2021 Rewind: The Top PR Stunts of the Year

2021 was an amazing year for PR and marketing campaigns. As brands were continuing to regain lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to figure out ways to creatively engage the consumer. Many of these brands turned to public relations to gain extraordinary, earned media coverage that increased their lost exposure and consumer base during the beginning of the pandemic. 

These stunts ranged from celebrity endorsements to brand crossovers. Some of them used press releases to share their info, whereas others relied mainly on social media to get the message across. Despite the diversity in efforts, one thing is clear, these brands earned media coverage that helped with the awareness of who they are. 

As a PR nerd, I loved identifying the different campaigns as PR stunts and tracking the media coverage each one earned. These are my top five personal favorite Public Relations stunts and campaigns from 2021: 

  1. Lush

Lush’s decision to take a step back from social media attracted mega media attention. They took down their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok account as a way to promote awareness about the impact social media has on mental health. In a statement, the brand shared that the move aligned with their core values. Lush’s chief digital officer Jack Constantine shared that the brand’s aim is to help people relax, and social media is the antithesis to this. 

The move confused people, who mainly wondered how the brand would market itself. Additionally, it was criticized as a simple PR stunt, with people questioning how long the move would last. However, Lush’s North American brand director shared that the move was not for publicity, instead, it was to put “people over profit.” 

  1. Peloton and And Just Like That

This stunt gone wrong is a two-part disaster for Peloton. While I’m a major fan of the exercise bike, this product placement fiasco did alert me to mishaps in the brand’s marketing strategies. When the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That aired, the show started off with a character using a Peloton bike, only to die of a heart attack later that evening. The scene featured a real Peloton instructor playing a fictional version of herself. That day, Peloton stock prices plummeted, and the brand began to trend under a negative light. 

Peloton responded to this incident quickly and with success, however, this success did not last long. Peloton created their own commercial with the character using the bike and it went viral. However, just a week later, sexual assault allegations against that actor came to light, and the brand was once again under fire. 

Hopefully this experience is a learning curve for the brand, as they’ll understand that not all brand exposure will be positive. 

  1. Barefoot and Oreo Thins

This sweet collaboration took social media by storm. Barefoot wine partnered with Oreo to create cookie-inspired bottles said to pair perfectly with milk’s favorite cookie. This PR stunt worked perfectly to appeal to a younger demographic of wine drinkers, who may feel intimidated by the drink’s snobby reputation. The collaboration worked perfectly for both Barefoot and Oreo, as it brought together the two brands to raise awareness in a fun and unique way. The wine was sold on Barefoot’s website for $24.99 and sold out in just one day.

  1. Airbnb Home Alone Stunt

Airbnb has hosted a few PR stunts throughout 2021, including one with Winnie the Pooh, and one for Sex and the City. However, as a Chicago native, my personal favorite was the Home Alone themed stunt. This stunt involved renting out the real Home Alone house in Wilmette, Illinois. These stunts work wonders to draw media attention for Airbnb and their partnering brands because the getaways are only available for a select period of time and are bought instantly.

  1. Dove X Lizzo #TheSelfieTalk

Lizzo is well-known for being a body positivity advocate, so Dove’s choice to partner with her was a great brand move. This PR campaign used Lizzo as a Dove brand ambassador and centered around the hashtag #theselfietalk. The campaign focused on positive self-esteem in a social media age. This was definitely a positive public relations campaign that brought great awareness for the brand over social media. 

Overall, 2021 was a successful year for public relations campaigns. Many brands were able to increase the awareness and loyalty that was lost during COVID-19 through their strategic use of earned media. 

The innovation and collaboration of 2021 has paved the way for even more well-thought-out campaigns to occur in 2022. I hope to see less crisis communications and a whole lot more campaigns that push for inclusivity and mental health awareness in the new year!

What have been your favorite PR campaigns of 2021? You can let me know on Instagram at @_BellaSchneider!

Bella Schneider is a senior at Arizona State University studying journalism and mass communication with a minor in Spanish Literature. She is currently the president of the ASU chapter of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, as well as the western district ambassador for PRSSA National. Bella also works as a public relations intern at Serendipit Consulting, a public relations and marketing agency in Phoenix. After she graduates in the spring, she will continue in her studies in a master of mass communication program at Arizona State. Bella is originally from the suburbs of Chicago so deep dish pizza and frigid cold winters will always have a special place in her heart. When she’s not busy being a mini PR pro, you can find her taking a spin class, going for a run and planning her next trip.

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