Someone at Toyota, Saatchi thought cyber-stalking was a good marketing idea

In order to market its then-new Matrix model, Saatchi & Saatchi proposed and Toyota OK’d a campaign whereby people who “opted-in” would get “e-mails for five days from a fictitious man called Sebastian Bowler, from England, who said he was on the run from the law, knew [the person] and where [he/she lived] and was coming to [his/her] home to hide from the police.” And oh, by the way, the participants were entered into the event by people who wanted to set up friends to be "punked."

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Plenty. So much that Amber Duick of LA has filed suit against the carmaker over emotional distress caused by being on the receiving end of the stunt.

Although Bowler did not have Duick’s current address, he sent her links to his My Space page as well as links to video clips of him causing trouble all over the country on his way to her former house in Los Angeles, according to the lawsuit.  "Amber mate! Coming 2 Los Angeles. Gonna lay low at your place for a bit till it all blows over," the man wrote in one e-mail.

You may not have thought it possible, but it gets even stupider.

Duick’s attorney said the marketing company went so far as to send Duick a bill for damages the fictitious man supposedly made to a hotel room. "Amber, ran into a little problem at the hotel," a note with the invoice stated. "After I’m done visiting you, I’m going to go back and sort out that front desk Muppet."

The company’s defense? “Well, she did agree to the opt-in.” Said opt-in was buried in an emailed “personality test” which contained a link to a web page allegedly explaining what was going to happen. Duick’s lawyer characterizes the explanatory note as “indecipherable.” This point seems reasonable as you could hardly expect to punk someone who knows what’s coming.

The entire thing begs two questions:

  • WTF was someone smoking when he/she OK’d this?
  • What the hell was the campaign supposed to accomplish?

Saatchi & Saatchi told the marketing magazine OMMA last year that it had developed the campaign to target men under 35 who hate advertising. The prank campaign, Saatchi creative director Alex Flint told the magazine, should gain the appreciation from "even the most cynical, anti-advertising guy.

HUH? How the hell does this actually sell the product? It sure as hell isn’t going to make anyone less cynical or anti-advertising. I want to ask did it ever once occur to anyone that even “men under 35” have been known to have problematic people in their lives – but we already know the answer.

Sadly this campaign is excluded for this year’s list of Top 10 (or so) marketing blunders as it took place in 2008. However, I suspect it may receive a special citation from a certain special interest group.