University of Southern Denmark, Odense MSc in Economics and Business Administration Brand Management and Marketing Communication Desislava

Dobreva

“Prankvertising” – behind the curtains of consumers’ consciousness. An advertising stunt gone bad or a marketing panacea?

Introduction A research conducted by Media Dynamics, Inc in 2007 states that we, as consumers, are exposed to around 600-625 advertisements per day (Media Matters, 2007). This statistic is overwhelming enough to make us think about what the companies are willing to do to make sure their products are seen and/or heard. 2012 and 2013 laid down the foundations of a new trend in advertising called “prankvertising”, which can be viewed as a type of stealth marketing. With many adjectives associated to it, such as “outrageous”, (Gianatasio, 2013, April), “sadistic” (Nudd, 2013, Sept.) , and the fact that the press has went as far as to even refer to it as “a marketing heart -attacktic too far”
(Mahdawi, 2013, Oct.), the discussion of this marketing tactic is, to say the least, controversial.

The scenario of it generally consists of playing a trick on an unsuspecting consumer in an attempt to evoke fear before showing him the product and afterwards releasing the video for the public to see with the main goal of creating a marketing impact. This study focuses on consumers’ reactions towards a “prankvertising” video that is part of a campaign against drinking and driving. More specifically, the research focus is set on whether this advertisement encourages the spreadability of the message it conveys or if it is perceived as too extreme and consumers do not see it as successful, so they are not motivated to share it. Therefore, I argue that even though this new way of promoting a product is definitely unorthodox, in this case it makes a lasting impression on viewers and participants, and, as seen in the comments, it does make them think about the message the creators are trying to get through and also – share it. I offer as evidence the analysis I did on 120 Youtube comments under the advertising video. The paper is structured as follows: Firstly, I present the literature I am going to use in order to connect this study with previous ones that might help us understand this new case better. Secondly, I explain the methodology used to collect and analyze the data in this paper, and, finally – after presenting the findings of the analysis, I conclude with a discussion and important takeaways. Theory

A current Yankelovich survey (Wegert 2004) found that 65 percent of consumers feel bombarded with too many advertising messages, and 60 percent have a more negative opinion of advertising than a few years ago. The same study found that almost 60 percent of consumers felt that advertising had nothing relevant to offer them. (Retrieved from: Porter & Golan (2006). In addition to that, as Spreadable Media suggests, “television, Clm, and recording industry executives all work in a universe in which they know full well that more than 80percent of what they develop and create will fail commercially” (Jenkins, 2013). These facts lead us to presume that companies are starting to use more advanced, but also more extreme methods to keep the interest in their products alive. Since one of the first prankvertising videos to go viral with over 50 million views on Youtube, a video showing a seemingly telekinetic event at a coffee shop, more and more people are adopting this new way of advertising into their own campaigns. And since “Any creator — whether media company, fan, academic, or activist — produces material in the hope of attracting audience interest” (Jenkins, 2013), it can be said that interest is the main factor that influences the success or failure of a product. Prankvertising does not completely fall under a specific theory or literature, since to my knowledge it has not yet been studied in depth. By referring to Spreadable Media, the literature on the attention economy, viral marketing literature and other studies relevant to this case, this paper attempts to help readers understand better consumer’s reactions to this specific commercial by exploring if it manages to get through to them by engaging them in sharing and discussing. To do that, first we have to acknowledge that “the structure of the advertising industry has changed” (Russell, 2009) and with change comes opportunity. In this case – the opportunity to do something new, strange and even frightening to the public, with the goal of creating an enormous marketing impact. Method Reception analysis and discourse analysis Since the focus of this study is to explore and understand the reactions of consumers under a Youtube video, I chose a qualitative research method - discourse analysis as the method for analyzing data in this paper. As it is sometimes defined as the “analysis of language beyond the sentence” (Tannen, D, LSA), this method will help me discover what the meaning of certain comments of consumers is, the arguments they get into and how they react to the advertisement based on these comments.

To gather my data I am going to use reception analysis, focusing only on the comments and not on the consumers that are writing them, since this study researches mostly spreadability and reactions, without going into depth in social backgrounds, age or sex of consumers. The aim is to extract the meaning of the comments, which is not always an easy task, because “meaning, in media as well as in face-to-face interaction is generated according to the communicative repertoires, or codes, of the encoder(s) and interpreted according to the communicative repertoires of the decoder(s)” (Schroder, 2004). Case context Over the last year prankvertising has become increasingly viral and has provoked a large variety of opinions on its essence – from commentators thinking of it only as staged commercials with really bad acting and none effect whatsoever, to others going as far as to call it risky and dangerous to peoples’ lives. The Youtube advertisement this paper focuses on is called #Publooshocker. It promotes a campaign against drunk driving, created for London's Department of Transportation as part of their anti-drive drunk campaign, THINK! The creator is Leo Burnett London advertising agency and is part of a series of advertisements including print and radio ones. The video shows different men standing in front of a bathroom mirror when suddenly it smashes and a female mannequin head covered in blood appears, recreating the effect of smashing through a car windshield. The aim of the advertisement is to recreate what happens in an actual car accident. To shock potential drinkers noise is also included so that they can understanding the real dangers of drinking and driving. To this moment the video has 10,009,932 views, 20, 106 likes and 2008 dislikes. My research aims to analyze the discourse that occurs in the Youtube comments under this advertisement. More specifically, the goal here is to discover if that commercial manages to grab people’s attention and engage them in sharing and talking about the message it conveys – that you should not drive after you have been drinking. This case is somewhat different from other advertisements of this type. Usually it is a normal product such as a television and the creators aim for shocking the participants and the viewers to an extent that when the scene finishes, it takes a few seconds to understand what has just happened. It is not known whether they use actors or people who do not know what is about to happen, hence there are many debates over the ethical side of this new marketing tactic. However, this advertisement is created for a good

cause, not to sell a product, therefore it should be considered as an extension of this “prankvertising” trend – a different angle to the marketing strategy that shocked the whole world when it appeared for the first time. Analysis The specific sample frame here include 120 comments under the fore-mentioned Youtube commercial. Various comments with a relevance to the advertisement were analyzed, providing data which strengthens our knowledge of the attitudes and opinions of these Youtube commentators towards the video and the way they participate in the cause by sharing the ad, mostly using hashtags. Research Limitations The comments only let us examine a part of the sharing process, since it cannot reveal how many users have shared the video via other social media such as Facebook or twitter. This paper presents the first results of a research that needs to be deepened and widened in order to gain a broader perspective on the case studied and the whole prankvertising phenomenon as well, and therefore understand how users perceive this new trend. In further research it could be possible to use other methods to understand the situation better, as, for instance, taking part in the process of commenting and asking the participants direct questions about #Publooshocker. In this way it may be easier to understand if they have shared it via other social media and if they find the advertisement just shocking enough to portray what could happen if you drive drunk. Discussion According to Belk (2007) sharing is “the act and process of distributing what is ours to others for their use and/or the act and process of receiving or taking something from others for our use.” What we can take away from this is that sharing is a non-reciprocal act, since consumers do not expect anything in return – they do it when they find what they are sharing relevant with the person. Sharing can also be done for establishing a social status or a point of view, showing to the public what you deem interesting and what not. This study suggests that even though the literature related to consumers’ sharing and opinions of new marketing trends provides a certain

theoretical framework, it does not provide a full understanding of this new phenomenon called “prankvertising”. It is something that needs to be further examined in order for us to find out how it fits in consumers’ points of view, especially since there are people with extreme opinions on this matter. The main source for seeing these commercials created based on pranks is Youtube. The website is definitely one of the places where consumers go when they want to be informed about fresh news. After all, “in January of 2009, 100.9 million viewers watched 6.3 billion videos on Youtube, or 62.6 videos per viewer (Comscore 2009)” (Retrieved from: Campbell, Pitt, Parent & Berthon, 2011). It is where most consumers look at the videos connected to prankvertising and discuss them. Most of them are unsure if this is a sustainable model for gaining publicity, but under the #publooshocker commercial, a big per cent of them are affected by it. Spreadable Media informs us that: “People don’t circulate material because advertisers or media producers ask them to, though they may do so to support a cause they are invested in” (Jenkins, 2013). This is precisely why this ad is slightly different from the other prankvertisements. It is related to a cause – stop drinking and driving. The creators are relying on the fact that people will like and spread it because they are possibly invested in this cause. And it is working – after examining 120 comments I established that in 73 of them the video was shared via Google+ and 45 of them included hashtags. This evidence supports my argument that the people are affected by the ad and they have a need to share the message. It is shared both by other channels representing causes or organizations and people with personal channels. To illustrate with an example, commenter Christopher Donohue (6 months ago), after sharing to Google+, states: “The power of viral campaigns. This one has a message. #viralmarketing #drinkdriving”. Other users describe the advert as “powerful” (Jim Munro – 6 months ago) and part of them, as Gurjit Bhullar (6 months ago) goes as far as to write: “Hello Community, I heard about this new ad for a new campaign to save a life. Once you see this ad it will definitely change your life. It is probably the scariest ad for this message but sometimes that is what is needed to save a life”. We cannot leave out another important factor that shows us users’ opinions of the #Publooshocker advertisement. Youtube always shows us how many people pressed “like” and “dislike” to inform us of their point of view. In other words, this section can be referred to as a system of appraisal, and as Henry Jenkins states in Spreadable Media, appraisal is “ a highly rationalized process designed to determine an object’s absolute value. Yet appraisal is also a

negotiation between different systems of evaluation, determining not only the object’s value but also how that value can be measured”. In Youtube the appraisal is measured via the likes and dislikes, and under this video there is a significant difference between them with 20, 106 likes and 2008 dislikes. Thus, so far all the examined portions of the Youtube advertisement – comments, shares, likes and dislikes, lead to the assumption that the ad has had the wanted effect on consumers. Since we established that Youtube is the main source for consumers to see prankvertisement videos, we can acknowledge that most of them saw the video there – it is also possible that they saw it somewhere else and then opened it on Youtube anyway, maybe because they wanted to engage in a discussion or maybe because they wanted to see what others think about it. When it comes to creativity in advertising, it is safe to say that prankvertising techniques have an impact on everyone. However, this impact varies depending on many factors – a large part of the consumers in general believe that companies have went too far this time only to promote a product. However, when looking at the comments under this specific video, this is not exactly the case. As explained earlier, this ad is not the typical example of a prankvertisement, because the main goal is not to promote a product for consumption – it is to make people aware of a cause, a campaign created to help them. Therefore, based on the comments, it can be argued that people believe it is not bad to go too far when trying to have a positive impact on society, because there is a possibility that it is the only way to assure their attention. After all, there is no argument that the media have changed, and with that change comes also the change in the relationship of the audience to the media (Russell, 2009). When we think about change in advertising, we should consider what provoked this change in the first place. This paper argues that to a large degree it was the shift towards an attention economy. “Attention, at least the kind we care about, is an intrinsically scarce resource; And, yet, attention is also difficult to achieve owing to its intrinsic scarcity” (Goldhaber, 1997). Of course, companies and advertising agencies are fully aware of that, hence – the need for a more provocative model of advertising that will draw attention to the product or, in this case – campaign. As Goldhaber states while discussing his paper during a conference: “What just happened? I had your attention and I was able to convert it into a physical action on some of your parts, raising your hands. It comes with the territory. That is part of the power that goes

with having attention”. Hence, we can assume that when companies create campaigns with the intent to evoke fear and shock in us, they are hoping the attention we give them will lead to a physical act on our behalf – this physical act can be buying the product, sharing the video, engaging in discourse about it. Another study also has a similar conclusion: “…and the goal of a stunt, such as our beauty shop scare, is often to earn attention versus buying attention with an audience. When it's successful, the attention you earn greatly exceeds the cost of buying an equal amount of exposure with that audience." (Gianatasio, 2013). It can be assumed that engaging in discourse is probably the most important factor when it comes to a campaign like this one. It is created to scare people from drinking and driving. When consumers start discussing this video, due to the fact that they connect their Youtube channels either to Twitter or to Google+, their friends also see their comments. It can be seen from the comments that there are many situations where a person shares the video and then his connections start discussing it under his post, and afterwards – share it themselves. So, the creators were seemingly relying especially on discourse, since it is the instrument that drives people to share what they saw. Taking this into consideration, we can state that the #Publooshocker video is successful in terms of spreadability and discourse connected to it. Users clearly take interest in the subject and do not consider the advertisement just “a marketing heart-attacktic too far” (Mahdawi, 2013, Oct.) as they do the prankvertising trend in general. Therefore, we can take away that if used for a good cause that will affect society in a positive way, this new advertising strategy has not yet backfired and it will possibly have a long lifespan if done properly. Although prankvertising has not been around for a long time, a number of companies have used it to promote their products, among them Coca Cola, Sony, TNT, Samsung and LG. Starting in 2012, it does not seem like this trend is going away just yet. Nevertheless, until now the #Publooshocker advertisement is the only one where prankvertising is used for a good cause. It is possible that is started a new movement in using this marketing tactic to do good instead of only for a personal benefit. Conclusion This paper has explored the reactions and willingness to share of the youtube users under the prankvertising advertisement #Publooshocker. Based on the facts and assumptions that were stated earlier it can be taken away that so far the majority of people commenting under the advertisement are reacting quite well to it and do not hesitate to share it with their friends and

acquaintances. Maybe it is due to the fact that they feel invested in the cause, or because they like the shock tactics that were used to get the message through, but they do help in spreading it. Thus, since there have not yet been many studies of this new phenomenon in advertising, this paper contributes to the existing literature and hopefully paves the road ahead for more in-depth studies of prankvertising.

References 1. Belk, R. (2007). “Why Not Share Rather Than Own?” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 611(1) 2. Gianatasio, D. (2013). Adweek, Vol. 54 Issue 13, p24-27. 3p. 3. Gianatasio, D. (2013, April) Prankvertising: Are Outrageous Marketing Stunts Worth the Risks? Liabilities galore. Adweek. Retrieved from

http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/prankvertising-are-outrageousmarketing-stunts-worth-risks-148238 4. Goldhaber, M. (1997). “The Attention Economy and the Net”. First Monday, 2 (7). 5. Mahdawi, A. (2013, Oct.) Prankvertising – a marketing heart-attacktic too far? The Guardian. Retrieved from

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/09/prankvertising-marketingcarrie-telekinetic-coffee-shops 6. Media Matters (February 2007), “Our Rising Ad Dosage: It’s Not as Oppressive as Some Think.” 7. Nudd, T. (2013, Sept.) Is This the Most Evil and Sadistic Prankvertising Stunt Yet? LG's doomsday scenario. Adweek. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/most-eviland-sadistic-prankvertising-stunt-yet-152212 8. Porter & Golan. (2006). From subservient chicken to brawny men: a comparison of viral advertising to television advertising, Journal of interactive Advertising, 6 (2), 26-33) 9. Russell, Martha G. (2009). “A call for creativity in new metrics for liquid media”, Journal of interactive Advertising, 9 (2), 44-61) 10. Schroder, K. (2004). Researching audiences 11. Tannen, D. Linguistic Society of America. Retrieved from

http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/discourse-analysis-what-speakers-do-conversation

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