Should brands "prank" their consumers?

Using fear to market is not a new tactic in the marketing world.  For example, the fear of old age has driven a billion dollar cosmetic industry. Today, many marketers are using fear as a means to promote their products and some are clearly pushing the boundaries, particularly the rising "Prank-vertising" trend.

Here are a few examples you might have seen going around the web.

Just last month as part of its promotions, the marketers behind the movie Carrie decided to give a good fright to customers at a New York City coffee joint.  Remote controlled tables and chairs and stumbling spring bookshelves were created to appear as though one of the café’s patrons was a real life “Carrie” – an angry teenage girl with telekinetic powers.

Watch the reactions it got here:

LG also created a marketing stunt to promote its range of televisions and show how life-like its displays are. One stunt took place in an elevator. As the elevator rose to the top floor, the bottom of the elevator appeared to fall away as people in the lift panicked.

Watch the prank here:

When Nivea wanted to promote its new *Stress Protect Deodorant, it filmed innocent passengers being put in stressful situations. Unsuspecting passengers found pictures of themselves on both newspapers and TV bulletins as wanted criminals on the run.

Watch the prank here:

Meanwhile Toronto-based agency John St. parodied this latest trend of prank-vertising in a hilarious spoof video. It looked so real it even fooled some of us into believing its true! Nivea later clarified in a statement to Marketing, saying it wasn't them. In the video, babies were stolen from a park and criminals raided homes in the middle of the night.

Watch the video below:

Valerie Cheng, CCO of JWT said when creating a Prank-vertisement, agencies must be wary of not crossing the line. “As agencies, clients pay us to get people's attention but in a responsible way. We have to make sure our clients don't end up with a case of causing a real heart attack.”

“It's never worth gambling with our clients' reputations and brand. Our role as an agency is to build brands. Not destroy them,” she said.

Robert Gaxiola, partner at Mangham Gaxiola said he had only envy for the agency which created something so entertaining.

“It is so entertaining and irreverent, something I wish marketers were brave enough to try here in Singapore. (except for my friends at SGAG, who make the most relevant stuff in town, nobody is really making any waves.)”

“The ethical lines that need drawing are best left to our pals on CNN, Fox News and the like. Not advertising trade videos,” he added.