The Story Behind the Pants-Soiling ‘Rings’ Prank That Has 200 Million Views in 24 Hours

Thinkmodo unpacks its latest hit

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Viral marketing agency Thinkmodo has had plenty of experience, and success, in doing real-world pranks for horror movies. Think back to 2013’s hugely popular “Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise” for the movie Carrie, or the freaky “Beauty Shop Scare” that same year for The Last Exorcism Part II, with the contorted dead girl terrifying salon patrons.

But its latest prank, for the newest film in The Ring franchise, called simply Rings, has flown around the Internet at an unprecedented pace. It’s been viewed more than 200 million times on Facebook (and a million more on YouTube) since it was posted 24 hours ago. That’s a record for a Thinkmodo production.

The ad’s formula isn’t exactly novel. In fact, it’s very reminiscent of the earlier Thinkmodo videos mentioned above. Yet, as the agency tells us, it is a little different, too.

First, check out the prank here:

AdFreak chatted with Thinkmodo co-founder James Percelay on Tuesday morning about the new prank—first, about it’s staggering view count so far.

“Even for us, this is a bit of hot coffee,” he admits. “Twenty-four hours, 200 million views. It’s the top-trending video on YouTube. It’s kind of an eye-opener. The world of viral marketing is certainly alive and well.”

In terms of the ad’s sadistic power, Percelay says the TV-store location really was key to setting up the surprises. (The creepy girl, by the way, is played by Bonnie Morgan—the stunt contortionist who appears as Samara in the Ring films.)

“Drama comes from contrast,” Percelay says. “A place that’s brightly lit and has a friendly salesperson is where you’re least likely to be scared. But also it’s relevant to the movie, where somebody views something on TV and they become the subject of imminent death.”

Real-life pranks are just more powerful than horror-movie trailers, he adds, because they don’t have that gloss of unreality that even the best horror trailers have.

“It’s about taking things from a movie and putting them in a real-life context,” he says. “There’s no separation like there is in a movie trailer. You’re watching it going, ‘Oh my God, I go to TV stores. This could be me.’ There’s this connection that takes it out of Hollywood and puts it into your local Best Buy.”

He adds: “We like to inject a little humor, too, which makes [the pranks] even more shareable. Someone coming out of a TV in a Best Buy-like store is scary, but also amusing.”

While it is reminiscent of earlier Thinkmodo pranks, particularly the beauty-salon prank, Percelay says the new prank was so aggressive—compared to that previous one—that people couldn’t help but be visibly shaken. Which, of course, is the best reaction to capture on film.

“With the beauty shop, a lot of the reactions were very subdued,” he says. “They didn’t want people in the room to think they were crazy, so they internalized the fear. In this case, it was so bold that it was really hard to keep it in. People just reacted very physically. We had a few cool customers who were shaking in their boots but managed to keep it in, but for the most part, even young guys were incredible scared. But all of them laughed afterwards.”

The video has been a great success. But funnily enough, it’s a bit of a bittersweet one for Percelay. “I have to tell you,” he says with a laugh, “I feel uncomfortable whenever we do one of these things because I really don’t like scaring people!”

(And by the way, the Ring franchise has had great prank marketing seemingly forever. In the early days of AdFreak, we wrote about a really fun/sadistic stunt for the DVD release on The Ring Two where you could send a friend a link to the trailer—and as they watched it, they got a scary phone call telling them they had only seven days left to live.)

Don't miss the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit and Upfronts, a live virtual experience Nov. 16-19. Gain insights from leading sports figures on how they navigated a year of upsets and transformation and what's in store for the coming year. Register. 

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.