The $3 Million Bus Stop — How 3M Got $1 Million in Free Marketing

The $3 Million Bus Stop — How 3M Got $1 Million in Free Marketing

A risky stunt that paid off

Image for postPhoto by ?? Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

It?s difficult to come up with marketing campaigns that capture the public?s imagination. Due to years and years of such campaigns, we?ve seen most of it before.

To break through to the public nowadays, your marketing campaign has to be ground-breaking. It has to shake people out of their stupor and make them ask themselves ?what the hell is going on here??

An inadvertent example of this was when Tesla?s demonstration of the capabilities of their Cybertruck backfired and the ?bulletproof? windows cracked after a steel ball as thrown at them.

The mishap resulted in lengthy media discussion and arguably benefited the company more than if the demonstration had gone smoothly.

Fourteen years earlier, 3M experimented with a marketing campaign involving bulletproof glass. Like Tesla, their campaign went viral and stirred considerable interest but this time for the right reasons.

The campaign was a perfect illustration of guerrilla marketing and how doing something out of the ordinary can raise brand awareness and get your product talked about across the world.

Money, Money, Money

The campaign was simple. Three million in Canadian dollars was placed inside the advertising casing at a bus stop in Vancouver, Canada. The poster case was covered at the edges with a 3M product, Scotchshield, a see-through film that, when applied, makes glass stronger.

The premise of the campaign was simple. Members of the public were challenged to break the glass, and if they did, they would walk away with the money.

It was an ingenious marketing scheme. Who could resist having a go at trying to break the glass and walking away with $3 million? I know I?d give it a try.

Image for post$3 million ? so close, yet so far away ? Image via Reddit

Then there was the benefit for 3M. The repeated attempts would highlight the strength of Scotchshield and the benefit of using it. After all, if members of the public couldn?t break a glass casing at a bus stop, then it must be a good product.

There were a few ground rules, one of which was that they could only use their feet to try and break the glass. Security guards were also standing nearby to ensure no one broke the rules.

Had the glass come up against a sledgehammer it may have been a different story. But with the wider public unaware of this, it did not harm 3M. A few other revelations came about the stunt too in the years after.

Instead of $3 million in cash behind the glass it was actually $500 placed on top of fake notes. Had someone broke the glass, they would have been compensated in a different manner than walking away with $3 million in cash. Nevermind, that this would have represented a security risk for 3M on its own.

Nor was it a recurring campaign, it was set up for one day and when no one succeeded, it was quietly taken down. The enduring legacy of the stunt serves to highlight how effective it was.

Lasting Impact

The campaign was remarkably cheap for 3M to run considering the publicity it generated. The costs of the campaign were minimal with the poster box rented for one day and security guards paid for the day.

This represented a tiny overhead which had a huge return on investment. To this day, this is still one of the most well-known marketing stunts in history. It?s likely it still pulls in customers for 3M.

Hundreds of people attempted to break the glass and none were successful. Five TV stations covered the event with the story appearing in papers across Canada and abroad.

It?s estimated that the stunt generated $1 million in free publicity and resulted in a three-month backlog for the Scotchshield security coating. Not bad for a one-day marketing campaign!

The power of 3M?s marketing campaign is obvious. It was an unusual stunt that involved members of the public actively participating in it. The stunt played into our desire to take on a challenge and be rewarded for it.

It?s a classic example of guerrilla marketing and how doing something out of the ordinary can have lasting benefits for your business.

In today?s age of almost omnipresent advertising, to get heard, you often have to do something different. 3M?s stunt is an example to us all that a well-executed plan that is out of the ordinary can have long-lasting benefits for your business.

Sometimes to stand out in a crowded market, you have to do something that grabs the attention of people. There aren?t many that scream louder than shattering some glass to win millions of dollars!

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