The rise of marketing terrorism

3 Apr

Man strangling another in elevator movie promotion

Last month I blogged about a live horror movie promotion that freaked the crap out of women in a hair salon.

The following week I spied another heart-attack inducing marketing prank (see it here) for a movie called Dead Man Down. This one involved unsuspecting people witnessing one man strangling another with a cord in an elevator – a key scene from the film. Some fled, some took pics with their iPhone, while others were just simply traumatized into inaction.

Welcome to the new, unadulterated world of marketing terrorism. Pretty much anything goes.

Companies are popping up all over the place that specialize in pranking people half to death, under the belief that big Youtube numbers justify the means.

Check out this stunning set-up for Belgian TV station TNT. It’s a bit campy, but in the hands of a less inspired group, it could have led to any number of unfortunate outcomes.


Marketing terrorism is the don’t-tell-me-show-me approach to advertising taken to an entirely new level. It’s a cross-breeding of hidden camera shows and flash mobs, part performance art, part voyeurism, part freak show. We like to see how people handle the shocks.

It’s unforgettable, it’s powerful branding and it creates massive buzz. In the world of viral video marketing, this is the home run.

But it also comes with a couple of downsides.

  • Eventually it will end badly. At some stage, someone will drop dead from shock or kill one of the actors. It’s inevitable. (I remember when risky advertising meant using the word “poop” in a poster.) How long before the stunt finds itself in the hands of a less capable group?
  • It will de-sensitize us to real trauma. I’m anticipating the report of a daytime kidnapping that drew applause, or other acts of criminal mayhem taken as entertainment. The bad guys will love this development.

Like flash mobs before it, the overkill of prankvertising (as Adweek calls it here) is on the way.

Brace yourself.


5 Responses to “The rise of marketing terrorism”

  1. Gary Cunningham April 3, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Great article Doug! really interesting read well done

    • Doug Brown April 3, 2013 at 5:52 am #

      Thanks Gary! You must have seen or heard of stunts like this happening in the UK. It’s coming soon to a shopping mall near you….

  2. Andrea April 3, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Great Post!!!

    • Doug Brown April 3, 2013 at 10:51 am #

      Oh man, I’ll take that comment Andrea – thanks!

  3. David Olsen July 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Hello! Its me and I found your blog really amazing. Your blog post are really interesting. I will visit your blog regularly to check out for your new post. Thank you.. Have a nice day!!

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