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#PRants: Prankvertising is Earning Bad PR
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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If you are in advertising, or even if you have an office in an integrated agency, you know what this tantalizing trend is. However, for those flacks not in-the-know: "Prankvertising" is when a brand pulls a marketing prank on random, unsuspecting consumers. Unfortunately, it's getting way out of hand, people are getting hurt, and now babies are being kidnapped. Because fun?!

This fun new trend all began with the TV network TNT. A couple of years ago, the network was looking to build a substantial amount of buzz with its "We Know Drama" tagline. They did...and then some. If you click on the link, you will find the first prankvertising video "Push to Add Drama," which has earned more than 47 million views so far. Thus, a legend was born. Kinda. 

The pranks started out as innocent means to drum up press, interest, and, of course, sales via word-of-mouth awareness and flat-out hysteria in what they were watching. Perhaps you have seen the timely and heart-warming commercial from Toys R Us where a busload of kids end up ransacking said toy utopia and taking home whatever they desire. And 40,000 views in four days later, Toys R Us had a hit on its hands. Following that success, a few other brands determined more traffic meant getting more randy with its pranks. Did you know that painting is the scariest job in the world? Yeah, me neither, but close to Halloween, Benjamin Moore Paints decided that slant would be the way to go. Personally, I think the makers of the commercial looks like they were huffing the fumes instead of using the paint, but that's just me. Then, we have the movie "Carrie." Not the classic original, but the remake. Anywho, this telekinesis experiment with a java junkie gal going all eff-the-world was assisted with Hollywood tactics like remote control tables and invisible pulleys. More than 48 million views later and "Carrie" won the top spot in theaters across the country. 

The views, traffic and buzz wasn't enough. Some brands wanted to create indelible impressions and up the ante to the whole nouveau "prank" side of this advertising trend. 

To wit, LG TVs decided a novel way to show off its 84" Ultra HDTV would be to showcase a post-apocalyptic invasion through a "window" during a job interview to several dolts who apparently have never heard of push notifications via a smartphone. Because if World War III were breaking out, you would think a national news flash would hit, or at least someone's mother would text, "WTF!!!" Certainly, some people probably didn't get the fictitious job as they left skidmarks on the floor...and elsewhere in their clothing. This thing went viral in one day, and one person actually went to the hospital for stress-related issues. Another prankvertisement that pushed the envelope under the guise of hijinks and tomfoolery was this genius bit starring a mustachioed NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon on a Test Drive, brought to you by Pepsi Max. While this was funny and worth 38 million views, the unsuspecting car salesman sounds like he was going to lose his job, lunch, and mind in the same minute. 

And now, there's this heinous crap. Albeit, this is a spoof — it's fake and intended to be so — but for bystanders and viewers who don't read but only view, it may be the inception of a twisted idea in the name of striving for a viral hit, heavy traffic, and bragging rights. So, from the superb minds of Toronto ad agency john st. (no capitals, if you please), we have getting kidnapped out of your bed by real criminals in the effort to throw you a party by fake craft beer Coggins Brewery. 

Not stressful enough? How about a fake deodorant that keeps you dry even when you sweat like a pig and pee your pants...because your child was just kidnapped in a public park? Funny, right?

Again, those two depraved genius ads are fake, but they push the point that this is where prankvertising is going. That's the thing with folks in this industry: some people just don't know when to leave well enough alone. It's got to be bigger, better, badder than the other guys. And why? Because our clients demand more (that, and your vain stretch for fame and online traffic has forced it). So, have we really gone from sensory advertising to sadist trials for giggles? From meteor attacks from Mars, supernatural menopause, Amber alerts, and causing angina attacks, this is a dark road we are traveling upon. It's a road with unpredictable speed bumps, potholes, of pushing the envelope and detours that could lead to brands dying a terrible death. Why? Consumers have the final word and if they think you have gone too far, you won't go anywhere. Food for thought, kids. 

There's my soapbox and that's a #PRant (PR Rant). 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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