It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Before the lawyers…and the press…and the mention in David Letterman’s monologue… Nothing says “Failure” like a PR stunt so completely misguided it pushes the situation in the Middle East off the radar. At one time, though, they must have seemed brilliant to somebody. Lest you be tempted to go with one of these seemingly-bright ideas, we offer up some cautionary tales to chill you the heck out before you do something rash. Like this: Mr. Big Changing your name to the name of a much more famous person in your industry must seem like a brilliant idea. You get lots of eager, somewhat confused customers, and Mister Famous never needs to find out about this; he’s got more business than he can handle. No harm, no foul, right? Tell it to Mark Zuckerberg. Not that one. The other one. The one whose company, the Like Store, was selling Likes on Facebook, which is a violation of the terms of service there. If MZ the 2nd hadn’t changed his name to the name of Facebook’s founder, he could probably have operated under the radar forever, or until the Like backlash began about a month ago. Our lesson: If you’re going to draw attention to yourself, make sure that you haven’t got a target on your forehead. Get your business in compliance BEFORE trying to drum up publicity for it. Those who ask for attention often get it. Manic Pixie Dream Stunter So many to choose from: everybody wants to come up with the newest, quirkiest, most absurd PR stunt/job title/facial hair. We live in a hipster world where everyone is a Cafeteria Evangelist or a Quality Control Ninja. But when Groupon CEO Andrew Mason threw a highly visible fit about insisting on gifting NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a live pony, it ended up as the centerpiece of an unflattering Vanity Fair piece that portrayed the somewhat overcaffeinated founder as a time and energy wasting dilettante who decried the very idea of professionalism. And that had a very direct, efficient, and businesslike effect on his company’s shares. Come At Me Bro Try to keep outright hostility out of your PR efforts, wouldja? Todd Davis learned this lesson the hard way. He was in charge at LifeLock, a company that guaranteed to protect its clients against hackers. In a shotgun approach, Davis posted ads in print, billboards, tv commercials, and online; the ads included his Social Security Number. “I’m sure our system works!” he touted, grinning toothily. He wasn’t grinning two years later when it came out he’d been successfully hacked 13 times, unsuccessfully 87 times, for an even total of 100. Knowing what I do about hackers, they probably stopped at that number just to send the message they COULD. The company was charged with deceptive advertising and fined $12 million and all the humiliation they could hack. Dr. Death Try not to kill anybody while you’re at it! The “Chubby Bunny” challenge sounds like a light-hearted game, stuffing as many marshmallows into your mouth as you can and still say “Chubby Bunny.” Except that people have actually died in this game. Closely related was the now-infamous “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest where entrants drank as much water as they could without going to the bathroom, and the person who held out longest won; she also died of water intoxication the next day. But in the world of PR stunts gone bad, one stands above them all, the Platonic ideal of all that a stunt should not be. Thank god it was only on TV. Let us relive together the Day of Infamy: The Thanksgiving Turkey Drop from WKRP in Cincinatti.