Publicity Stunts

Blog Posts

Trump Brand Thrives on the Dark Markets

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

Of all the business initiatives pumped by the Trump brand, this may be the darkest.


“Dark Web Drug Dealers are Using the Donald Trump Brand”
by Joseph Cox
The Daily Beast
August 22, 2017

Cybercriminals selling drugs and stolen credit cards have adopted an unlikely new branding trend on the so-called dark web. A host of black-market dealers are using the brand, name and likeness of the 45th president to upsell their shipments of ecstasy, cocaine, and ketamine.

“Let’s make the darknet great again,” pledges one of these illicit online businesses that literally calls itself “Donald Trump.”

Several of the vendor’s listings refer to their store as “Trump Towers,” where they sell “presidential” quality shipments of illicit substances.

“Donald Trump” sells its wares on Dream, an established dark web marketplace. After the FBI closed the largest market called AlphaBay last month, and European cops shuttered a second popular online bazaar, Dream is now likely the busiest underground drug site. Some vendors on Dream also offer your usual array of counterfeit currency and fake identity documents.

According to the ‘Donald Trump’ listings, the dealer posts drugs from Belgium, but they do not ship to the U.S. Photos of the large blocks of cocaine include a Donald Trump bobble-head.

‘Donald Trump’ appears to have plenty of satisfied customers. Whenever someone buys an item on the dark web, the market typically prompts them to leave a rating and short review. That way, potential customers can get a better idea of who sells the real product, and who may be a scammer. Read more.

Spectacle TV Without the Spectacle…

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Publicity Stunts

Olympian Michael Phelps unsurprisingly lost his Sunday race against a simulated great white shark.


“Twitter users blast Michael Phelps for not racing a real shark”
by Chris Perez
New York Post
July 24, 2017

Can you blame him?

Social media users were tearing Michael Phelps to shreds for his “race” against a Great White shark on Sunday night — calling it a “scam” — after he chose to swim side-by-side with a simulation, instead of the real thing.

“Don’t say Phelps is racing a shark if you’re not going to put him against an actual shark,”
tweeted Breyanna Davis, who was one of countless viewers to get confused over the way the televised swimming competition went down.

“So you mean to tell me Michael Phelps didn’t even race a real shark? It was just a simulation. I’m mad. More like Shark WEAK!” said Frank Costa.

User @M_Frosti added, “smh Michael Phelps isn’t actually racing a shark. He’s just racing a simulation of a shark. Biggest scam of 2017.” Read more.

Fast Food Ad Pulls a Fast One

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Publicity Stunts

A clever and controversial Burger King TV ad stokes fears about the internet of things and our accelerating rate of information exchange.


“Burger King’s new ad forces Google Home to advertise the Whopper”
by Jacob Kastrenakes
The Verge
April 12, 2017

Burger King is unveiling a horrible, genius, infuriating, hilarious, and maybe very poorly thought-out ad today that’s designed to intentionally set off Google Homes and Android phones.

The 15-second ad features someone in a Burger King uniform leaning into the camera before saying, “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

For anyone with a Google Home near their TV, that strangely phrased request will prompt the speaker to begin reading the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper. It’s a clever way of getting viewers’ attention, but it’s also a really quick way of getting on viewers’ nerves — just look at the reactions people had when ads accidentally triggered voice assistants in the past.
“Burger King’s ad relies on Wikipedia, which is maybe not a good idea”

While Burger King is far from the first to recognize that it’s possible to mess with someone else’s smart speaker, it’s certainly the first to put it into a widely run ad campaign. The spot is supposed to begin running in prime-time slots across the US today on networks including History, Spike, Comedy Central, MTV, E!, and Bravo, and it will air during Adult Swim, The Tonight Show, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Google wasn’t involved in the ad’s creation. That means this isn’t an expansion of Google’s ad tests (people weren’t happy when Google built a Beauty and the Beast ad into the speaker), but it also leads to some real issues for Burger King. For one, it has to use weird phrasing — “What is the Whopper burger?” — because that’s the query that actually gets the result it wants. Asking “What is a Whopper?” gets you the definition of the word “whopper.”

And then there’s the bigger problem: Google gets its explanation of the Whopper from Wikipedia. And as we all know, anyone’s free to edit Wikipedia. Read more.

Subway Sexual Assault Prevention Gets Physical

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Political Pranks, Publicity Stunts, Satire

An aggressive awareness campaign hits handsy men where it hurts.


“Mexico City Subway Installs Plastic Penis on Seats to Fight Sexual Harassment”
by Kieran Corcoran
Heat Street
March 14, 2017

Subway bosses in Mexico City have fitted plastic penises onto seats in a bizarre campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault.

The smooth shape of some plastic seats on the billion-passenger network has been replaced with the sculpted shape of a male body.

The upper half of the seat is fitted with a chest, nipples and a belly – while the lower half is given legs, and a prominent, flaccid penis. Watch the video here:

Text placed on the floor next to the modified seats makes the point that sitting there is uncomfortable – but not as uncomfortable as getting sexually assaulted. Read more.

April Fools 2017: This Year in Branded Pranks

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire, The World of the Prank

April Fool’s Day brings a deluge of cleverness. For journalists covering the arts, entertainment, business, culture, or predictably tech (populated as it is by Stanford and MIT wiseacres), tracking the cuteness can be overwhelming.

At The Verge, Elizabeth Lopatto turns in a thoughtful rant on “the 500-year history of a troll holiday,” including an interview with Alex Boese of the Museum of Hoaxes, that explores why some of us are not big fans of 4/1.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The enormous display of creativity and break from the standard shilling grind can be inspiring. And a few marketing stunts shine through with transgressive humor, playful conviviality, or something genuinely important to say. (That, or they’re just joyously dumb.)

Here were a few that stood out in 2017.

MetBnB

The Metropolitan Museum’s fictitious partnership with the “sharing economy” startup was a lighthearted means of drawing attention to serious commercialization and fundraising challenges in the art world. (more…)

The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.


“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
AP
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.


No Ostriches Were Harmed in the Making of This Marketing Campaign

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

Hate to be the bearers of bad news, but that dude riding an ostrich in rush-hour traffic was part of a viral marketing stunt. Shocker.


“Yep, That Video Of A Guy Riding An Ostrich Through Traffic Is Totally Fake”
by Lee Moran
Huffington Post
September 4, 2016

It was a brilliant idea to beat the traffic.

But sadly the viral video (above) of a man riding an ostrich to beat rush hour in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is totally fake.

The Bank of Astana claimed it was behind the hoax dash cam-style footage on Friday, after the video spread like wildfire across the web.

”What possessed us when creating this idea? The thought that many of us live bored and pragmatic lives,” the bank posted on Facebook.

“Team Bank of Astana believes that we need to stop just daydreaming ― and we must act to embody our wildest dreams, here and now,” it added. Read more.

Make Dating Great Again!

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, You Decide

This international dating startup may or may not be real, but as a politically charged publicity stunt, it’s hilarious.


“There’s A Dating Site For Americans Who Want To Escape A Trump Presidency”
by Kimberly Yam
The Huffington Post
May 11, 2016

New dating site Maple Match helps Americans find a Canadian partner for a special mission — to “save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency.”

AOTP_TrumpDating

And the service’s tagline? “Make dating great again,” natch.

The site launched about a week ago and the app hasn’t even been released yet, but the concept has already proven popular, NBC News reported. Thousands of people have already signed up to nab a spot on the waitlist and this past Friday, the site had 200 sign-up requests an hour.

“This is about finding the right partner and not caring if they’re on the other side of the border,” CEO Joe Goldman explained to The Guardian. “You should go to a place where you’ll be happy. For a number of Americans, in the event of a Trump presidency, that place would be Canada.” Whole thing here.


Don’t Look in the Bag!

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

PETA isn’t known to shy away from aggressive and theatrical tactics. Its recent campaigns include a fake pop-up shop worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, created in partnership with ad agency Ogilvy & Mather.



“PETA Gives Leather Shoppers A Grisly Surprise”

by Landress Kearns
The Huffington Post
May 16, 2016

The animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doesn’t appear to consider subtlety a virtue in its fight against animal products.

In the graphic PETA Asia video below, unsuspecting shoppers are shown browsing leather goods. But within every purse, glove and jacket is a grisly surprise.

PETA produced the video by setting up a fake storefront called “The Leather Work” in a mall in Bangkok. The animal rights activists then affixed artificial skin and fake organs — including beating hearts — inside wallets, jackets, purses, belts and other leather goods. They also put fake blood inside gloves and shoes, allowing unsuspecting shoppers to try them on.

Everything looks scarily real, and the shoppers were understandably horrified. The video is hard to watch, but PETA says drastic times in Southeast Asia call for drastic measures. Read more.

Dan Savage Is Back and He’s Pissed

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

Seattle author Dan Savage is once again taking the piss out of America’s social conservative right.

Savage is best known a sex columnist, podcaster, and political activist. But perhaps more fundamentally he is a masterful media manipulator. Stunts such as his notorious SEO-based public humiliation of then-Senator Rick Santorum rank with the classic pranks of Abbie Hoffman or The Magic Christian.

In response to North Carolina’s wildly controversial “transgender bathroom bill,” Savage, the prankster, has reappeared with another disgusting, gut-busting idea. And this one is not confined to the internet.


“Dan Savage Has A Brilliantly Gross Idea To Protest NC’s Anti-LGBT Law”
by Noah Michelson
Huffington Post
May 9, 2016

DanSavage

If Dan Savage gets his way, Pat McCrory’s office will soon be filled with urine.

On Monday, the writer and activist tweeted his suggestion for how the North Carolina governor and his staff could ensure the “safe disposal” of transgender people’s bodily waste:

Savage’s tweet came just hours after Governor McCrory announced the state of North Carolina would sue the U.S. Justice Department over House Bill 2, which was signed into law in March and forces transgender people to use public restrooms that don’t correspond with their gender identity. The Justice Department had given the state until Monday to stop enforcing HB2 or risk a federal lawsuit.

Rather than agree to follow the Justice Department’s order, McCrory and the state’s secretary of public safety instead filed the lawsuit today against the Justice Department for its “radical reinterpretation” of federal civil rights law. (more…)

Google’s Rare April Fool’s Foul

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Filed under: Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, The World of the Prank

Like everything else in the tech world, April Fool’s Day is highly competitive. For years, the supple minds at Google led with the cleverist, “stickiest” stunts.

It’s barely dawn on the West Coast, and this year’s edition has already confused and alienated enough users to prompt a rare and serious backlash and retraction. Verdict: Too hip for the room.


“Google Disables April Fool’s Joke Amid User Fury After Prank Backfires”
By Alex Hern
The Guardian
April 1, 2016

minionmicdropGoogle’s April Fools’ Day prank has backfired, leaving the company looking the fool and a number of concerned users fearing for their jobs – or worse.

As 1 April began in Australia, the company announced its latest stunt: “Gmail Mic Drop”, a special version of the send button which appends a gif of a minion (one of the sexless, ageless merchandising icons from the Despicable Me series) dressed as the queen dropping a microphone to the end of your email.

“Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it,” Google added in a blogpost announcing the feature. “Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.”

For most companies, that would be the end of it, but Google has a longstanding tradition of actually building the products they “announce” on April Fools’ Day, even if they only survive for 24 hours. Read more.


Fear, Loathing, and Farts in Austin

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

Texas is at the center of the national controversy over mass shootings and gun control. And few cities have the same flair for the theatrical as does Austin.

The warring sides of the gun debate recently staged their own equally ridiculous public events in the state capital.

Fake Mass ShootingThe Huffington Post reports that “Pro-gun advocates doused fake victims with fake blood outside the University of Texas on Saturday in what they called a theatrical event to show the need for firearms on campus.

“Their ‘mock mass shooting’ was met with a much larger counter-protest and derision by many onlookers in the left-leaning city of Austin who saw the group pushing a position that could increase the danger brought by firearms at the university that saw one of the worst mass school shootings in U.S. history.

“One of the mock mass shooting organizers, the group Come and Take It Texas, said allowing gun-free zones on campuses eliminated a human right to personal protection.

“‘Our goal is to instill the importance of everyone to be able to defend themselves in any way they choose,’ the group said in a statement posted on its website.” Whole thing here.

mass farting counter-protestMeanwhile, as reported in the Austin Chronicle, “Pro-gun demonstrators staging a mock mass shooting near the University of Texas at Austin on Saturday were overwhelmed in number and ferocity by a large group of counter-protesters wielding dildos and machines that generated fart sounds.

“‘This isn’t about guns necessarily. This is about scaring our community. This is about a choice between fear and a little bit of good humor,’ Andrew Dobbs, a UT alumnus who organized the ‘mass farting’ counter-protest, told the crowd. ‘We are in a scary time right now and lots of scary things are happening, and some people want us to be more afraid.’ Whole thing here.

Jester as Publicist

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Filed under: Publicity Stunts

Tourism promotion 101: Anoint a court jester for your castle.


Welsh Castle Appoints First Jester Since 13th Century
by Kira Brekke
HuffPost Live
August 5, 2015

Why, you ask? Why not?

The job of a jester — also known as a professional joker or “fool,” for all you plebeians out there — has been mostly left behind in medieval history. But the post has been resurrected thanks to Conwy Castle in Wales, which has just pointed its first jester since the 13th century. HuffPost Live’s Josh Zepps spoke to the jester himself, Russel Erwood (or “Erwyd le Fol”), about how such a position was bestowed upon him and what we can expect from him and his jesterly ways in the coming months.

Terminator Prank (He Said He’d Be Back)

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Filed under: Publicity Stunts

Arnold Pranks Fans as the Terminator…to benefit after school programs (and promote his upcoming film)

April Fool’s 2015 Geeky Gags from the Tech Sphere (Roundup)

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

It’s April Fool’s Day, and TechCrunch is sending mixed signals. Yesterday, it published a rant about timely corporate PR stunts echoing the grumpy, contrarian style of the blog’s departed founder Michael Arrington.

And yet, today, it posted a fun gallery of its industry’s most clever gags, including a steam-powered gaming console, a reddit community dedicated to remixes of the Space Jam theme, and much more.

Is it attempting to drum up controversy? Who even knows anymore!


“April Fool’s 2015: The Mega-Roundup Of The Best Gags”
By Greg Kumparak
TechCrunch
April 1, 2015

Space Jam /r/listentothisIt’s that time of year again! The time when a massive chunk of the tech industry drops what it’s doing and puts all of its collective effort into getting a few laughs. As we do every year, we’re gathering up the best/worse/most cringe-tastic efforts in one place for your perusal. We’ll be updating this list as the day goes on, so check back in later! Read more.