Q&A: How a Reality TV Show Pranked America With Fake Celebrity Divorce Ads

Good buzz requires patience, WEtv president says

We've been had. It turns out that one man's heroic billboard crusade to prevent celebrity divorce was actually a hoax by WEtv to advertise its new show Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars.

We caught up with WEtv President Marc Juris (pictured below) to find out how he hit the zeitgeist and tricked media outlets across the nation:

AdFreak: Is there a real J. Robert Butler?

Mark Juris: You're speaking to him. No, he's a fictional character we invented, played by a real actor.

Whom you made up a whole backstory for about his daughter's divorce …

Because the most important thing you have to remember is that the audience is incredibly smart. We created a whole character, a persona and a motivation. Thought about why he would do this, what he expected would be the response. I think the inclination is to have him say some outrageous stuff, and we pulled all that back and had him be more realistic.

How did you hatch the hoax?

We went through a couple of ideas. We thought, "Could we make these billboards poking fun at celebrity couples who had divorced?" But it just felt too much like an overt ad campaign. And that’s the problem with overt campaigns; people just drive by them and just keep going. So we thought, "How can we really do this?" What if we made an organization that seemed ridiculous but could be real and serious?

It seemed real and serious. You fooled us. Did you get anyone else behind the movement?

We had quite a few requests for interviews from some major broadcasters and some broadcasters who were upset because we weren’t getting back to them. Some got lightly pushy, saying things like, "We're going to go to press without your comments." But it got a lot of pickups because it was thought provoking. What it was saying kind of made sense, and by the end it was even making sense to me.

I think you could have actually started a movement.

I think you might be right. Some of those lines really resonated because marriage isn't a sponsorship opportunity. I think the general population is a little sick of it. The Kim and Kanye wedding happened recently, and we weren't invited. But when you see this sort of thing where everything is sponsored, all the brands there, and people are tired of it. The best messaging is what really resonates with people. People are getting smarter and smarter, and they don't want to be played. I mean, when you see something like "consciously uncoupled," it really seems like they [Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin] went to the same company that comes up with things like "Obamacare" to come up with the name!

The new banner across the signs says "help stop celebrity divorce" and suggests tuning in for Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars. Do you think a show like this will really help prevent celebrity divorce?

No, I don't think so. At this point we're having a little fun. But we wanted to make people think and link it to our show in a more meaningful way.

Well, you got lots of people talking. Who was covering it?

There was a lot of online blog coverage. We had a very long piece on KPLA, we had an entire segment on Fox News referencing the billboards and talking about celebrity divorce. We really had great coverage with just five billboards and a couple of buses. I love outdoor advertising because it really stands alone, and if it's great, you really see it. Outdoor can be really successful and very cost-efficient. I also think you have to do city-specific advertising when it's appropriate.

It was definitely appropriate here.