Super Bowl media stunts take many forms, but a sham press release from the Weatherproof Garment Co. will go down as one of the tackier and more effective ways to get some attention around the Super Bowl. And unlike, say, GoDaddy, with its annual attempt to create controversy by getting its ads banned, the outerwear company didn't have to pony up several million dollars for the buzz -- it just hired a publicist, Ronn Torossian.
On Jan. 30, the outerwear company announced it had bought the shortest Super Bowl ad ever -- only to retract the "news" less than an hour later. Besides getting a small forest of press clippings, the move was jeered by the media watchers at Gawker.com. In one of its trademark snarky attacks, the site commented: "Ronn [sic] Torossian's PR firm, 5WPR, sent out a grammatically challenged press release about its client's plans to run a two-second Super Bowl commercial ... An hour later 5W sent out a retraction, because it became clear that two-second time slots in the Super Bowl are, surprisingly, unavailable."
This is classic Mr. Torossian, who is known for his stunts. Last year Mr. Torossian started pitching Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA who oversaw the disaster relief during Katrina, as an expert on such recovery efforts. He also attempted to rebrand Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis as a nice guy. And in 2006 he bought variations of the domain names of his competitors and subsequently linked them back to 5W's home page.
Intent to buy?
Still, Weatherproof insisted to Ad Age that this was all an honest mistake. "It was a total misunderstanding and miscommunication on my part," said Freddie Stollmack, president-founder. "I must have told [Weatherproof's PR shop] that we bought it or we were about to buy it. They went out with a press release on that [information], only to find out that we didn't buy it. We intended to buy it, and that's the truth."
Mr. Stollmack said he even spoke to national and local Fox representatives about purchasing the spot, which a spokesman for the network confirmed. "They made a phone call and they were told no. said Lou D'Ermilio, senior VP-media relations at Fox Sports. "They did inquire about buying the spot, but there was no time left. And how would you do that anyway, then sell another advertiser a 28-second spot?" Then he asked the $2.7 million question: "So you don't think it was a stunt?"
Let's line up the evidence. On the side of it being an authentic mistake is Mr. Stollmack's quote ... and nothing else. On the stunt side of the argument is that Mr. Torossian was involved and Mr. Stollmack seemed highly amused throughout the interview. Not to mention the novelty of a client taking blame for an agency screw-up for the first time since, uh, ever.
Finally, there's the general stunt-y nature of Weatherproof's marketing these days. Its list of recent PR ploys include taking out a $10 million insurance policy against the weather, providing coats to the striking writers and trying to warm up Times Square's guitar-playing Naked Cowboy with one of its jackets. "We don't have an $80 million ad budget," said Mr. Stollmack. "So we have to be somewhat clever and pick our spots."
Kellie Brown, VP of lifestyle-fashion-consumer at 5W, said the company's efforts have garnered several million media impressions, including placements in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek and ABCNews.com.
Both Mr. Stollmack and Ms. Brown said the release was sent only after Mr. Stollmack approved it, and despite being incorrect, it was still issued. Mr. Stollmack chalks that up to the excitement of potentially buying a Super Bowl spot and his being a novice in the practice of PR. "I'm a neophyte when it comes to PR," he said. "And intending to do it and doing it are very similar."
Not all were amused. Especially those who were fooled. Darren Rovell on CNBC's blog demanded "What happened? The media who reported the story and the public who were duped deserved more than that."