It’s just a normal day. You’ve fallen into your weekday routine, nothing interesting to speak of.
Then, on your walk into the office, zombies suddenly attack you! Or, a telekinetic psycho interrupts your morning coffee as she destroys the café around her with her mind! Or, a devil baby pukes you up on your new exercise clothes! Club soda should get that out.
Pedestrians beware! Advertisers turned Ashton Kutchers have created a new trend in branding: prankvertising. This new marketing scheme involves brands preying on unsuspecting urbanites with special effects, animatronics and actors in order to whip up awareness and conversation.
A Few Examples
The segment that has really laid claim to this guerrilla-marketing tactic is the horror film industry. It makes sense. Their entire business revolves around scaring the pants off people, so why not bring it to life?
The 2013 remake of the classic horror film Carrie received mixed reviews, maybe propagated by the seemingly large media blitz for the film. The promotion that caught some attention was the real-life Carrie freak-out in a café in Manhattan. Patrons were scared-to-death as the actress lifted a man six feet off the ground (aided by a weight and pulley system behind a fake wall) and tables and chairs moved at the motion of her hand (assisted by the remote control tracks attached to the bottom).
A more recent example from the same company, Thinkmodo, was used as a promotion for the movie Devil’s Due. Good Samaritan New Yorkers were attracted to an unattended baby carriage by screams and cries of the “baby” inside. Their reward? An unearthly scream that makes the heartiest man scream and the subsequent chase by a remote-controlled vomit covered devil baby should they try to escape.
New Yorkers can’t find solace anywhere with advertisers lurking. AMC’s The Walking Dead recently promoted the start of the new season by hiding dozens of walkers below a carefully crafted grate on an NYC sidewalk. As pedestrians stroll by with their guards down, zombie hands burst through from beneath the street reaching for flesh. Professional make-up from The Walking Dead special effects guru Greg Nicotero helps to pull of the prank. The same masterful use of latex was on display as Andrew Lincoln scares fellow co-star Norman Reedus with the help of Vine star Nick Santonastasso.
Brands have also used less harassing techniques to prank unsuspecting victims. U.K. McDonald’s recently proved how tantalizing its Big Mac really is by showing pedestrians just how distracting it can be. A tourist couple asked passersby to take their picture. As they are getting posed, a giant portrait of a Big Mac passes between the photographer and the couple. With some quick shuffling, out pops a completely opposite couple from behind the portrait—and no one seems to notice!
The most recent, and possibly best, is a new stunt from package delivery company DHL. The shipping brand wrapped large packages in thermoactive foil that, when cooled below freezing, turns black and opaque. They then commissioned their competitors to deliver these packages to some less-than-convenient locations. As the other drivers delivered the boxes, the foil returned to its clear state, revealing, “DHL is faster,” printed on the packages. A little Trojan warfare between brands never hurt anyone.
Prankvertising is effective for two reasons: one, it leaves deep, lasting impression with those directly involved. Two, it generates earned media through bystanders sharing on social media and media outlets picking up the story. Not to mention, it’s just plain funny (or freaky). Although, other advertisers, like John St., think it’s gone a little over the top. Nevertheless, be on alert. You never know when a normal Wednesday could turn into advertiser’s planned nightmare.