Every company wants to have viral content and some may be willing to do whatever it takes. The question posed is whether or not "whatever it takes" is a good notion to have. Many viral video ads out there are hilarious and have converted into incredible sales for companies, but many question the ethics of some of these ads.
Let's use the example of the Pepsi "Test Drive" ads and discuss if "whatever it takes" should be left to the professionals.
Pepsi Max: Test Drive
We have all seen this video at some point and it is pretty funny. Jeff Gordon dresses up as someone who is interested in buying a car and "kidnaps" the salesman, taking him on a wild ride. We all laughed at it and loved when Jeff Gordon revealed who he was, but some felt sorry for the poor salesman. Some even wondered what else could have happened to the salesman or other unsafe ways he might have reacted. These concerns led to one blogger saying the video was faked. He said the salesman was an actor and "in on it." He also stated that Jeff Gordon didn't really do the driving.
In response to this blogger, Ray Wert (a friend of the blogger) decided to get the ultimate revenge. He had his friend kidnapped by Jeff Gordon and they filmed "Test Drive 2" for Pepsi, proving that this wasn't a hoax. It was, again, funny and especially entertaining watching revenge being enacted on someone. In this case, the blogger thought he was in the taxi of an ex-convict who decides to run from the police when they pull him over. They ended by driving the taxi to a garage filled with Pepsi logos and told the blogger he had been, well, had:
Should This Be Left to the Professionals?
In short, yes. Pepsi and other companies that have staged these types of pranks have strategies in place. They don't make the kidnapping public and they do it in a confined area. Just look at how many people it took to pull off the "Test Drive 2" prank. When other companies go about kidnapping, it can cause a negative stir and hurt business. In April 2014, a group decided to film an educational video on child kidnapping and the response of witnesses, according to the Dailydot.com. This left parents enraged when they found out this "prank" had been pulled and it didn't bode well for the group that performed it. In Australia, five men were arrested for a YouTube kidnapping prank because of an observer calling authorities. It took five months of investigation time to learn what exactly happened before the men were charged with creating a "false belief." This shows that it takes more than a handful of people to adequately and safely pull off a prank like this; only then do many consider it funny.
Take a Lesson from Spock
Be logical about doing pranks as a form of advertisement. Leave the hilarious ads to the professionals and stay away from causing extreme negative side effects for your company. Just play it safe and find new ways to launch viral content and bring in customers and readers without possibly breaking laws and angering a lot of people.