Toyota Sued For PR “Stalker” Stunt Gone Awry
This week Wired Magazine reported on a 2008 incident involving Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi and a stalker-themed online advertising stunt which has now resulted in a lawsuit. Apparently,Toyota and its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, launched an “in-your-face” Punked-style campaign called “Your Other You,” which drove traffic to a web site where people could enter the name and details of someone they wanted to punk. The person could choose one of five fictional characters to freak out the designated friend with stalker-style text messages, phone calls, e-mails and videos for five days.
One California woman, Amber Duick, who was duped and downright frightened by the prank has been granted approval to sue bothToyotaand Saatchi & Saatchi as well as 50 individuals associated with the campaign afterToyotainitially moved to dismiss the claims in 2009. Now that a California judge has put the case back in play, Ms. Duick has asked the parties involved for an excess of $10 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress; unfair, unlawful, and deceptive trade practices; and negligent misrepresentation, among other things.
After reading the piece we asked ourselves if this was just a marketing stunt gone sideways, or rather a legitimate cause for concern. After all, with all of the reports about privacy laws or emails warning us to “not open that email from a Kenyan prince,” wouldn’t Toyota have thought twice about releasing such an over-the-top and borderline intrusive marketing ploy? Perhaps that was the point–to target people who would find the joke funny and appreciate a dash of witty advertising. InToyota’s defense, they claim they were targeting 20-something males, not the woman who is suing them, but we still can’t help but wonder if the envelope was pushed too far despite theintended target audience.
Everyone is fighting for attention online, and PR stunts like this one have gotten riskier and louder, and sometimes not always producing the desired results. In fact, ConAgra recently ran into similar territory(although not of the legal sort), when NYC food bloggers were invited to a four-course meal at a restaurant they were told belonged to George Duran. They were also promised a “surprise.” The surprise came after the meal when they learned that the lasagna and the dessert were actually from boxes of ConAgra’s Marie Callender’s line of frozen foods. Bloggers took to the web and blasted ConAgra for a “sham” of an experience.
The moral of the story is that even when a stunt sounds great in concept, sometimes marketers and PR practitioners just totally get it wrong. Next time you find yourself dreaming up that next great idea, justifying it with the “any PR is good PR,” concept, just keep these examples in mind. Nobody wants negative press nor do they want to be sued.