By now you must have heard about Twitch streamer Kai Cenat causing a riot in Union Square by announcing on social he’d be there giving away PlayStation 5 consoles. I’m sure he thought, won’t this be a great publicity stunt? And maybe it would have been if he’d consulted his lawyers prior to making the announcement. Then again, who knows. Maybe he did. After all, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I doubt getting charged with inciting a riot was one of things he thought could happen though!
Conducting a giveaway, especially a live giveaway in a public place (and one as populated as Union Square on an average day) especially if you are a celebrity is not for the faint of heart. The preparations and the considerations, like time of day, place, expected audience (both in numbers and age), required often don’t make it worth the effort. This is why very few influencers/celebrities/companies do it and, if they do, it’s in a very controlled environment. Otherwise, what you’ve been seeing on the news and in the papers is the parade of horribles that can happen. Advertising lawyers will be using this as an example of what not to do in presentations and as ammunition for years to come.
What steps could have been taken?
The most obvious step is getting permission from the city – applying for a permit to hold a public event. This doesn’t allow for spontaneity and can be expensive if the NYPD is needed to control the crowd and ensure order, but this is not an instance where you want to ask forgiveness instead of permission.
Control how many eyeballs see the announcement and how early you make the announcement. The more time you give people to plan, the more likely they are to show up. As of this morning, Cenat had 5.5M followers on Instagram and 6.5M followers on Twitch. For a point of reference, Coca-Cola has 2.5M followers on Instagram. When you have potentially over 6.5M people seeing your post waiting to tell your followers until the absolute last minute would have helped to control how many people showed up. This is especially true if you plan to conduct the event on a Friday in August and your followers tend to skew younger and have more flexibility to show up in the middle of day (like teenagers and college students on break for the summer).
The promise of seeing a favorite celebrity or influencer plus the potential of getting something for free, especially something as expensive as a PlayStation 5 console, can make people go a little crazy. (Even the promise of a great deal can do that. Remember this promotion?) For the giveaway piece, control expectations by letting people know how many items you’re giving away. If your followers know you only have 5 consoles, unless they really just want to see you (and apparently many of them were there just to catch a glimpse of Cenat), they probably aren’t going to come out and/or create a mob scene to get close enough to you hoping they’ll get something from you.
Pick a place to which people have to make an effort to go. Union Square is not that place. As I mentioned earlier, it’s crowded on a normal day and several subways go directly there from all areas of the city. A less populated area near the East River to which people have to take a subway then walk 15 minutes might have been a better choice. If getting something was their main draw and you told them there were only 5 consoles and you announced at 12:50 p.m. you would be there from 1:00pm-2:00pm, a reasonable person (we hope) is going to assume those consoles will be snatched up pretty quickly and likely not bother making the trek. If the people are coming solely to see you, a place more difficult to get to that could take them 30 minutes or more depending on where they are when you make your announcement may also deter all but the most serious fans.
Unfortunately, all of these steps make it less likely to garner “organic” press which is why public appearances in the "wild" when done properly don’t seem as appealing. Though, while not as appealing, you’ll be less likely to see yourself (or, if you’re the brand, the celebrity influencer you engaged) on the 6pm news and in front of a judge.