Publicity stunt crashes and burns

It will probably work its way into plenty of media training courses (possibly even our own!) and case studies on ‘how not to carry out your PR’, but this week Tele2 has been forced to apologise and pay an unknown amount in expenses after their publicity stunt back-fired.

Reports, in the evening, of the 25th of October, stated that an object had crashed, in Latvia, near the Estonian border, causing a 27-foot-wide, 9-foot-deep crater. News organisations immediately (the first sign something was up) got hold of supposed ‘bystander’ mobile phone footage of the smouldering ‘meteor’ at the bottom of a crater (watch it here Experts and emergency services, including police, military and rescue workers rushed to the scene to investigate the space invader-object, to take radiation samples and ensure the safety of the local population. However, when they arrived on the site it became clear to authorities that the meteor strike was a fake; one of those present, Girts Stinkulis, a geologist at the University of Latvia, said, “It’s artificial, dug by shovel,”. So the question was; who had carried out the prank and why?

In wasn’t until the 27th, a few days later, that the Swedish owned telecommunications company Tele2, admitted they were behind the hoax. At the phone company’s HQ in Stockholm, Tele2’s Pernilla Oldmark said the hoax was “part of a marketing campaign that will start shortly”. Vita Sirica, of the company’s Latvian branch said the hoax was co-ordinated with a PR firm “to draw attention away from Latvia’s economic crisis and toward something else more interesting”. A valiant attempt to cheer people up you might say but that’s not what the government said; “the Interior Ministry doesn’t want to do business with a firm that promotes itself at our expense,” Interior Minister Linda Murniece was quoted as saying. The Latvian government, who are fighting a deep recession, quickly announced that they were cutting their contract with Tele2. This was, presumably, not the result that the phone company or their PR advisers were hoping for, and they are now promising to reimburse the Latvians for any expenses they incurred during the government operation.

As publicity stunts go this one certainly had some of the right ingredients, it had a wow factor and did get Tele2 plenty of coverage, but this publicity stunt did backfire, mainly because there seems to be no concern for the involvement of authorities or for the distress of the local population who were warned of a danger from radiation. Furthermore, some PR experts are asking how a meteor strike even reflects the work, products or services that Tele2 carry out – what doesn’t help is that the company have yet to explain what they were actually trying to achieve or illustrate with the stunt.

This is, of course, not the first PR stunt we’ve seen, that very quickly proved to be a bad idea, but you do have to admit that this one, which was broadcast on news channels all over the World, was a stand out example of bad timing and poor judgement.

Written by Will Edwards – – November 2009

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