If you thought there was something fishy about that YouTube video of a shark swimming off Lake Ontario's Wolfe Island, you were absolutely right.
The clip—uploaded on July 10, with nearly 650,000 views so far—was part of a marketing campaign by Discovery Canada designed to lure viewers to its annual "Shark Week" programming, which includes a segment asking if sharks could surface in the Great Lakes.
A lifelike prosthetic shark model appears in the video, which caused considerable concern and consternation both before and after being revealed as a prank. Initially, locals were fearful that a deadly menace might be lurking in the murky depths. Six days later, when they learned it was safe to go back in the water, they were pissed off that they'd been pranked. Canadians—they're never satisfied, eh?
Discovery Canada President Paul Lewis issued the requisite explanation/non-apology—"There was no anticipation on our side to cause any kind of fear or upset at all"—and the channel now feasts on free publicity like a Great White gorging on buckets of chum.
Sure, the coverage is mostly negative, but, as several experts quoted in said coverage point out, the ruse was harmless, and the public has a short memory, so Discovery probably hasn't bitten off more than it can chew.
Our neighbor to the North has been besieged by contentious marketing stunts this month. The Lake Ontario shark scare came shortly after Coors Light got into hot water over a Toronto scavenger-hunt promotion that resulted in rerouted streetcars and rush-hour delays when authorities were called to check out a suspicious-looking briefcase attached to a railing.
Predictably, there's been some gnashing of teeth. Monica LeBarge, a marketing professor at Queen’s University, told City News that when agencies and clients "are trying to be cutting and edgy" they "just aren't thinking through what the implications are."
True enough. But let's face it: marketers are sharks, and we shouldn't expect them to stick around and apologize after eating their fill.