Richard Branson is probably the closest thing to a real-life “Most Interesting Man in the World” that we’ll see in this lifetime. He owns an island, he's been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, he runs more than 400 companies worldwide, and he's one of the most adventurous entrepreneurs of our time.
It’s no surprise, then, that his PR stunts for Virgin over the years have become legendary. When Sir Richard Branson decides to promote something, he goes all out in both style and execution. Branson once revealed in an interview that he spends a quarter of his time on marketing and publicity stunts for his company.
While the rest of his peers might take themselves too seriously, Branson has run in the other direction, and he's usually been the first volunteer to poke fun at himself. Learning to laugh at yourself is key to tapping into the creativity you need to successfully market your business.
To help inspire you to think more imaginatively when it comes to your business, here are 14 of the smartest and most unbelievable publicity stunts that Branson has performed over the years—some while risking his life—to direct attention to his companies.
1. Tried to fly around the world in a hot air balloon.
Branson is actually part of a few world record-breaking attempts that involve flying a hot air balloon. In both 1995 and 1998, his team tried to be the first to circle the globe in a hot air balloon, but they never quite made it.
2. Put on a wedding dress to publicize his retail store, Virgin Brides.
In 1996, the Virgin Group opened Virgin Brides, a wedding and bridalwear store. To commemorate the launch, Branson shaved his beard and wore a wedding dress and makeup.
3. Drove a tank down Fifth Avenue in New York City.
When Virgin launched Virgin Cola in 1998, Branson took to the streets of New York City, but in a peculiar way: He drove a tank through Times Square and pretended to blow up the Coca-Cola sign. This spectacular stunt is one of his most memorable, even though Virgin Cola has since seceded the cola wars to the larger players.
4. Jumped off the roof of a hotel casino.
In 2007, Branson celebrated the first Virgin America flight by bungee jumping off the Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, a 407-foot tall building. The stunt did not go quite as planned, and Branson crashed against the building twice and ripped his pants.
5. Dressed as a flight attendant for a competing airline.
After losing a bet in 2013 with AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes over each company’s Formula 1 racing teams, Branson served as a female flight attendant on an AirAsia airplane. Branson got the last laugh when he intentionally spilled a tray of drinks on Fernandes’ lap.
6. Dressed as a Zulu warrior in South Africa.
To promote Virgin Atlantic's newly launched routes to South Africa in 1984, Branson consulted the cultural center in Johannesburg before dressing as a Zulu warrior and posing with locals.
7. Drove across the English Channel in a car. Sort of.
In 2004, the intrepid entrepreneur crossed the English Channel in an amphibious car. The trip took just an hour and 40 minutes. His attire for the trip? A tuxedo, of course.
8. Drank champagne while rappelling down the side of a new Spaceport air hanger.
When Spaceport America opened in New Mexico in 2006, Branson rappelled down the side of the giant building … while drinking a glass of bubbly.
9. Went on The Colbert Report and had a water fight.
In 2007, Branson did an interview with Stephen Colbert that featured Branson splashing the talk show host with water from his mug and Colbert splashing back. The interview dissolved into both men laughing hysterically.
10. Starred as a gunslinger in a movie.
In 2008, Branson starred as a “Casanova gunslinger” in a 20-minute live-action movie produced by Virgin Mobile.
11. Posed as Elvis with showgirls in Las Vegas.
When Virgin decided to run nonstop flights from London to Las Vegas in 2003, it wasn’t enough for Branson to come to the media event dressed as Elvis. He also posed with some Vegas showgirls.
12. Wore a kilt and flashed some naughty underwear.
When Virgin announced it was sending flights to Edinburgh, Scotland, Branson arrived at the media event in a kilt, complete with underwear that read "Stiff Competition." With this stunt, Branson proved he’ll do anything for his company.
13. Wore a spacesuit to the press conference for Virgin Galactic.
When Virgin announced the launch of its space program Virgin Galactic in 2004, Branson attended the event dressed in an astronaut’s suit.
Read more articles on advertising and PR.
Photo: Getty Images