Publicity Stunts

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Debunked

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Filed under: Publicity Stunts, Urban Legends

Snopes sheds light on the origins of another beloved Christmas myth: “The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer… was developed for commercial purposes by a Montgomery Ward copywriter at the specific request of his employer…”

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer created to bring comfort to a girl whose mother was dying of cancer?

The character ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ was created by a father to bring comfort to his daughter as her mother was dying of cancer.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by a man whose wife was dying of cancer.

The story of Rudolph was created by a father to bring comfort to his daughter as her mother lay dying of cancer.

To most of us, the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, immortalized in song and a popular holiday television special, has always been an essential part of our Christmas folklore, but Rudolph is in fact a mid-twentieth century invention whose creation can be traced to a specific time and person

Read the whole story here.

Well, Here’s a Novel Phone Prank… Threatening Pro-Trump Robocalls

Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, You Decide

Gizmodo investigates confusing robocalls warning people to stop criticizing President Trump. Some of the recipients are harsh Trump critics, some aren’t. Some known political provocateurs may or may not be involved, and no one really gets it.

“People Are Getting Robocalls About Their ‘Derogatory’ Trump Posts”
by Kashmir Hill
November 29, 2017

Brett Vanderbrook was driving for Uber last week when he got a call from an unfamiliar number. He let it go to voicemail and when he listened to it later, he got a shock: It was a recorded message telling him to stop making “negative and derogatory posts about President Trump.”

“It was kind of threatening. I was dumbfounded at first and then creeped out,” Vanderbrook, who lives in Dallas, Texas, said in a phone interview. “Then I was angry and that’s when I decided to share it.”

Vanderbrook makes progressive political posts on Facebook, voicing support for gun control, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights. None of his public posts mention President Trump or come across as “derogatory.”

Vanderbrook is not alone, though. Across the country, and even in Canada, people have reported on social media that they’ve received the same robocall. The earliest complaint dates back to July. The intensity of the calling campaign is hard to gauge; a search of complaints turned up 10 reports scattered across different platforms.

The reports, though, are all consistent. When the call goes to voicemail, as it did for Vanderbrook, the beginning of the recording gets cut off, but people describing the calls on Twitter, Facebook, and the telemarketer-reporting site have said that the recording claims to come from “Citizens for Trump.” Read more.

Today In Human Head Transplants

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Hype, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, You Decide

In the “quit while you’re ahead” department…

“World’s first human head transplant a success, professor says”
By Yaron Steinbuch
New York Post
November 17, 2017

The world’s first human head transplant has been carried out on a corpse in China, according to a controversial Italian doctor who said Friday that scientists are now ready to perform the surgery on a living person.

Professor Sergio Canavero, chief of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, said the operation was carried out by a team led by Dr. Xiaoping Ren, who last year successfully grafted a head onto a monkey’s body.

“The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain-dead organ donors is the next stage,” Canavero said at a press conference in Vienna, the Telegraph reported.

“And that is the final step for the formal head transplant for a medical condition which is imminent,” said Canavero, who has gained a mix of fame and notoriety for his Frankenstein-like pursuits. Read more.

Canards For Humanity

Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire

In what has become an annual American holiday tradition, the creative team behind the party game Cards Against Humanity is pulling a satirical marketing stunt. (In 2014, we talked with ringleader Max Temkin about the “Box of Bullshit” and his reverence for Abbie Hoffman.) This time, their gimmick carries a fresh and righteous political charge.

“Cards Against Humanity is the undisputed champion of holiday promotions”
by Lindsey Quinn
The Hustle
November 16, 2017

The world’s raunchiest card game has purchased a plot of vacant land along the Mexico-US border and has hired an eminent domain lawyer to make it “as time-consuming and expensive as possible” for the Trump administration to build its proposed wall.

To fund their effort, CAH offered a package of “six surprises” for $15 — all of which are now sold out.

Since the game was launched by 8 high school friends in 2011, it’s gained a reputation for pulling incredibly on-point PR stunts. Read more.

Trump Brand Thrives on the Dark Markets

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…

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

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

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

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.


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

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
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

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!

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.”


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!

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

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


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

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.