They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. True, but too much imitation is the most effective way to kill a great idea. We see this all the time: someone has a brilliant idea for a product, television show, movie, etc., and then all the “me-toos” come out of the woodwork with half-baked imitations of the original. And before too long, we’re all so sick of the ripoffs that we no longer even pay homage to the uniqueness and brilliance that was present in the original idea.

This affects all areas of society – business, art, entertainment, you name it. I’ve always wondered why people are so quick to jump on and copy someone’s innovative tactic. It’s fine if you’re genuinely inspired by something, and you want to take that to a new level by building on a great idea that served as a catalyst. But when you’re just beating someone’s good idea to death by creating cheap clones for the sake of a quick buck, it always comes across as lame and uncreative in my opinion. Here are a few examples of PR tactics that were once great ideas, but quickly became ineffective as they were used so often that they saturated their respective markets.

The Countdown Clock

This is a pretty popular tactic in the realm of video game marketing and PR. I’m not sure how many other industries use them, probably not many because the concept behind it is pretty ridiculous. A clock counts down to a certain time on a certain date, when “information” is revealed. It’s like the video game equivalent of the movie teaser trailer, where if done correctly it gives you a taste, piques your interest, and drives you mad with speculation until the pellet of information is awarded to the Pavlovian dogs who salivate for the countdown’s conclusion. The problem with said clock is that the anticipation built up in the viewer’s mind rarely meets the level of release provided by whatever reveal is being counted down. Also, putting out one of these things too early could result in people just forgetting about the clock. I don’t like watching and waiting for pots of water to boil; I have a similar interest in nursing some digital clock on the Internet as it counts down to what might end up being just another corporate press release.

Can you imagine if other businesses did this? Like if a potato chip company came out with a website with a picture of a scale on it, and a countdown clock that ran for a week.  Then at the end of the countdown, you’re told that the chips you’ve been eating all week are horrible for you, have additives that cause obesity and heart problems, but this new chip that hits stores TODAY will be better for your health? Yeah… ridiculous.

The Stunt

The stunt is an essential part of public relations. It gets noticed, which gets tougher to do every year as there are more things competing for people’s attention every day. A well-planned stunt can be extremely effective as it should quickly get attention that can be redirected to a company’s product, message, or service in a way that makes sense. Far too often though, folks who plan these tactics try to outdo some invisible adversary by putting out the most insane stunt imaginable, that often doesn’t have anything to do with their business.

Call me crazy, but I think your stunt should have some relevancy to what it is trying to promote. The chain of events should go like: person sees stunt, is interested; person then sees your message/product featured in the stunt; person is intrigued, wants to learn more about said message/product as he makes the connection from the stunt to the purpose driving it. Too often though, we see stunts that make no sense whatsoever, and are borderline irresponsible in the way they get attention.

The Embargo

The embargo is a tactic that basically forbids media to cover a certain topic or announcement until a specified date and time. The reasoning behind embargoes varies, but they always result in headaches on both ends of the table. PR folks stay stressed because they have to worriedly monitor news coverage constantly, making sure that nobody “breaks” the embargo by covering the news before the embargo date. Journalist hate them because it means they can’t run the story when they want, and may have to “sit” on it until a time that’s not convenient for them, or even see an overzealous outlet get a scoop by breaking the embargo. To further complicate things, many times embargoes will be placed on things that aren’t even newsworthy, making them appear to be more important than they are. This video sums it up nicely:

Embargoes are fine when used as a last resort. Occasionally, things will come up unexpectedly and embargoes are a great way to manage the flow of communication. However, proper PR planning will eliminate the need for such tactics unless absolutely necessary. Plan the timing of your asset releases, demos and events, and there will be no need for instilling embargoes on a whim to attempt controlling what is being said. Stay ahead of the flow, and you won’t need to use these played out tactics too often.

One thing I want to stress – I’m not saying that the tactics above are useless and need to be stopped altogether. They are, however, often overused and not thought out well enough. If you know your product, service, message, whatever you’re promoting, well enough and you know your audience, you can come up with new and effective ways to engage them without having to resort to these tired old techniques.