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The Quick 10: 10 Publicity Stunts Gone Bad

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You’ve probably heard the old saying “any publicity is good publicity,” but these 10 stunts gone awry prove that’s not so.

1. A couple of days ago, two masked men wearing dark clothes ran through Dell’s headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, brandishing “small metallic items” and yelling at employees to go to the lobby. Although it ended up being an internal communications stunt gone awry – the execs were just trying to get everyone to the lobby for an announcement about their new tablet – two arrests were made and one man was charged with a misdemeanor for “interfering with public duties” when he refused to give up his coworkers’ identities. It’s definitely a stunt gone wrong when the SWAT team shows up, I’d say.

2. Can you imagine if someone knocked down Stonehenge just to ensure their name was remembered in history? That’s pretty much what happened in 365 B.C., when Herostratus burned down one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis in Greece. It wasn’t supposed to work – authorities threatened to execute anyone who mentioned the arsonist’s name (he was also executed), but it did since that’s where we get the term “Herostratic fame,” which means fame achieved by any means just for the purpose of being famous.

3. This incident has been discussed to death, but it’s hard not to mention the Adult Swim bomb scare in a list like this. In 2007, small circuit boards depicting a character from Aqua Teen Hunger Force were placed in 10 cities across the U.S. to promote the movie based on the popular cartoon. Installed in high traffic areas, the boards would light up to reveal a Mooninite at a specified time. Instead, a citizen noticed one of the devices and called the police, concerned it was a bomb. In the end, it was the Boston police who received more bad publicity than Adult Swim or the Cartoon Network: bloggers ridiculed the bomb squad and even law enforcement in Seattle (one of the other nine cities targeted) said, “To us, they’re so obviously not suspicious … People don’t need to be concerned about this. These are cartoon characters giving the finger.”

4. That’s not the first time an entertainment industry PR stunt has scared citizens into thinking they were about to be blown to smithereens, though. Just a year before, devices that played the Mission: Impossible theme song were installed in newspaper racks in the L.A. area to promote the third installment of the Tom Cruise series. When some of them fell from the top of the box and landed on the stack of newspapers inside, panicked people called the police to report suspicious red boxes with wires. After the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department blew one up, they determined it was no threat.

5. As Herostratus showed us, PR stunts aren’t just modern-day affairs. In 1842, Honore de Balzac’s play opened to an empty house when his attempt to create a little excitement around the piece completely backfired. He spread the rumor that Les Les Ressources de Quinola was so amazing that the opening night was already sold out. Hearing that, his fans didn’t even bother trying to get tickets. Whoops.

6. It was an event that could have been similar to Great Molasses Flood of 1919: Snapple tried to make the world’s largest popsicle in Union Square in 2005. Unfortunately, the June day turned out to be a bit warmer than they had anticipated, and the 17.5-ton frozen treat melted, leaving a river of strawberry kiwi-flavored sludge flowing everywhere. Snapple later said that the popsicle had been designed to keep its shape for much longer, even in high temps, and they weren’t sure what went wrong.

7. If you’re putting together a scavenger hunt, here’s a tip: don’t put your grand prize in a historic cemetery. Dr Pepper learned that the hard way in 2007. They hid a coin in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground, the final resting place of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and many others. The cemetery could have been ravaged by treasure hunters if it hadn’t been for Mother Nature – the day the clue was released that tipped players off to the coin’s general location, the cemetery was closed due to heavy ice. That was when officials there caught wind of the scavenger hunt and started one of their own: to find it before the cemetery re-opened so the hunt would be called off. They found it, all right – the coin had been tucked behind a piece of slate that covered the entrance to a crypt that was nearly 200 years old. Dr Pepper’s parent company, Cadbury Schweppes, apologized for the inconvenience.

8. Your PR stunt definitely fails if the cost of the stunt ends up being more than what you’re trying to promote. That’s what happened with the 1987 movie Million Dollar Mystery. The plot centered around a missing bag of cash which was still missing at the end of the movie. The hook? There was really a bag of cash hidden somewhere in the United States, and clues to its whereabouts could be found in specially-marked Glad-Lock bag packages. The movie barely made more than a million at the box office; when you factor in what it cost to make the movie, you can see that this one was a huge flop for everyone involved. Well, everyone except for the lady who found the cash hidden in the bridge of the Statue of Liberty’s nose, that is.

9. Involving people in a publicity stunt against their will? Usually a bad idea. Involving people against their will and making them late for work? Definitely a bad idea. Doing both of those things while inadvertently publicizing that your product sucks, then getting arrested? That’s pretty much a worst-case scenario right there, and it’s exactly what happened to the L.A. band Imperial Stars last October. They parked a van across lanes of traffic on the 101 Freeway in Hollywood, causing a massive traffic jam that couldn’t be diffused until a tow truck showed up since the driver ran off with the keys. Los Angelenos were enraged and even took to the band’s YouTube video to leave comments like, “your song is terrible, i listened to 10 seconds before I vomited.” (That was one of the nicer comments.)

10. Apparently French police don’t view Robocop as one of their own. When the movie’s sequel came out in 1990, an actor in the full-on Robocop outfit patrolled up and down the Champs-Elysees in an American squad car. When the real police showed up, he couldn’t produce I.D. and was promptly thrown in jail.

I want to share this one even though I’m not classifying it as a failure – it completely and utterly horrified me, which I think was the point: Living Chucky Dolls Invade Times Square.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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