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The Promotional Power of 'Prankvertising'

This story originally appeared on PR Daily

Halloween’s coming, and with it Mischief Night—which means it’s the season for pranks. Egged houses and toilet-papered trees are the order of the day for the mischievous. 

Brands are a little bit ahead of the game, though. They’ve been pulling pranks for months, with the intention of snagging the attention of often-distracted online observers.

As far back as March, companies have been fooling their poor job applicants. Heineken made an entire campaign out of its weird interviews that involved fake heart attacks and other unorthodox tests. Last month, LG pushed the pranks-on-applicants envelope even further, making them think they were seeing the end of the world outside a window when they were really seeing video on an LG TV.

The phenomenon, which even has a name now—“prankvertising”—has really ramped up since then, perhaps because of Halloween. A few recent examples are pretty spooky, anyway. For example, Benjamin Moore paint hired painters to do a job in a creepy house and then played every trick in the book to scare them out of their wits.

MGM and Screen Gems promoted the remake of “Carrie” by using remote-controlled tables and books to make it look as though a coffee shop patron was possessed:

It looks like the prankvertising trend won’t stop after Oct. 31, though. Toys “R” Us has started a holiday campaign that involves fooling kids into thinking they were going on a boring field trip, only to show up at a Toys “R” Us store.

Virtual pranks are part of the trend, too. Cheetos is inviting people to virtually TP sites, landmarks, and houses all over the world.

#insert RSS here#

One thing that’s fairly clear about all these stunts: They get attention. LG’s apocalyptic prank was particularly well covered on the Web. It’s at 14 million views and counting on YouTube. The Toys “R” Us prank has netted 40,000 views in about four days.

You have to wonder whether there might be diminishing returns as more and more brands get into prankvertising, though. As with anything else, a brand’s prank will really have to stand out and be original for blogs to take notice the way they did with LG.

What do you think? Is prankvertising a flash in the pan or something we’ll be seeing more of in 2014 and beyond? 

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