Just Say No to Gnomes

If you feel like adding another New Year’s resolution, here’s one: If you set out to create a “mysterious” viral ad campaign for the Web, don’t settle on a concept that was talked out years ago in Internet chat rooms, has been featured as a subplot in a major motion picture, and is generally overexposed, not very clever and incredibly unmysterious.

For example: missing garden gnomes.

It’s been about seven years to the day since stories first started circulating about the so-called Gnome Liberation Front, whose members apparently abduct oppressed garden gnomes and release them into the wild. Then, in 2001, the topic got a full airing in Amélie. But now, ads (including posters like the one shown here) are cropping up all over, directing people to WhereIsMyGnome.com—a site that includes a video of a fake local news story describing a gnome abduction. Toward the end of the video, the client is revealed—the gnome, it is said, has headed off on a ski trip booked through Travelocity.

Webheads were quick to scoff at the concept, the site, the client and its agency, McKinney + Silver. (Apparently to keep the ruse intact, McKinney last week would not confirm any involvement with the site. But sources said the shop is indeed behind the work, and WhereIsMyGnome.com is registered to 333 Corporate Plaza in Raleigh, N.C., where McKinney is located.) “How very 1998,” writes one MetaFilter.com visitor about the gnomes. Asks another: “You’d think an agency with the kind of talent they have on board could have come up with something … I dunno … original?”