Shoot a Tesla into space and go viral: Tech's biggest PR stunts

Strap it to a SpaceX rocket! Hang it from a drone! Put a robot inside and it'll go viral! The tech world can always be relied on for a ridiculous publicity stunt.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
Expertise Space | Futurism | Robotics | Tech Culture | Science and Sci-Tech Credentials
  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
5 min read

The prototype Domino's Robotic Unit brings you pizza... via robot. 

Mike Curtain/Domino's

Eccentric tech billionaires shooting money into the sky, brands out for a viral video win and fast food companies desperate to prove themselves as tech innovators: When it comes to publicity stunts, the tech world has well and truly delivered over the years.

So who won? Who lost? And whose desperate and thinly veiled attempts to appear "with-it" might have actually worked?

Publicity wins

SpaceX sends a sports car into space

How does Elon Musk know his is faster than everybody else's? Because he shot it into the sky, strapped inside a rocket. The CEO of SpaceX and Tesla won the gold medal in synergy advertising two cutting-edge brands at once and filling space and automotive nerds around the world with delight. Your move, NASA.

Boring Flamethrowers

Was Elon deprived of toys as a child? When he's not playing with space cars (see above), he's selling flamethrowers over the internet to promote The Boring Company, which he also runs. Excellent. Now people on the internet can start literal flame wars.

Watch this: Space cars and pizza reindeer: Tech's wildest publicity stunts

Red Bull's Space Jump

Tesla Roadster on Mars

Tesla sent a car into space. Natch.


When your MO is selling carbonated caffeine, you have to live the brand. So you send extreme skydiver Felix Baumgartner into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, get him to jump from a tiny capsule, and break the speed of sound on his freefall. Once you take out the cost of sending a man 128,000 feet (about 24 miles) above the surface of the Earth in a balloon, that's some good free publicity!

The Human-Flying Drone

Take one YouTube influencer (Casey Neistat), dress him up as Santa and get him to snowboard through Finland attached to a massive human-flying drone. Sure, it makes for a good video. But get him to record the whole thing on a Gear 360 camera and Samsung gets a viral sensation.


When you live halfway between the UK and Iceland, it's hard to get Google Streetview to map your town. That was the issue facing the Faroe Islands. So the island's tourist body strapped 360-degree cameras to a bunch of sheep to film the islands instead. The finished product? Sheepview. Two parts tech, one part adorable.

Cards Against Humanity sells Bulls***

The "party game for horrible people" loves trolling fans. There was the Christmas it dug the "Holiday Hole" to nowhere and the time it sent 100,000 people a lump of coal in the mail. But my favourite was the Black Friday Bulls*** Blowout. This wasn't hot air. It was a lump of cow poop in a box. Points for honesty.

Netflix's grassroots marketing

To promote its "Gilmore Girls" revival, Netflix delighted the masses by setting up pop-up diners (just like Luke's Diners from the show) around the US. The streaming giant scored another win with a mysterious, futuristic booth at CES 2018 to covertly market its new sci-fi hit, "Altered Carbon".


Netflix promoted its new original show "Altered Carbon" with a weird sci-fi pop-up at CES 2018.

Josh Miller/CNET

Publicity fails

U2, Brute?

iTunes users worldwide were confused (and enraged) when Apple gave away U2's "Songs of Innocence" album for free. Sure, it forced the Irish band's patented brand of middle-of-the-road stadium rock onto iPhone users without asking. And sure, no one could work out how to get rid of it. But it was free, right? U2 later apologised for its "megalomania."


The fateful photo of CNET's Roger Cheng with T-Mobile CEO CEO John Legere that got the CEO bounced from AT&T's CES party in 2014.


T-Mobile crashes AT&T's party

Back in 2014, T-Mobile CEO John Legere crashed AT&T's CES party. All was fine until CNET reporter Roger Cheng tweeted a selfie with the rival boss, and Legere was promptly bounced from the venue. Getting in is a win. Staying in is a bigger win.

Google Glass , mid-air

How do you make Google Hangouts radical? Get a bunch of Googlers to have one while skydiving wearing Google Glass! Team-building exercises and office confabs have never been so tubular. 

Vodafone's streaker

In Australia and New Zealand, running naked across a sports field isn't a bloody outrage, it's a tradition. But mobile carrier Vodafone got into hot water after it heard of one streaker's plans to interrupt a rugby game between Australia and New Zealand and reportedly offered to pay his fines if he painted on some Vodafone branding. The company was found out and investigated, before it ultimately paid $100,000 to charity as a peace offering.

Snap's Spectacle vending machines

PR 101: Generate buzz through scarcity. Check. Snap built hype around Spectacles by stocking the video-recording glasses in bright yellow vending machines that popped up in secret locations around the country. But long queues and a months-long delay in offering a wider release made this one a Snap squib. 

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The Snap Spectacles vending machine served one person at a time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And the fast food fads

Tostitos: The responsible drinker's chip

Planning on drinking some brewskies and eating tortilla chips for the big game? Sure, bro! And Tostitos has your back! Just blow into its specially designed, totally-not-going-to-hit-the-shelves-en-masse-any-time-soon, breathalyser bag! Over the limit? Now your chips can warn you.


Long before the brand drew heat for reportedly developing female-friendly Doritos (without any of that pesky cheese dust to get in the way of you dismantling the patriarchy), it was promoting fun with music. Specifically, a Doritos bag with a built-in MP3 player packed with the tunes from "Guardians of the Galaxy." There's no word yet as to whether Doritos' Jacked 3D Bacon Cheddar Ranch flavour uses real 3D tech.

Burger King

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Pizza Hut's "Pie Tops" feature a Bluetooth button in the tongue that lets you order pizza with one press.

Pizza Hut

It's not just the tech heads up in arms about internet regulation. Burger King protested Net Neutrality, releasing a video showing staff charging more so some customers would get their burgers as soon as they were ready -- while regular customers waited longer for their food.

Pizza Hut

Gone are the days of '90s-era Dennis Rodman commercials, the fast food chain is totally relevant again, guys. Just look at these '90s-style pizza-themed high tops! And these temporary tattoos! OK, both gimmicks feature technology that lets you order pizza with the press of a button (or the tap of a phone), but we like the commitment to Pizza Hut's retro heritage. And if all else fails, you can always use your pizza box as a turntable...

Domino's Pizza

Pizza Hut's rival has pioneered a delivery bot (complete with weirdly sad robot eyes), and even promised pizza delivery via reindeer. But shouldn't it showcase innovations that will actually reach the public rather than buzzy vaporware purely designed to grab headlines? Ahh yes, young publicity padawan. You're learning...