Prankvertising is when a brand pulls a marketing prank on random, unsuspecting consumers. More major brands have started to use this approach as they realize how powerful this medium is at generating word of mouth buzz. The more clever the “prank” the more apt it is to be spread virally through You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It has the same appeal that “flash mobs” started way back in 2003.
Brands such as Coca Cola, Samsung and the TNT television network have all employed this tactic in their marketing strategy. Some examples include the movie trailer for Dead Man Down. The scene is set in an office building. A person is waiting for the elevator and when the elevator door opens, she finds two men fighting on the floor of the elevator. One of the fighters slips a rope around the neck of the other fighter and pulls it tight and it appears to be strangling his opponent. What a shocking position to be in for the innocent bystander. And as the prankvertising is being played out, the audience reaction is being filmed. Thinkmodo, the viral video marketing agency based in New York City, is the mastermind behind a lot of these videos. See the Dead Man Down prankvertising video below:
Such marketing stunts are nothing new, but lately, brands seem to be taking the tactic to a new, extreme level, engineering increasingly sophisticated, hair-raising scenarios to break through the clutter, confusion and complexity of modern media to capture the consumers attention and generate free media coverage. These stunts involve, to varying degrees, average people who often have no idea at the outset that they’re taking part in the making of a commercial or a video designed to go viral. Such efforts blur the lines between artifice and reality, fusing fact and fantasy in ways that can be invasive, sadistic and potentially risky.
However, in order for brands to continue generating word of mouth buzz and viral ads, they will need to continue to execute outrageous pranks? Are there liabilities to the brand? Will the risks outweigh the benefit to the brand or will it be detrimental to the brand image? It is easy for brands to overstep their boundaries in these pranks but it is hard to determine just how far they will go.
To read more on prankvertising, and watch more great videos with behind the scenes explanation, check out these Adweek articles: