Utah restaurant, Sea Bears Ogden Fish House, is getting a lot of publicity recently for their pro-gun stance. Along with fish and chips, there is some heat. The owner, cook, and servers all openly carry and many are family members. There are guns tucked into their kilts.
Six months ago, the 2nd amendment loving owner, Tony Siebers wanted to show his love of the 2nd Amendment. His decision to open carry which is legal in Utah created a lot of controversy. I saw them on Channel 2 News last night, they were picked up by another TV station, The Standard Examiner newspaper, and I heard them on KSL Radio this morning.
I stopped by on my way to work today. It's Tuesday at about 1pm and they are too busy for an interview. This is the type of business that they usually see on weekends. This is the entrance – almost every table is full.
Unfortunately, polarizing works very well as a way to get publicity. Want to get in the news? Make something that makes people talk. It doesn't even need to be real, apparently…this company built a fake app, got a lot of coverage on it (check out the story on Medium) and landed some six figure contracts. Dubious? I think so. But effective? No one can argue with that.
Nowadays, potential clients care more about the name on the door than the agency’s portfolio. In order to survive, new agencies need to be heavily differentiated with unique voices.
Donald Trump does this very well (even though the skills to get publicity may not be the same skills needed to effectively lead a country). Even in Facebook advertising, it's ideal to create an offer that only your target market would be interested in so you only pay for downloads or registrations from potential customers. Everyone else will just move along.
Will the Publicity Backfire?
When a business takes a strong stand or pulls a publicity stunt, it creates a lot of conversations. In this case, it obviously helped the restaurant bring in more customers. People who are pro gun will go there just because of the guns. If you look at their Facebook page there isn't a mention about all the news stories (missed opportunity), but there are a few comments from customers who saw them on the news and pledge support.
I always look at Chick-fil-A and their anti-gay marriage stance. It helped them short term but long term, the polarization hurt. In an interview last year with USAToday the CEO said they were backing away from getting political. “While Cathy's comments didn't hurt short-term business — and even helped it — Chick-fil-A executives recognize that the comments may have done longer-term damage to the brand's image.”
On a national level, Chick-fil-A decided not to continue to voice their opinions and focus on their product.
Does the same hold true for a small local business? Do these stances hurt long-term or help? I tried to find out by asking I Love Drilling Juice and Smoothie Bar in Vernal, Utah. I wrote about them 3 years ago, after they made national news for charging liberals $1 more on their orders. Wait, didn't liberals invent juicing and smoothies? I don't know any hippies who aren't liberal.
The end of the story? The business was listed for sale for $6,000 on their Facebook page and reported sold one day later. I couldn't reach them (no answer when I called) to find out if they still charge liberals more. However, their name has been changed to Smooth Drilling.
My last example comes from an ice cream shop, Farr's Fresh in South Ogden, Utah. They got publicity for promoting guns after they ran a gun giveaway on Facebook several years ago. I haven't seen anything else on their Facebook page, so I assume it's business as usual.
Polarizing can be very effective (get more visibility and bring more business), especially short-term. For bigger brands or businesses it can cut you off from potential customers and you may have to back away from the issues. For smaller businesses with one location or just a few it may be a risk worth taking.
For Sea Bears if they're going to get this much publicity, they ought to learn from I Love Drilling Juice and Smoothie Bar and fan this fire. I would put up links and comments about every news story. I'd post photos and highlight the crowds, thanking people for their support. I'd keep playing up the pro-gun stance with promotions and campaigns.
Looking for Liberal Examples
My only question is, where are the liberal examples? I've got plenty from the right (probably because I live in Utah). What publicity stunts have you seen from the left? Also, do you think this is a smart move for a local business?
Really great post, Janet. And it’s awesome you went out and spoke with these businesses so we could learn how they’re leveraging publicity. I love reading about a good publicity stunt. As casual newsreaders we may think people are doing crazy stuff just to be crazy, but in reality they’re hoping the exposure pays off as far as sales.
I’m thinking about the Wu Tang Clan who last year made only one copy of their album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.” They sold it for $2 million. Even now we have Kanye West putting his bankruptcy travails before the world in timing with upcoming album releases.
It’s funny that you mention Donald Trump because I was just reading “The Art of the Deal” last week and he mentions that the press is always hungry for a good story, the more sensational the better. If you can give them a fantastic story to report, they’ll do so gladly. After all, that’s where their paycheck comes from.
Luis, I’m very curious if this stunt works out for them long term. My thought is it works well for startups and small businesses. I think this one will work because they are genuine (really do love guns) and people say they have good food. The decor needs work, it’s a dark bar but unless you’re very anti-gun I bet people will go there just because now they know about it. I’m sort of dying for them to fan the fire a bit more with comments on Facebook and more stunts. You know, like show us your gun and get a free soft drink. Maybe rename some of the menu items to be pro gun. Things like that.
Donald Trump is THE EXPERT at making news. If he disagrees with someone it makes the news. He gets people to talk about him constantly and frame everything in relation to him. In that way he’s genius. We may not love the stories he tells but almost everyone knows what he’s saying and what’s happening with his campaign. He creates publicity on an otherwise boring topic. He’s going to react and respond so they ask.
It’s funny that people say that was just a publicity stunt like that’s a bad thing. I enjoy them too (except when you lie just to get publicity). Next up I want to write about how Arizona’s campaign to get dads to pay child support.
I know what you mean. Naturally, if someone is flat-out lying then they deserve criticism, but I don’t get why the phrase “publicity stunt” is so often used as a pejorative. Shouldn’t we applaud people for finding a unique way of making their business stand out among the crowd? I can’t help thinking it has to do with the feeling that we feel like we’re being manipulated when we realize marketing, PR, or advertising has been successful on us! At least a lot of people seem to have the impression that marketers are sleazy guys trying brainwash people into buying stuff they otherwise wouldn’t.
Also, thanks for leading me to that article about Rumblr. Great read and very insightful! Looking forward to your next post.