Prank Me Twice, Shame on You.

By now you’ve all probably seen the latest, greatest example of “prank-vertising”, LG’s Job Interview Meteor Prank, in which supposedly unsuspecting job interviewees are scared nearly to death by the site of a meteor outside an office window. The twist? The window has… get this… secretly been replaced by one of LG’s latest “ultra reality” flat screens.

Plenty has been said about the video already. Some say it’s mean-spirited, sophomoric and bad for the brand. Others say it’s clever and attention getting. But if you ask me, I say it could have been better.

As a creative director, I get why they did it. It’s impossible to show that your TV looks better than someone else’s TV when the viewer is watching on their own crappy TV. Or worse yet, on their tiny mobile phone. This dilemma has plagued creatives since the invention of television. Witness the plethora of terrible, over-saturated commercials that probably sold more tropical fish, flower bouquets and fireworks than they ever did TVs. So showing people’s reactions to the picture was a really smart way out of this dilemma. But what they did after that decision wasn’t so smart.

By going so far over the top, they raised too many issues. It’s too mean. How could they scare people like that? What if someone had a heart attack? I can’t believe LG’s lawyers would ever allow such a… wait a minute, this whole thing is a fake.

The same thing happened with LG’s earlier Elevator prank video, which was quickly revealed to be a fake due to technical inconsistencies. (Ironically, the way it was shot violated the physics of viewing a flat screen in the first place.)

Both videos have generated huge buzz and millions of views. But after the initial shock value wore off, most of the conversation has been about whether it’s real or not, rather than how amazing the TVs must look. Call me old fashioned, but when your selling point is “Ultimate Reality,” do you really want “Fake” to be part of the conversation?

They could have opted for humor over shock value. One can easily imagine any number of bizarre/risqué/voyeuristic scenarios that could be playing out in the office next door, for example. Or they could have gone just as over the top without the threat of inducing multiple cases of PTSD, like this Liquid Mountaineering video from Hi-Tec shoes a couple of years ago. Also ruled fake, but not nearly as obnoxious about it. Either approach might have garnered a bit less short-term buzz, but probably would have sold a lot more TVs in the long run.

It reminds me of the infamous Volvo Monster Truck debacle from way back in the pre-YouTube stone ages. Someone had captured home video of a monster truck destroying everything in its path except for an old Volvo station wagon. Wow, that would make an amazing spot, they thought. And it would have. But rather than just using the grainy footage (which in fairness, no automobile marketer back then would have dreamed of doing on national TV), they opted to re-create the incident on film. And when they did, the production company reinforced the Volvo with steel to make sure it held up through repeated takes. Oops. Instant lawsuit and major loss of trust for a brand that hasn’t seemed relevant since.

In the immortal words of Spinal Tap, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Doing great creative means walking right up to that line without tripping over it. Otherwise, you’ll end up pranking yourself.

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Jim Lansbury is Founder, Chief Creative Officer at RP3 Agency. He likes to think and write about ideas that harness new technology to forge deeper connections between brands and consumers.

Jeb Emami is a Marketing Strategist at RP3 Agency with an affinity for building commercial relationships that help organizations realize and capitalize on their product and service differentiators.

The Building Opportunity blog showcases RP3 Agency's ongoing exploration of new ideas, new technologies, and new experiences that propel businesses forward. Don't miss it.