Did you know a relatively new marketing strategy has been trending these days? Let’s call it “Prank Marketing”. Though it has been gaining traction lately, if you are a responsible marketer, please approach it with caution.
Firstly, what is Prank Marketing?
I like to define Prank Marketing as a marketing strategy based on a (usually) jaw-dropping event to prank consumers and get the buzz going.
Prank Marketing is not really new. Until recently, brands played pranks on consumers mainly on April Fool’s Day. That way, most consumers knew it was a prank. What’s new is its use beyond April 1st. E.g. to make an announcement at the end of the year.
Some might call it a ‘gimmick or tactic’ and not a strategy. But according to me, a strategy is any plan that takes you from Point A to Point B in the least amount of time and at least cost.
Hence, Prank Marketing can be called a strategy.
Like other buzz marketing strategies (e.g. guerrilla marketing, ambush marketing, teaser campaigns, publicity stunts), Prank Marketing definitely helps grow brand awareness, gets the brand into conversations and if done properly, is memorable.
However, unlike other buzz marketing strategies, Prank Marketing has a higher chance of backfiring with the consumers, if not done properly.
When Prank Marketing potentially backfired
Anushka Sharma and Puma recently played a prank on us consumers to announce the onboarding of Anushka as the new brand ambassador. The prank saw them getting into a social media fight, mock one of course.
This did not really sit well with everyone. Brand partnerships are expected to be called out and labelled on any social channel.
When a favourite celebrity like Anushka Sharma publicly expresses anger at a brand on her social media channel without any mention of paid partnership, many think it is real (especially because unauthorized use of celebrity photos by brands is unfortunately common).
To later learn that it was all a publicity stunt for generating buzz felt dishonest and inauthentic to many, on the part of both the celebrity and the brand.
If not thought through, it could also lead people to view the brand with mistrust or have a negative image for a while.
Best example? Pioneering plant-based meat brand THIS’s April Fool’s video showing secret footage of using lab grown chicken in their lab. It was so believable that it created major doubt about its core values and products.
How is Prank Marketing different from other buzz generating strategies?
Believability: Prank Marketing works when it is almost believable. Teaser and guerrilla and ambush marketing do not need people to believe their claims. They simply need people to be curious.
Trigger: Prank Marketing involves an event (real or fake) or experience. Remember the ‘Taco Bell buys Liberty Bell’ (America’s symbol of independence) prank from 1996?
Guerrilla marketing, ambush marketing is usually more physical location based (remember the Wall Street Bull wearing GoldToe briefs?)
Mystery tool: While both use mystery as their primary tool of attraction, the mystery in a teaser campaign comes from giving half information. A Prank Marketing campaign stirs up mystery through misinformation or fake information.
E.g. in 2019, claiming that research had shown that marine life is stimulated by short bursts of audio, Alexa launched Audible for Fish – a three-second audiobook for fish.
Mystery duration: The brand name is always known from the beginning of the prank. Also Prank Marketing confesses the truth within a few hours or at the most a couple of days.
Teaser campaign can be spread over a few weeks too, with or without the brand name. Adele ran a teaser campaign for her last album 30. Only the number 30 was displayed on famous buildings or structures without any other branding or information.
On the other hand, publicity stunts sometimes remain shrouded in mystery forever (like if a movie was publicised by spreading the rumour that the lead pair was dating in real life, for even years afterwards, no one could say for sure if that were true or not).
Guerrilla and ambush marketing campaign: “Oh my god! I so did not expect this brand to be here”
Teaser marketing campaign: “For goodness sakes’, just finish the story or give me the answer already”
Prank marketing campaign: “Is this for real? Can this be true”
Emotion evoked: If the prank is light hearted, fun or warm, it can evoke positive emotions towards the brand. I love WestJet’s prank where every passenger on the airline received a gift they had put on their wishlist before boarding.
Another example of a light hearted prank was Honda’s 2019 Polite Horn prank where apparently, all new models came equipped with a ‘Polite Horn’ instead of the typical jarring one.
Media used: Prank Marketing and publicity stunts often use legitimate publications to spread their fake news, along with social media. Guerrilla, ambush and teaser campaigns primarily use social media to get the buzz going.
So now you know all about Prank Marketing and its power to make or break brand image. As a responsible marketer, it is up to you to use it wisely. As Spiderman was told “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
(The author is founder at The Vegan Marketer. Views expressed are personal.)