Increasingly audacious publicity stunts are blurring the line between news and advertising as big marketing firms try to exploit media hunger for instant content.
The advertising industry is going to daring new heights to gain mainstream news coverage, as it did with Samsung's December promotion with French "spider-man"Alain Robert on an Auckland skyscraper.
They may not have been showered by industry awards, yet, but three other campaigns this year crossed the news-advertising divide seamlessly using hoax vehicle crashes, frat boy beer pranks and Maori children mimicking stoner dads.
The campaigns proved some of the most popular items on news websites.
Residents in the home of the Lemon & Paeroa bottle were aghast to learn a Whittaker's "delivery van driver" had crashed into Paeroa's mascot one July morning.
Behind the Porirua confectioner Whittaker's L&P chocolate block launch were creative agencies Assignment and MDM, who convinced local authorities to play along. Whittaker's marketing manager Holly Whittaker said the company let the stunt filter through "organically" to the local, then national media with the help of the town authorities promoting the stunt as a legitimate accident, rather than an advertisement.
"We had to shock and surprise people, that a Whittaker's van had crashed into the sacred L&P bottle in Paeroa, but then the penny drops that there is a new L&P Whittaker's block available the next day."
Despite a day's delay between the accident and the company press release owning up to the hoax, only one media outlet and "some locals" seemed annoyed they had been duped into promoting the company's new L&P chocolate bar.
The chocolate company's longstanding media promotion agency MDM was less inclined to share their strategy on fooling the media.
"It opens a pandora's box. Some of the things that we do, which result in our clients and ourselves getting money, are best left unsaid," MDM director Matt Bale said.
Whittaker said the crash stunt resulted in an "ad reach" of 4.5 million customers, many before traditional advertising kicked in
The new product appeared on shelves the next day and sold more than 750,000 blocks in a month, thanks in no small part to the news coverage.
Tui Beer's plumbing prank created by agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and Porter Novelli followed a group of mates refitting their friend's plumbing through several beer kegs so
The prank video featuring Waiuku builder Sean Brown was played on beer enthusiast websites, Reddit.com, The Daily Mail and the Huffington Post, said Willis.
Then USA Today and the Australian morning news show Sunrise called to meet the pranksters, who had to admit the gag was crafted and funded by a brewing giant and an ad agency.
By then it had already received much coverage on New Zealand television and radio websites.
Willis said, despite the "subtle" advertising of Tui, which was lost on the international audience, the content was newsworthy for its entertainment value and international appeal.
In contrast, creative agency Clemenger BBDO used a more cinematic approach, with a sprinkle of celebrity gravitas and humour by employing director Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) to promote their message of discouraging drug-driving.
Waititi's "Blazed" ad is a follow-on from the "Shopkeepers" anti-drug driving ads and shot in similar style to his Oscar-nominated short film ‘Two Cars, One Night' where Maori kids imitate their stoned dads' driving habits.
The campaign for New Zealand Transport Agency, in association with Maori Television, may be given a "pass" for being for a government agency client, promoting the public good, but it represents a close example of a media agency engaging and then promoting advertising material.
Clemenger BBDO's Phillip Andrew said it had a brief to target a Maori audience and got Maori TV and Waititi onboard and into the brainstorm early so that a message would resonate with, and not alienate, Maori.
Emily Goulden from OMD, the media arm of Clemenger, said the video was shared to the extent that websites like stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz picked up the video, not as a potential advertising client, but as content.
The advertising agencies and marketing managers Fairfax media spoke with admit that by continually "raising the bar" their 2014 campaign tactics will have to be even bolder to attract media attention.
The University of Auckland's senior political lecturer Dr Joe Atkinson said, "Most of news now is just frantic attention-getting, and so, in that climate the advertisers have manoeuvered towards that even further by attempting to be less authoritive, more matey and cooler than the news."
- © Fairfax NZ News