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Watch out, brands are about!
The latest trend in advertising has its roots in the hoary old world of Candid Camera style practical jokes, or to use a UK equivalent, Beadle’s About.
Although the extended televised prank has long fallen out of fashion in the UK (though Dom Joly is inexplicably back on TV) the USA has seen a huge and seemingly never-ending revival of extreme stunts and japes thanks to Jackass and Punk’d.
Although Punk’d just had Ashton Kutcher’s celebrity mates having their Mercedes Benz’s fake-bumped into, the current crop of prankvertisements are aiming for real shock value to achieve notoriety and therefore virality.
Here are six of the most recent examples:
Uploaded on September 2 2013, the LG meteor prank named Ultra Reality, has so far achieved more than 14m views on YouTube:
This is a genuinely unnerving watch that, despite showing you the complex set-up and stating the word ‘prank’ on the channel, still effectively puts you in the place of the victim, and makes you wonder exactly what you would do in the same situation.
Surely the makers must double-check the victims first with secret health screenings to make sure they don’t have a heart-defect or a nervous disorder?
I realise now the ridiculousness of what I just said. This is fake, isn’t it? Isn't it? Those victims could possibly be actors too.
Even if it is fake, the message is still the same: LG's new screen is so crystal clear you’ll truly believe the world is ending. Also if it is fake, then it absolves the advert makers of possible charges of cruelty.
Is it more impressive if it’s real though? Would it make you question the integrity of the band if it was revealed to be a fraud?
The clip had 700,000 views during its first day. It achieved 14m in two months.
Joining the long list of poorly received and unnecessary film remakes is 2013’s update of Carrie.
Perhaps better received has been Carrie’s viral marketing campaign, uploaded to YouTube simply as Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise by the mysterious user CarrieNYC, just a week before the film’s US release date.
This certainly feels a lot more responsible than the LG prank. The shock derived from the victims ties in directly to the film’s theme. The prank itself wouldn’t make you fear for life in quite the same nerve-shredding way as the LG effort, and it’s coming up to Halloween so the American public are a bit more geared up for a spooky trick.
This also has a similar conceit as the LG ad, in that it shows you it’s a prank right from the start, by revealing the set-up.
Is this peak behind the wizard's curtain a hook to get the maximum amount of people committing to making it all the way through to the end? Would anyone continue watching a video of some guy accidentally spilling coffee over a girl in a coffee shop? Maybe it wouldn’t have achieved its virality without the set-up.
Nor would it have if they just dumped a bucket of pig’s blood over everyone.
The video has currently racked up a massive 48.5m views.
The Last Exorcism Part II
Carrie wasn’t the first horror film to get in on the prankvertising fun.
The worst case of flagrant false titling since The Never Ending Story, The Last Exorcism Part II followed the first instalment’s Chat Roulette prank by setting up an increasingly frightening prank in a beauty salon.
With 3.5m views since February 25 2013, this is a relatively modest amount compared to the mighty Carrie video and you do have to question what a beauty salon has to do with a film about exorcisms.
Department for Transport
Just to prove that prankvertisements can be used for good as well as evil. The UK’s Department for Transport uploaded this shocking video for their THINK! road safety campaign on June 6 2013.
Just to warn you, this is indeed very shocking, in a way that drink driving adverts regularly are, and need to be.
Uploaded under the fairly innocuous title #PubLooShocker, this tricks the viewer, and indeed the patron, into receiving a valuable and powerful lesson.
It seems to be working too: the video currently has over 9m views.
Toys "R" Us
It doesn’t always have to be shock and horror. Here Toys "R" Us tricks some American school children into thinking they’re going on a boring field trip and instead taking them to Toys "R" Us where they can choose a free toy.
This might sound like it has 'Hansel & Gretel' written all over it, such is the negative influence of watching the above videos, but it all seems to end well.
Filming a heartwarming commercial by giving a busload of kids free toys is like shooting fish in a barrel, and there was probably some skilful editing around the tear-drenched, selfish rage and hissy-fits.
Heck, I’d be completely the same, and yes I am jealous; we just got taken to the Telford Ironbridge museum every bleeding year, but still that doesn’t take anything away from the pure joy that exudes from the advert.
This advert is relatively new, having been uploaded on 19 October 2013, and has only amassed 738,577 views, so the viral nature of a more positive message has yet to be proved.
It might not help that the standard knee-jerk reaction to this video is reflected in the top comment here…
Or is this just a reflection of the YouTube community’s innate cynicism? They don’t represent the world at large do they? Or do they?
NIVEA Deutschland uploaded this convoluted prank on 12 February 2013. It’s called Stresstest.
This is a bit closer in tone to the eighties work of Jeremy Beadle. Although we are still very far away from aliens landing in the garden of a Dorset pensioner. This prankvertisement has amassed 7.3m views.
I’m not sure the pay-off really works. The set-up is fairly complicated and drawn-out, but the punchline comes to quickly. Perhaps the makers shied away from being too cruel; it’s easy to read the purpose of this advert as trying to mentally torture innocent bystanders just so they can sell them deodorant.
For a cheerier example of contemporary prankvertising, check out this brilliant and surprisingly heartwarming Carlsberg advert amongst these examples of multichannel innovations from 2011. Then for a complete palate cleanser take a look at this year's crop of Christmas adverts from your favourite department stores.