Case Studies: classic and modern examples of creativity in PR

Where does your creative inspiration come from? Working in PR and communications, we always get asked this. As PR trainers and coaches we also get the opportunity to track and collect a wide array of great case studies – many of which we showcase and analyse within our training courses. Here are some of our favourite creative PR campaigns from over the years.

Edward Bernays: “Torches of Freedom”

If you want to blame anyone for getting women to smoke, this is the guy. American Edward Bernays is considered one of the very first modern PR practitioners, having worked on several controversial PR / publicity campaigns – many people also refer to him as the “Father of Spin”. In the 1920s smoking for women was considered taboo, and women were only allowed to smoke in designated areas, risking arrest if they smoked elsewhere in public. Working for the tobacco industry, he hired a number of glamorous socialites to walk in the 1929 Easter Parade and at a certain point they pulled out their hidden Lucky Strikes and began smoking. He notified the media that this was going to happen and they were there taking pictures and ready to write up the stories.

More information can be seen on this short documentary clip and in an interview with the man himself.

If you’re more interested in reading about Edward Bernays, Wikipedia has a good summary.

James Moran: Needle in a Haystack

James Moran’s “Needle in a Haystack” stunt. James Moran was considered an American legend in the publicity business. He used to organise publicity stunts that would gain massive attention for his clients. He once hired two midgets (not so politically correct these days) to search for a needle in a haystack for 10 days to publicise a rare piece of real estate that was for sale. In 1946 he sat on an ostrich egg for 19 days, 4 hours and 32 minutes before hatching it to promote the “Egg and I,” a popular book. He did other things like selling a fridge to an Eskimo (known as Inuit in Canada) and created a new country and Embassy in Washington, DC for the launch of a new movie. These creative visual stunts would often go global.

Fellowes: National ID Fraud Prevention Week

Identify fraud in the UK costs the economy more than 1.7 billion pounds per year. Starting in October 2005, Fellowes, the company who produces paper shredders, launched a high-profile media campaign with a number of partners to raise awareness of identity fraud in the UK.  The purpose of the campaign is to educate the general public and businesses on what they should do to protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity fraud. One of the main areas of the campaign was to make people aware of how to properly dispose of private documents so that they are unreadable.

To make this campaign successful, Fellowes, and its PR agency, Fleishman-Hillard (note: I’m not sure if FH is still working with Fellowes on this campaign or not), looked at partnering with a number of key influential organisations and partners who play a role or have an interest in preventing identity fraud, including: the police (Metropolitan Police, City of London Police and Association of Chief Police Officers); the government (Home Office – similar to Ministry of Interior in other countries, many local authorities and the National Fraud Authority); business associations (Federation of Small Businesses, CIFAS (fraud prevention service for retailers and companies), British Chambers of Commerce and British Retail Consortium); the postal service (Royal Mail); and  credit check companies (Equifax, Call Credit and Experian).

In preparation for National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, Fellowes commissioned several research projects to identify how vulnerable the UK and the public and businesses are to identity fraud. These serve as valuable news hooks to generate stories and case studies that can be publicised to the media during the week.

Fellowes also created a website: which serves as a central point of information throughout the year. The website has information on how to prevent ID fraud complete with several downloadable tools and resources for businesses and individuals and well as case studies about people who have become victims of ID fraud which can be used by journalists.

Since 2005, the campaign has run annually in the third week of October and generates extensive media coverage and public awareness. The campaign has been so successful in the UK that it has also been replicated in Australia and Ireland.

Some of the notable results from the campaign have included:

  • Sales of Fellowes paper shredders increased by 600% in the subsequent weeks following the campaign
  • National Identity Fraud Prevention Week is featured on key broadcast shows and news bulletins

All main newspapers and magazines in the UK plan features, articles and case studies around the weekIn May 2009 the UK government launched a National Fraud Strategy and created a national fraud reporting centre

Queensland Tourism: The Best Job in the World

Queensland Tourism created the “Best Job in the World” campaign in 2010 which attracted world-wide publicity on a minimal budget. Very creative – and big kudos to the team who came up with this idea! I’m not going to write any more here – as this video tells the whole story!

Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty

This global campaign is a mixed PR/advertising/marketing campaign that has focused on showing people that whoever they are and whatever they look like – they are beautiful. Dove and its PR / advertising and marketing agencies have created a number of initiatives and activities to reach out to their stakeholders (women, young girls and men) from websites, viral videos and information booklets to school visits and media awareness campaigns. Here’s a couple of videos that have gone viral:

World Down Syndrome Day

On 21 March 2014, World Down Syndrome Day, the #dearfuturemom campaign was launched. The multi-lingual viral video aimed to show that having a child with Down Syndrome is just as rewarding as a child without. This is a touching video, which was viewed more than 5 million times.

Thai Anti-Smoking Campaign

Thai Health Promotion Foundation recently produced a video to get people to stop smoking. Instead of bombarding smokers with lots of negative messages that they already knew – they used children to help deliver the message. In the video you’ll see young children go up to smokers and ask if they could have a cigarette. All of the smokers refused to give the kids a cigarette and rolled off lots of reasons why they shouldn’t smoke. Pretty strong stuff. Check out the video:

Air New Zealand Safety Briefings

We’ve all sat on airlines and ignored the safety briefings. After all there are only so many times that you can watch the same video. Well, Air New Zealand seems to have cracked it. Start it off with some pretty beautiful New Zealand scenery, a few boy scouts and Bear Grylls – the famous British adventurer. Take a look  – would you pay attention to your safety briefing?

What about Lord of the Rings? Would you watch the safety briefing then?

American Dental Association

As we say in PR, find a good “day” to hook your campaign or news to. The American Dental Association did just that: with Hallowe’en just around the corner, they decided to reach out to young kids in a rather nifty little campaign that is designed to motivate youngsters into brushing their teeth more. The American Dental Association found the ultimate day and way to link the tooth-brushing message to: you don’t brush your teeth and you’ll end up with “zombie mouth”.

The ADA teamed up with the makers of Plants vs Zombies video game to create a campaign called Stop Zombie Mouth complete with a cool cartoon video showing new zombie characters, the “putrid posse” that love it when you don’t brush your teeth.


Canadian low-cost airline WestJet is no stranger to the creative viral videos. In December 2013 they recently asked customers on two flights what they wanted for Christmas before they boarded. When they arrived at their destination all of their requested Christmas presents magically appeared on the baggage conveyor belt.

Check out their viral video with more than 35 million views:

Here’s the story behind the Christmas video:

The company also has a lot of fun with April Fools’ Day each year with different videos:

“KargoKids” a new service for checking your kids into the cargo hold of each flight

Helium on board all aircraft to make it lighter

Converting all flights to metric time


Find out more

The creative campaigns featured in this article and many more are drawn from the ISOC one-day course Creativity in Communications and PR.