5 Fake Viral Video Campaigns: Great Gimmicks or Bad for Business?

These days it seems like brands and ad agencies will do anything in order to go viral, including duping their customers through hoaxes and fake viral video campaigns. Check out these 7 viral advertising hoaxes and decide for yourself - are these campaigns great gimmicks or are they bad for business?

These days it seems like brands and ad agencies will do anything in order to go viral, including duping their customers through hoaxes and fake viral video campaigns. From hiring actors to fake “real” events to using special effects to create unbelievable stunts, the art of the hoax has become a very popular advertising tactic. But is it fair play to essentially lie to everyone in order to go viral? Check out these 5 viral advertising hoaxes and decide for yourself – are these campaigns great gimmicks or are they bad for business?

Liquid Mountaineering

One of the biggest viral marketing hoaxes of all time went down in spring of this year when a documentary-style video about a new sport called Liquid Mountaineering hit YouTube. According to the video, Liquid Mountaineers literally run on top of water, and a lot of people thought that the clip was for real.

When I saw the clip I noticed that the “liquid mountaineers” in the clip briefly mentioned that they used a certain water-resistant shoe to help make walking on water possible. They don’t mention the brand name, but do show a quick shot of Hi-Tec shoes. My immediate first thought was that this was a viral marketing campaign from Hi-Tec shoes and I wrote a post about it.

However, I learned shortly thereafter that Hi-Tec was denying having anything to do with the campaign. ClickZ reported speaking with Hi-Tec’s US PR manager who said that the company “had zero to do with” the campaign. It was not until about a month after the original video hit the YouTube streams that the company came clean and admitted that the video was a hoax and was in fact a viral campaign for Hi-Tec. They even released a “making of” video, showing how the original Liquid Mountaineering clip was made.

The original video has amassed over 7.6 million views and made the company famous, but at what expense? The company not only duped everyone by creating a ridiculous fake sport, but they went on to lie about their involvement with the project. A lot of people question the company’s morals in the situation. Personally, I still think the campaign was brilliant (thought I’m a little bummed that these guys can’t actually walk on water). What do you think?

The Man In The Jacket

Hi-Tec isn’t the only brand that has lied about their involvement in a viral video campaign. Back in 2009, an Australian girl named Heidi appeared in a video on YouTube saying that she was looking for a guy she had met in a café. They only spoke for a few minutes, he was wonderful and…uh oh!…he left his jacket behind! She made the video to find her Prince Charming and return his jacket to him, which just so happens to be a “beautiful” jacket with a “silk lining” and “beautiful striped interior.”

Surprise of all surprises – this campaign turned out to be a hoax to promote a big Australian retail company that was putting out a new menswear line! According to The Age, both the executive ideas director of the marketing group that created the campaign and the actress that starred in the campaign denied that it was a hoax. The actress even went so far as to say, “I don’t really understand why someone would do that if it wasn’t real. There seems to be a lot of cynical people. Some people don’t really think that love is out there any more, really.”

Do you think it is okay for people to lie about their involvement in campaigns like this? Is it a breach of ethics or just an innocent part of a bigger joke?

MEGAWOOSH – Bruno Kammerl jumps

You have probably seen the video of a guy sliding down a huge slip ‘n slide and flying through the air to land in a kiddie pool that hit YouTube a couple of summers ago. The video spread like wildfire, getting millions of views in no time flat. People were blown away and conversation about whether or not it was a hoax took over the web.

Turns out that the video was a fake and was created as part of a Microsoft marketing stunt. If you visit Megawoosh.com you’ll find out more.

I remember when I first saw this video my friends and I were pretty sure it was fake, but we hoped it was real. After all, how awesome would it be if someone could actually slide down a hill, fly through the air and land in a kiddie pool? Therefore, when I found out it was a hoax I was totally disappointed. So it really brings up the question of if it’s worth it to go viral with something really awesome only to let people down when they find out it’s a hoax, or if the millions of views are worth it. What do you think?

Bike Hero

A couple of years ago a video, apparently created by a Guitar Hero fan, hit the web. Called ‘Bike Hero’, the video shows a guy riding his bike on a Guitar Hero-inspired course. In the video description it says, “Can’t tell you how many times it took to make this work, but it was a lot.”

The truth of the matter is, it probably didn’t take a lot of times to “make this work” because it wasn’t real. It came out that ad agency Droga5 was behind the campaign, which included credits from a CG artist and supervisor, an animation supervisor, and visual effect specialists. Personally, I’m not sure why Droga5 and Guitar Hero were so secretive about this one, and tried to make it look like a fan video. I think it is cool regardless of whether CG artists were involved. But what do I know?

Proposal In Central Park

Finally, this month a proposal video has been getting a lot of coverage due to the fact that a lot of people think it’s actually a fake viral created to promote Apple or an iPhone application. Check the video out below and see what you think.

In the video description, the creators of the video respond to the idea that people think it’s a viral video:

“Based on some of the comments on this video, many seem to believe that this is some type of viral video marketing campaign for an Apple product (which we think is awesome) so we want to thank Dave and Mike for the amazing editing on this video, which apparently fooled many.”

However, as we have seen from other campaigns, just because someone denies that their video is a hoax or a viral campaign doesn’t really prove anything.

I have to say that I do think this is a fake proposal video (sorry Frank and Kasey if you really exist, I’m not necessarily calling your or your proposal fake, just the video). There are a whole variety of reasons why I don’t think this is real. For starters, these people just don’t seem that real and genuine – they seem like they are acting. I mean, who would get this excited about a not-so-great rendition of ‘Stand By Me’ by a guy that doesn’t even know all the lyrics? But aside from that, it looks like the video was shot from about a million different angles a million different times. When she says “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to his proposal we first see a shot from his perspective on a boat and she is alone on the bridge. When we cut to a close up of her on the bridge suddenly there are a bunch of people standing next to her.

Other viewers have pointed out more inconsistencies, such as the fact that Kasey’s bag mysteriously disappears and reappears throughout the video. There’s also the fact that Frank throws the ring to her on the bridge, which has a huge diamond in it if you believe what you see on the website they set up at FrankAndKasey.com. Would you throw a huge diamond from a boat up onto a bridge? What if she didn’t catch it?

That being said, I’m not sure I agree with all the people that think this is a fake Apple viral. I don’t think that the fact that they are using their iPhones really contributed anything to the proposal and I think that if it was coming from Apple then we would see more of the “cool factor”. How did the phones contribute to the proposal? Why would the proposal have not been possible without them? In my opinion, the proposal could have worked out just as well without the phones. If it turns out that Apple was behind this I’m going to be super disappointed.

I also should point out that just because I think the proposal video isn’t real that I’m still not totally closed to the chance that actual proposal was real. Maybe the way that they shot it just made it look a little bit more fake than it actually was. It’s clear that they didn’t have enough camera men to tape the entire thing in one take, so they had to go back to embellish. They mention in the comments that, “Once the proposal was over and the couple took off in a boat, the crew filmed the band’s “Stand By Me” performance one more time to get all necessary close-up shots for the editing.” Maybe this group of friends had seen the rash of proposal videos going viral on YouTube and decided to jump on the bandwagon but wanted to upload something that looked really professional. Unfortunately, the style in which it was shot just made it look like a hoax. I don’t want to be super cynical, say it’s fake 100 percent and not give romance a chance, after all!

That being said, I’ve got a feeling that soon FrankAndCasey.com will turn out to be a promotional site for some sort of iPhone app that lets you stream live video to your phone, like the app the people in the video are using. But here’s hoping I’m wrong, the proposal was real, romance isn’t dead and Frank and Kasey will live happily ever after.

It doesn’t look like fake viral video campaigns are going anywhere fast. From a fake toy commercial to promote Pixar’s Toy Story 3 to director Michel Gondry solving a Rubik’s cube with his feet, cell phones popping popcorn and more, I think that brands and ad agencies will fake it to make it for as long as web video exists. What are your thoughts about viral hoaxes? Are they a great way to go viral or a dirty scheme?