Public Relations, Prankvertising and Flying Penguins…

Public Relations, Prankvertising and Flying Penguins…

Who doesn’t love a good prank – especially with April Fool’s Day imminent…

Incorporating humor and even trickery into mainstream marketing and public relations is a longstanding practice that can be both smart and entertaining. However, a new wave of “prankvertising” (a real word) goes way beyond updated versions of Candid Camera stunts or extreme episodes from reality show take-offs inspired by Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d from MTV.

Prankvertising employs elaborate pranks and stunts that target unsuspecting “victims.” They are filmed with the intent of creating a video that will go viral on the Internet and produce massive visibility for a company, product or cause (translation – “sales”) for a much lower budget than traditional advertising. Two companies that have captured huge video hits are LG and Heineken. An arguably creepy viral video to push the Carrie remake (right) may have attracted more viewers than the movie itself.

Universally, we know that sex sells: Witness the much-publicized First Kiss video, with 65 million views and counting. This supposedly poignant and artsy video of total strangers’ first kisses was a bit disingenuous; it was actually sponsored by the clothing brand, Wren, and featured professional actors, models and musicians.

And talk about over the top: In an attempt to make clean toilets sexy, Flush to Paradise was launched this month by worldwide detergent manufacturer Henkel. Random women entering a public bathroom were instructed to “flush the toilet” and are magically transported to a tropical paradise where the stunt is a seductive serenade by four sultry hunks from The Balls Dream Band, to showcase dazzling toilets.

If that’s not enough, you can get the app and upload your own photo to join the Balls Dream Band in paradise plus share photos with funny messages from band members using Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or email. Brilliant or bogus? The proof will be in the soap sales…

Moreover, prankvertising feeds on fear. The Walking Dead NYC video has hungry zombies infesting and grabbing people through a sidewalk grate. Entertaining or a violation of public safety?

A recent inciteful article in Ad Week points out how pranks can go awry, quickly: When someone gets hurt, ends up in the hospital or the cops are called — that’s when the pranks stop… Whether someone gets sued, arrested, or emotionally scarred, the end result is that the company running the prankvertisement stands to lose a lot more than just a court case. These tactics definitely walk a fine line, and companies appear to be upping the stakes with every new prankvertisement. If something goes wrong, not only will their bottom line be hit hard, but they could also face nasty public backlash — further affecting their revenues and image for years.

So, prankvertising aside, what’s up your sleeve for April Fool’s Day? For some laughs and mischievous inspiration, visit for the top 100 April Fool’s hoaxes of all time, based on notoriety, creativity and number of people duped. A few classics:

Journalist Gem: My all time fave: Everyone knows that pigs can’t fly but what about penguins?

The acclaimed BBC captured footage of Adélie penguins in Antarctica, which became one of the most viewed videos on the Internet. “Instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins fly thousands of miles to South American rainforests to winter in the tropical sun.” A follow-up video explained the special effects.

Virgin Visionary: UFO Lands in London

Thousands of motorists outside London looked up to see a glowing flying saucer descending on their city in 1989 and watched it land. Calls to the police warned of an alien invasion. A door in the craft popped open, and a small, silver-suited figure emerged. The saucer was a hot-air balloon built to look like a UFO, the work of Richard Branson, then 36-year-old chairman of Virgin Records, who had combined his passion for ballooning with his love of pranks.

1998whopperCorporate Caper:  The Left-Handed Whopper

Folks are still talking about Burger King’s full page ad in USA Today announcing the new “Left-Handed Whopper,” specially designed for America’s 32 million left-handers. The new Whopper included the same ingredients as the original but with all condiments rotated 180 degrees for left-handed customers – for less spillage. Burger King’s follow-up release revealed that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had requested it while many others requested their traditional ‘right handed’ version.

P.S. Please share your best April Fool’s story to add to our blog – either as the “duper” or the “dupee.” The most original will win a new 60” flat screen TV in time for the NCAA championship game on Sun., April 6…

4 Responses

  1. Great article Jane!

    Best prank I ever pulled was on some friends living in the apartment next door in college. We did a number of things after we broke into their apartment. Flour in the hair dryers…Saran Wrap over the toilet bowls but under the seats…sugar in the bed sheets…moved a whole bedroom into the kitchen and the kitchen into the bedroom…and lastly tied their front door handle to the porch railing, causing them to have to leave through the window. It was hysterical! However, payback can, and was, painful. Oh yes, forgot that we put rocks in their hubcaps, and filled one car completely with stack of recycled newspapers. :)

  2. While it has been awhile since I have been in the business world, April 1st always seemed to bring out the prankster who felt the need to play a childish pranks in the office like putting vinegar instead of water in the coffee pot!

    While we now “attach” documents to emails, I recently saw a great office prank I’d like to share using a copier/fax machine (or so they thought!) APRIL FOOLS! :)

  3. Loved the “Left-Handed Whopper.” Always amazes me that people just believe what they read or see on TV. Basketball coach Bob Knight pulled my favorite prank of all time when he announced that his staff found and signed Ivan Renko from Yugoslavia. Read more about the prank:

  4. Seems like shock value is more important than the actual message in today’s world. As people become more and more desensitised to media, the messages have that much more impact. Prankvertising is a great word….is that a new word or has it always existed? That will certainly get people’s attention!

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