How a good deed can turn into a failed PR stunt

By November 19, 2015General

It was a PR stunt designed to foster relations with the Middle East, but it backfired in spectacular fashion.

In August this year, a family travelling across Europe in a camper van emblazoned with the slogan ‘Iran is Great’ sparked a full-scale terror alert, after pulling up outside the Science Museum in West London.

Police mistook the message of peace for a bomb scare and evacuated the area before smashing the van’s windows to search for explosives with the help of sniffer dogs. Fire crew and ambulances also rushed to the scene.

Thankfully, it turned out to be an innocent PR stunt by a German family, who had driven the van thousands of miles across Europe in a bid to improve Iran’s perception abroad.

Cristian and Audrey Ivan fell in love with the Middle-Eastern country after stopping off on their way to India in 2013.

They were captivated by the culture and taken aback by the level of compassion shown by the local people after their papers were stolen in the city of Karaj.

So they decided to rent out their family home in Germany; kit out a camper van with bunk beds and wardrobes, and embark on a world with their children, in order to change world opinion about Iran, and introduce ‘the true’ Iran to whoever they could.

The family have travelled across Europe for two years, using guerrilla tactics such as fly posting, distributing pamphlets, and word-of-mouth marketing to draw attention to their cause.

This wasn’t the first time a PR stunt has backfired. In 2013, the bomb squad were also called out in Germany on suspicion of terrorist activity.

What can businesses learn from this PR stunt?

When it comes to PR stunts, you have to think through all of the possible implications – particularly if you’re not taking the help and advice of a professional marketing agency.

In the case of ‘Iran is Great’, the family committed a fatal PR sin by not considering the effect their campaign would have on their audience.

The public didn’t ‘get it’.

It’s never a good thing when a PR stunt is misunderstood by your target audience. During the time that the van was parked outside the Science Museum, lots of anxious calls were made to the police.

It wasn’t clear that the tourism truck was part of a PR campaign and subsequently, the stunt got attention for all the wrong reasons.

Hotcow is a non-traditional creative agency that specialises in experiential marketing that goes viral. Our campaigns generate buzz through crowd participation, PR and content sharing. Contact us on 0207 50 30442 or email us on