Risky Business: The Art of Modern ‘Prankvertising’

BY: ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 04, 2013

Ever been pranked? Sometimes it’s embarrassing, but usually it’s pretty hilarious. It’s funny for the people watching at the very least. Most people have been pranked once or twice before. If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky, and be vigilant. These days, it seems that no one is safe, especially around certain holidays like April Fools’ Day or Halloween.

What are we talking about, you ask?

In the spirit of the most recent holiday, Halloween, and with Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season right around the corner, marketing in general has been overhauled to the extreme, and with that, we must expect the unexpected: prankvertising.

Don’t be Fooled

Believe it or not, prankvertising is nothing new. What is new, however, is the extreme level that brands seem to be willing to take it to. In order to break up the monotony of everyday marketing and encourage free social media sharing and coverage, brands are creating incredible, jaw-dropping scenarios that are amassing a lot of attention.

But how far is too far? In the end, it’s up to you to decide. Let’s look at an example.

MGM and Screen Gems do a good job of showing us just how powerful prankvertising can be with their “Telekenetic Coffee Shop Surprise.” What would you do if you were in a coffee shop and someone started moving objects, seemingly with their mind?

You’d probably be surprised! Most of the unsuspecting participants (understandably) weren’t sure what to think.

Why prank innocent bystanders in a coffee shop? Well, it wasn’t just out of sheer boredom. MGM and Screen Gems are promoting their remake of the famous 1976 film “Carrie.”

Although pranking random coffee shop customers isn’t the norm and it certainly isn’t very polite, it’s very hard to say that it doesn’t work. Why? Because it gets your attention.

And that’s exactly what successful marketing should do.

Pranks Aren’t Just For Halloween 

Are you ready for the holiday season? Because Toys “R” Us just rolled out a new prankvertising campaign that will knock your socks off, just in time to boost sales for the holidays. While there is undeniably a prank involved in this advertisement, the element of fear is not what garners attention in this case, as it was with the MGM coffee shop prank.

The Toys “R” Us prank involves a busload of children who are told they will be taken on a hum-drum field trip to look at trees.

But, instead of trees, the children soon find out they are being taken to the Mecca (Toys “R” Us) to do a little holiday shopping of their own.

You literally get the chills as you watch children yell with excitement and run into the store. As individual children are interviewed, their simple yet heartwarming insights about the toys they get to play with and take home are enough to bring a smile to even the unhappiest of bored office workers’ faces.

And bored office workers (many of whom are moms and dads) are exactly who Toys “R” Us is hoping to reach with their 90-second version that was released exclusively on social media channels like Facebook.

Tracking Trends

Is prankvertising just the latest trend in online marketing?

As with almost every marketing-related question we ask, the answer isn’t simply yes, or no. Prankvertising does seem to be a trend in current big brand marketing campaigns, but that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere soon.

How do we know? Trust us. Prankvertising is powerful. That means it’s here to stay, at least to some extent.

We’ll show you what we mean.

The number one tip for successful integrated marketing is to appeal to emotions, i.e., to trigger some sort of emotional response with your advertising.     

TNT’s “Push to Add Drama” is a great prankvertisement if for no other reason than it’s almost impossible not to have some sort of emotional reaction to it.

There’s proof in the numbers, too. After 46 million YouTube hits, and after the advertisement received awards from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Eurobest and London International Awards, it’s pretty hard to deny that prankvertising isn’t a successful marketing technique when executed carefully.

Bringing it All Back

We’ve talked a lot about big brand prankvertising, but what does this have to do with small business?

Many small businesses won’t have the resources available to launch a campaign such as those mentioned above, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a tip from the pros and the big guys when it comes to successful advertising.

Incorporating attention-getting initiatives and engaging your audience to get a reaction are two components to prankvertising that you should already be including in your own marketing, no matter how big your business is.

Just because you aren’t broadcasting on TV or you’re not going viral doesn’t mean your advertising won’t have an impact on your target market.

Above all, pranksters be warned: prankvertising can be expensive to coordinate, difficult to execute, and nearly impossible to measure in terms of sales.

When done right, it is absolutely successful in terms of increasing brand awareness, but it’s certainly not your ‘average bear’ in the world of marketing. 

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Megan Totka

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. As a small business expert, Megan specializes in reporting the latest business news, helpful tips and reliable resources, as well as providing small business advice.

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