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The rise and rise of the practical joke ad campaign

By Mel Peck

March 21, 2013 | 5 min read

Mel Peck from the Viral Ad Network picks out the highlights from The Drum's Viral Video Chart and looks at the increasing number of brands that consider themselves pranksters.

Snatching the top two spots in the Viral Ad Chart this week, Pepsi and Carlsberg are the latest brands to cash in on the interweb’s love of practical jokes with some hidden camera shenanigans.

Experiential marketing is nothing new, T-Mobile was one of the first brands to experiment with public marketing stunts back in 2009, with its flash mob dance in Liverpool St Station, but recently we’ve seen an unprecedented spate of prank videos trending in the viral chart. This year alone stunts from TBC, Nivea and Heineken have all become instant viral hits. It looks like advertisers have found a seemingly inexhaustible source of viral gold, but what is it about practical joke videos that make the interweb so keen so share them?

Here at Viral Ad Network, we use TubeRank to look at social sharing triggers for hundreds of trending videos every week, and the best viral ratios always come from clips that provoke a strong emotional response in a viewer, anything from laughter to shock and disbelief, and filming people’s reactions to public stunts is a clever way to tick some of those boxes. Not only do prank videos capture genuine responses to what are often pretty extreme situations, but they encourage people to empathise with the characters and think about how they would have reacted – remember the Scary Ghost Girl Prank? I think I would probably have had a heart attack!

Taking the number one spot in the Brand Chart this week, and clocking up over 27 million views is Pepsi, with a hilarious practical joke involving NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon disguised as a would-be customer and giving an unsuspecting car salesman the test-drive of his life. Cue lots of crazy driving, swearing and comedy terrified faces.

I’m a little disappointed to have to say it, but sadly it appears the whole thing is a fake. In an interview with ABC News, a Pepsi spokeswoman refused to comment on whether or not the salesman was an actor (which basically confirms that he is), but there’s also an interesting post about all the telltale signs that the stunt was staged on the Jolopnik blog, (the kind of details the interweb loves to spot). Even so, it’s still fun to watch, and with close to a million shares, it’s a pretty epic viral win for Pepsi.

At number two with over 2 million views, Carlsberg continue the practical joke theme, putting friendship to the test in an elaborate prank by Duval Guillaume Modem, the agency behind the brand’s previous Cinema Bikers Stunt and the hugely successful Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square. The concept was pretty simple, Carlsberg challenged fans to call their best friend in the middle of the night to ask them to bring €300 and bail them out of a dodgy situation in an illegal gambling ring. When the friend turned up they had to navigate a series of random obstacles, from scary bouncers to bare knuckle fighting and wild chickens, before entering the poker room to rescue their friend, and… tadaaa… get rewarded with a nice cold beer!

Moving on to the UGC Chart and top of the listings this week is an awesome trip down memory lane, to a time when kids grew up without iPads or mobile phones and Teletext was considered cutting edge technology! Set to the tune of a re-worked Billy Joel hit, the parody song touches on all the classic iconography of an era, from Atari and shell suits to Speak & Spell games, BMX bikes and that weird test card of the girl and the clown that used to show on TV when there were no programmes on – if you were born in the 70s or 80s, this one's for you!

Also trending, and keeping with the awesome song theme, is a fab little ditty about the not so happy endings of Disney princesses. If you ever wondered what happened to The Little Mermaid, Princess Jasmine, Pocahontas and Belle after the film credits rolled, now’s your chance to find out – over fishing and oil spills, terrorist interrogations, beastiality allegations and STDs!

For all of the chart news and the full rundown of top videos on the internet this week, check out The Drum Viral Video Chart, powered by VAN, or follow @JoinVan to stay up to date with the latest industry news and YouTube gossip.


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