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Hoax factor: when the publicity stunt is done right

Nothing beats a good publicity stunt…

The public has been fooled by publicity stunts and hoaxes many, many times. Sometimes, the results are nothing more than an angry and embarrassed public. Sometimes they are even worse, resulting in bodily harm and legal troubles.

But sometimes, just sometimes, the perpetrators get it just right.

When they do, everybody wins. We all have a good laugh, and the product or service gets a marketing boost that would be tough to find any other way.

So, we present:

The hoax factor: 5 times publicity stunts have been done just right.


1) The left-handed Whopper:

Left Handed Whopper

Image credit: Burger King

In 1998, Burger King shocked the world when it announced plans to change its most iconic product “The Whopper”.

The change?

Burger King claimed that it had adjusted the placement of the burger’s ingredients to make it more convenient for left-handed patrons.

In a full-page ad in USA Today, Burger King explained exactly how it had changed the recipe, in terms that made absolutely zero sense to anyone with a brain.

left handed whopper 2

Image credit: Burger King

However, this didn’t stop 32 million curious patrons from coming to Burger King that day to try out the “new and improved” left-handed Whopper… Only in America!

2) The BBC discovers flying penguins:

When the BBC released this amazing footage of a previously undiscovered species of flying penguin, which were to feature in a new nature series, many were intrigued.

However, the next day the BBC revealed that the penguins didn’t actually exist. In fact, the footage was faked using computer generated imagery and was simply an elaborate hoax designed to promote the BBC’s new internet catch-up service,”iPlayer”.

What a heartbreaker.

3) Taco Bell buys history:

In 1996, horrible/delicious US fast food chain Taco Bell took out a full-page ad in The New York Times and made a shocking announcement.

The headline read, “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell” and claimed that the fast food chain had purchased this iconic historic Philadelphia landmark for an undisclosed sum. It was also claimed that the US government agreed to the sale to alleviate the country’s growing national debt.

The ad went on to announce that Taco Bell planned to rename the national symbol of independence “The Taco Liberty Bell”.

liberty bell taco bell

Image credit: Taco Bell

As they are wont to do, enraged American patriots flooded the newspaper with angry phone calls. Leading over 1,000 media outlets to cover the story before Taco Bell finally admitted that the whole thing was an April Fool’s Day joke.

The hoax generated over $1,000,000 in additional sales over the next two days. Not a bad investment, considering the going rate for a full-page ad in the Times costs about $180,000.

4) Internet Explorer users are stupid:

Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Fed up with internet users’ stubborn refusal to stop using the antiquated Internet Explorer, despite the easy availability of vastly superior internet search engines, Canadian web developer Tarandeep Gill came up with a plan to teach everyone a lesson.

He faked results from a study that claimed to have looked at 100,000 internet users’ IQs and internet use habits. These “results” revealed a direct link between users choices of search engine and their IQ scores.

Before the hoax was revealed, major news outlets across the globe covered Gill’s fake study results and Gill became an internet legend.

5) The Dorset dragon skull:

Dragon Skull

In 2013, British beachgoers were surprised to find a 40-foot dragon skull washed up on Charmouth Beach, which is part of Dorset’s “Jurassic Coast” famous for its dinosaur fossils.

As reports of the amazing find flooded in, the press picked up the story and photos of the skull went viral.

Speculation ran rampant, but the skull was quickly revealed to be a fake. It was the result of more than 2 months of work by a team of sculptors employed by London PR firm Taylor Herring.

The hoax was designed to promote the TV streaming service “Blinkbox” and celebrate its recent acquisition of season 3 of popular TV show, Game of Thrones.

We aren’t sure that Game of Thrones actually needed any more publicity, but any TV service that can connect itself with a such a blue chip franchise in any way would be foolish not to…

Image credit: HB

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