The Pros And Cons of Prankvertising
Prankvertising, an advertising strategy that makes its point by tricking, scaring, or "pranking" an unsuspecting person or audience, seems to be the hot thing in advertising these days. It's riding on a push from marketers who believe that content creation is the best way to get and keep a brand in front of consumers online. They may be right about content creation, but when does a prank go from good advertising to a bad joke?
There are some strong positives associated with these ads. They are highly sharable and memorable. As the distant cousin to flash mobs, brand pranks can make it impossible to look away. The very nature of social media is that the more sensational, new, and different the content is, the more likely it is to be viewed and shared. Sensational, new, and different also lock themselves into our brains in a way that simple informational content would not. Many of the "ads" in this genre can reach hundreds of thousands of views is just a few days and can live a long life online. Pepsi's Jeff Gordon Test Drive has more than 2.1 million views and is still growing. The prank is still being shared by people across the major channels like Twitter and Facebook even six months after its initial launch.
Dramatic prank ads can also highlight the sharp corners of a brand. If your brand has a unique feature or characteristic, what better way to show that difference than with a big impactful drama? When the idea, the brand and the audience are all aligned on the theme, great things can happen. For gadget gurus or techies, picture quality on a TV screen is a big deal. LG knew this and invited them to join in the fun you can have when your TV is "So Real It's Scary". People associate themselves with the brands they love and good advertisers can tell an inside joke that their core audience will appreciate being a part of.
On the downside, there is a risk of lawsuit and injury. In the above LG example, victims are shown crawling around in complete darkness. How easy would it be for a panicked person to run into a wall or to trip over a chair? Pranksters are advised to at least consult the legal department before giving some poor schmuck a heart attack. That would certainly leave a bad taste in consumers' mouths, which is another danger. Jokes go bad every day. Are brands willing to put their reputation on the line to get a few thousand views? Maybe it's true that bad publicity is good publicity, but many CMO's have lost their jobs when publicity stunts goes bad.
In the hands of a skilled advertiser stunts can be great, but just like joke-telling, bad ones can be really bad or downright offensive. They can show humanity at it's worst. Poor taste may not be the only thing on display in this fake murder stunt for the movie Dead Man Down. The reaction of the unwitting bystanders is a little disturbing. An elderly lady tries to defend the victim, two women scream but can't look away, and one bloke even snaps a photo of the assault before making a run for it. It's difficult to tell who we're supposed to be laughing "with". Does this idea cross a line? The line can be difficult to define.
The short-term outlook for this type of advertising seems strong given the appetite shown by consumers' viewing and sharing habits. Those two metrics are too important to modern marketers. But in the end, prankvertising may just be the distant cousin of the "flash mob". Every now and then you see one that's well done, but these days most are unremarkable.
This article was written by Dave McMullen, CEO of facedeals, a marketing technology company that uses facial recognition. Dave is also is partner at redpepper, an advertising agency and "invention lab" with offices in Atlanta and Nashville. Connect with Dave at @ATLadman.