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.



Advertising during a 9/11 documentary?

Sunday I found myself watching the National Geographic Channel documentary Inside 9/11: Zero Hour. I highly recommend it to anyone who, like me, suddenly feels the need to revisit that day and its horrors in high def, no less. About 20 or so minutes in  — so shortly after the first planes are hijacked in the narrative — there’s a commercial break. First one is for Kia. Next is a baldness treatment and after that I was really too appalled to keep track. It wasn’t until the 2nd or 3rd break that there was one ad which was pitching for some 9/11-related charity.

I guess these were here just in case the show itself wasn’t upsetting enough.

This one I blame on the TV channel and not on the advertisers. The advertisers just signed a contract for X number of commercials with Y level of viewers. It was NGC that decided to go business-as-usual for the documentary. I would love to know if they even told the agencies what shows would be on when the ads ran.

They could have negotiated a deal with some company to sponsor the show without interruption or done something — anything — else. Or maybe they wanted to increase sales of the DVD. Or they just really want everyone to know that baldness treatments are by-and-large a superficial waste of money. I wish.

Related posts:

GM’s bold new idea is to finally copy the Japanese

General Motors Corp on Thursday said it would invest $500 million to build a new fuel-efficient, small car the automaker says will show it can make money in head-to-head competition with its Japanese rivals as it fights to return to profitability.

WOW. What a brilliant move. Very timely. Something about barn doors and horses seems to come to mind. Too bad they’ve never developed an electric car … oh wait, never mind. BTW, someone should tell the GM brass that in addition to being fuel-efficient and small, the cars should also be made well for a change.

Why you shouldn’t read any stories about Black Friday

There’s nothing worse than having to fill a newspaper or broadcast over Thanksgiving weekend. Nothing happens in the US. Well, nothing happens that any beat reporter is covering, which is what the US press means when it says nothing happens. Of course, the US consumer being the US consumer, things happening in the rest of the world aren’t of any interest. Nonetheless the media still must fill all that space with something. This is why every year we get something like:

Preliminary data showed welcome and unexpectedly strong shopping figures for the Black Friday weekend.

This could have been written in 2006 (“The nation’s retailers had a strong start to the holiday shopping season, according to results announced Saturday by a national research group that tracks sales at mall-based stores.“), 2005 (“Steep discounts, enticing rebates and expanded hours drew hordes to the nation’s retailing meccas Friday, and merchants saw hopeful signs that consumer spending will be lively for the holidays.“), 2004 (“In an early sign that buying will be strong this year, Visa USA said Saturday that the total of its credit and debit card transactions was more than $4.1 billion, up 15.5 percent from the same day last year.“), etc.

Just as surely as a Cubs collapse, these stories are followed by stories later in the week and/or month which say

But the hot streak cooled down over the weekend as stores returned to their regular hours and promotions were scaled back.”

The truth is that Black Friday sales numbers are as accurate as sheep entrails when it comes to predicting the holiday season’s retail sales. The only real news here is that anyone actually pays attention to these numbers.

Bad editor! No latte for you!

Further proof press will run any study that blames Facebook for something

(cross-posted from Business & Networking)

Two Australian press outlets (and counting) have come up yet another way Facebook Is Destroying The Economy: The Age & The Courier Mail both have reports today on how, “a growing number of young Australians are becoming addicted to online social networking.”

Of course you don’t just make charges like that without substantiation. Both publications site the same study — and nothing but that study. This study was put together by one Julian Cole, an interweb strategist with the Aussie ad firm Naked Communications. As is usual in these things, Mr. Cole and his research are the only source cited in either story.

In a previous version of this post I incorrectly implied that Mr. Cole’s research may have been biased because of where he works. Mr. Cole has graciously written in with a very important correction:

The thesis was actually part of an Honours degree at Monash University. Naked Communication just happens to be the place that I work.

My apologies to Mr. Cole. I should stick to what I know best — making fun of lousy press coverage. Nowhere in the stories I read was it made clear that this work was done for his thesis. That is the fault of the reporter, not Mr. Cole. I have no reason to believe or even suspect Mr. Cole’s research is anything but scientific and accurate.  I was lead astray by lousy reporting. Again my apologies and thanks for the note.

My personal congratulations to Facebook for being accused of the same crime that the Athenians got Socrates with: Corrupting the youth. That’s some pretty damn good company you are keeping.

Yahoo! News has five other outlets reprinting the same story. Well, it’s early in the news cycle here in the US so I have no doubt that number will grow.

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