When Viral Marketing Becomes Lying

by Scott Baradell | PR and Pop Culture

When Viral Marketing Becomes Lying

Some of the more talked-about viral marketing stunts of late — including those by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Ignited Minds, even PR firm Cohn & Wolfe — are more properly termed stealth or undercover marketing. The idea is to market to the consumer without the consumer knowing it. Everything’s a big secret until the self-satisfied ad firm is ready to let the Cheshire Cat out of the bag.

Most folks seem OK with the tactic, to a point. As long as there’s a laugh to be had, where’s the harm, right?

But it is possible to cross the line. Allow Durham, N.C.-based agency McKinney to demonstrate, via Adrants:

…McKinney has cooked up a viral marketing campaign promoting Pherotones, ring tones that, apparently, cause sexual attraction. While the site is obviously a joke, a little snooping around reveals it’s a marketing ploy. From a fake Wikipedia listing that’s been labeled suspect to fake interviews with Boing Boing to suspicious Whois info to all sort of IP address foolery, clearly, McKinney is up to no good.

We’re sure they’re all huddled around their computer today laughing at all of us writing about their cute little effort waiting patiently for the right moment to reveal the the client behind this ploy. While you’re all reading this you sneaky little McKinney truth-benders, remember, people don’t like liars…

When people stop calling it “marketing” and start calling it “lying,” you’ve probably made a mistake, gang.

And dissing Web denizens everywhere by messing around with Wikipedia and the guys at Boing Boing? Even bigger mistake.

Oh, by the way: the Pherotones blog is here. Feel free to leave a comment, everybody.

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7 thoughts on “When Viral Marketing Becomes Lying

  1. Michael

    It looks like Sinkinson at Bulldog Reporter is a prophet! (Thanks for including my post in your Pick of the Orchard the other day.)

    Viral and even stealth marketing is fine. But, fabricated marketing is not.

    It’s agencies like that, that give the rest of PR such a lousy name. What’s the term: Flack?!

  2. Dr. Myra Vanderhood


    I don’t know if it’s fair to criticize the messenger. McKinney is doing a wonderful job of spreading my ideas about Pherotones which is exactly what I hired them to do.

    I take full responsiblity for all the content on the Pherotones.com page.

    My hope was to spark an honest debate about whether subsonic nanosounds can influence sexual arousal. In that debate, I intend to advocate for my positions, and take all the flak.

    My ideas pose a significant threat to the status quo. The puritanical-scientific-industrial complex is lining up against me and my team before have even completed Phase I of our research.

    I just want there to be a little more love and happiness in the world, and I think it’s a shame that a wonky-addy-marketer-geekfest is distracting from the core issue: Do Pherotones work?

    I also find it Ironic that a PR blogsite has the temerity to call an advertising agency a pack of liars.

    Pot, meet kettle.

    Please visit my blog, pherotones.blogspot.com, and engage in a debate on the merits of my hypothesis.

    I eagerly await all those interested in engagin me in vigorous scientific debate, but let’s stop picking on my hired help.


    Dr. Myra Vanderhood

  3. John Wagner

    Bad enough that they create a fake website and blog … now they are actually posting COMMENTS on other people’s blogs??


  4. Wayne E. Pollard

    “My hope was to start an honest debate…” How can you start an honest debate when you start out by lying?

    And now she wants people to discuss the merits of her hypothesis? Even if it is valid, it’s like getting Filet Mignon with a side order of crap.

    No thanks – I’ll pass.

  5. Anonymous

    Wow. Pr people dissing an ad agency. Have you seen the website? Sounds like sour grapes to me. Maybe they should hire McKinney to do their work for them,

  6. Anonymous

    I think the only real mistake McKinney Silver made was the false Wikipedia submission. That’s playing around with a resource that should be respected, imho.