Prankvertising for Small Businesses

On the lips of countless advertisers and marketing strategists everywhere is the infamous, and quite often shocking, “prankvertising.” Employed by industry giants such as LG, Coca-Cola and several blockbuster film productions this year, prankvertising combines the thrill of shock-and-awe imagery with branded messaging to create truly in-your-face advertising.

However, as viral as it’s become, many people are still trying to make sense of it. For established companies, the risk is certainly worth the reward. But, for smaller organizations, pranking potential customers might scare them off rather than encourage them to buy in.

Nevertheless, the strategy appears to be effective, which begs the question: if you’re a small company, is prankvertising for you?


Before you begin plotting your tirade on the general public, consider the risks: Prankvertising generates buzz; that much is undeniably true, but at what cost? Many people have made the argument that, while this type of advertising gets your name out there, it also has the potential to tarnish your brand, depending on how bad you torture your targets.

The main idea is that people aren’t going to want to buy from a company that previously scared the bejesus out of them. More often than not, the unfortunate souls that these campaigns set their sights on are thrust into arguably traumatic scenarios that generally result in them running for the hills.

Prankvertising may inspire brand recognition, but it’s typically in a negative way that doesn’t concern itself with sales, but instead on documenting people’s reactions to terrifying stimuli and producing viral content thereafter.


But, in the world of viral video, prankvertising has seen unimaginable results, which, for gutsy companies new to the scene, is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Although critics have said that prankvertising isn’t valuable monetarily, many companies are still profiting from it via social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Essentially, it’s not about moving products or driving ticket sales, it’s about the experience; the visceral reaction to seeing a meteor hurling toward Earth or watching a woman telekinetically tossing a man across a coffee shop or witnessing two guys trying to murder each other in an elevator.

By formulating these scenarios and throwing people into the mix you’re communicating your brand to them in a way that they will never forget. It may not increase sales directly but it will surely direct more people to your company and the products and or services you provide. This traffic to your website and social circles will incite conversation and dialogue, and if done tastefully, will motivate people to buy into your brand.

To Prank or Not to Prank?

To answer this question, you need to rectify who you are as a company with how many lines you’re willing to cross. Can you afford ruffling a few feathers in the interest of creating brand awareness? Will your audience respond well to your prankvertising campaign, or will they not quite get the joke?

Either way, you need to exercise extreme caution if you’re venturing down the prank-it-until-you-make-it road. A great deal of popular companies have found success by utilizing prankvertising, but there are definitely some liability issues that you’re bound to face if you don’t take your execution seriously.

So, before you throw on a custom printed t-shirt with your name and logo on it and begin terrorizing innocent consumers, ensure that you’re representing yourself in a way that doesn’t alienate people.

In other words, always bear in mind that you want to rouse a response from people, but that you don’t want them to hate you forever because you sent them through an obstacle course but didn’t give them free tickets to go see Skyfall.


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