Twitter.
Phelps wasn’t going to let the media get the best of him without defending himself. Two days following the race, Phelps held a Facebook Live session to hear feedback from fans and answer questions on the race.
Phelps responded to some criticism by saying, “If somebody actually wants to get in the water and race side by side with a great white, go ahead. You’re not going to get the shark to swim in a straight line. And, uh, yeah, it would be interesting to see. We’ll leave it at that.”
Obviously, it would have been impossible for Phelps to race side by side with a real great white. Some viewers say that Discovery should have created a tank beside Phelps to separate him from the shark, but even that would’ve been unrealistic.
Regardless of the shark being real or simulated, this stunt created buzz and PR for Discovery Channel and Phelps.
So maybe what Phineas T. Barnum said is true: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
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