Busted: “Hacking Times Square With iPhone” Is Deceptive Film Promotion

Take it from the author of “Beyond Viral,” dear reader. Viral video is like fire. It can create a toasty fire or get people burned. Today we learned out the Times Square billboard hack video was part of the campaign for the film, Limitless.

The deception was the brainchild of the viral-video maker “ThinkModo,” according to the New York Times, who “outed” the stunt.

“We’re pushing the engagement of an idea which leads you then to the product,” ThinkModo’s James Perceley told the New York Times in his defense. “It just is a whole new mind-set where you don’t have to wrap everything up in a bow and if you don’t, people are going to be a lot more interested in you and what you’re selling and what your message is.”

We think otherwise. Calling it “engagement pushing” is simply misdirection. It’s unethical marketing that is deceptively disguised. The lack of transparency (of the film’s financial support of what appears to be a user-generated video) is reminiscent of the 1950 subliminal advertising, which sends “buying signals” to our subconscious without our executive-brain’s consent. This despicable tactic shows the seedy, desperate nature of marketers who don’t mind duping journalists, technical blogs, audiences and potential ticket buyers… all in the name of “engaging” audiences in immoral promotion of a film.

Techcrunch’s Michael Arrington is calling the campaign “a sad, desperate state of sensational adverting,” and apologized Sunday to TechCrunch readers. Arrington reports:

“We believed the video’s creators had indeed hacked Times Square’s billboards, and that it was a newsworthy event that would interest technical enthusiasts. Had we known that we were being duped into free advertising by ‘covert agents’ of the film’s promoters, we would not have run the article so prominently. TechCrunch urges its readers to boycot Limitless, and promises to apply more rigor in our future journalism”

The campaign for the “Limitless” film, staring Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper, includes other a misleading and deceptive practices including a Web commercial for NZT, a drug featured in the film. Apparently the term “Limitless” refers to the film’s marketing practices, and the complete “lack of limits” in scruples of desperate marketers.

While I do many sponsored videos, I always disclaim the brand or company that supports my videos. Can’t we expect the same from others?

Still reading?… Is this blog post and its facts and opinions actually real? No. But suppose after feeling outraged by this post (either in support or defiance of my point) you later found out that this faux WillVideoForFood post was simply a paid promotion for a new book called “Business Ethics: Decision Making for Personal Integrity & Social Responsibility” by Laura Hartman and Joseph DeJardins. In this hypothetical experiment, I’m asking you to pretend you later learned that my faux written tirade was, in fact, a ruse that omitted transparency about my financial compensation from McGraw Hill. Suspend belief momentarily, and imagine I didn’t “come clean,” but was “outed” by another blogger who reported that my post was simply a compensated, masqueraded promo for the book. Would you trust my reporting if you learned this post was a promotional gimmick? (It’s not).

Would you feel duped, or would you say, “hey that Nalts is pushing the engagement idea to cool new limits.” I’m just curious.

14 Replies to “Busted: “Hacking Times Square With iPhone” Is Deceptive Film Promotion”

  1. Nah. Never duped. I’m all about the “finding new ways” thing. I have no problem with the way the Times Square hack promotion was executed. Nobody said there had to be rules, did they? But I believe there are better ways to go about achieving the desired results.

    In fact, I started out reading this post thinking, “Man, Kevin, your position on this surprises me.” Then, of course, you let the reader off the hook.

    Which I will say is ultimately better for the brand… ANY brand. The best part of “Candid Camera” (or an edbassmaster video, or what-have-you) is when the unsuspecting people are let in on the joke. Even if the movie people closed the video with a simple end slate that said something like, “Get smarter. Become… Limitless,” It would have a) created less bad blood with the sour-but-influential grapes who felt they’d been unscrupulously suckered, and b) created a stronger identification with the brand.

    I had NO idea what the Times Square video was promoting till you mentioned it in this post. I hadn’t even seen the video. I’d only heard that there was a hack video out there, and that it was later proven to be fake as part of a commercial endorsement. If I walk away from ALL that without there being some sort of identifiable brand tie-in, then I’m not sure how effective a campaign it really is.

  2. Did not even know about the video untill your post. so now the deception buzz is creating more traffic to it. At least it is working.

  3. Well now im totally confused. I thought you said in the second half of the post that the first half was fake but the comments make it sound like it wasnt fake and ive always trusted you and believed at leat 25 percent of what you say and now I just dont know what to think any more and BOOOOOM!!! Blood everywhere. My head just exploded.

  4. I guess they’ll keep toying us with all this nonsense. It indeed worked though, I’ve seen that video on every gadget blog (more or less).

    hahaha Kiddsock!

  5. Whenever I see any advertising of any sort, I begin with the belief that all advertisers are scum sucking leaches who would sell out their own grandmother to make a buck, and from that point, it’s up to the advertiser to convince me otherwise.

    And that’s why I buy used cars and shop on Craigslist. While all the suckers in the world see the new Audi commercial and go get into debt to buy next year’s model, all the money I’m not spending being the monkey boy to advertisers goes into high yielding money market accounts so I can someday retire while those other guys are forced to work till the day they drop dead.

  6. Hey monkey boy? Guess who’s found another thing to give you shit about? By the way, I had no idea there were monkeys in nebraska.

  7. a minor cousin to agnotologic capitalism –

    Agnotology – is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

    The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor,a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology.

    Its name derives from the Neoclassical Greek word agnōsis, “not knowing”

    More generally, the term also highlights the increasingly common condition where more knowledge of a subject leaves one more uncertain than before.

    It’s the in which we live

  8. I’m back from spring break ya’ll! I know you probably didn’t miss me, but I missed you guys.

    Poor sukatra. She must need a refrigerator full of spare heads just to get through the week if Kevin’s simple writing sets off an explosion. I think my spare heads aren’t fresh any more as I haven’t needed a new one since the last time I tried to construct a well-ordering of the real numbers without using the strongest form of the axiom of choice.

  9. In Mississippi, S & M is against the law. Specifically, “The depiction or description of flagellation or torture by or upon a person who is nude or in undergarments or in a bizarre or revealing costume for the purpose of sexual gratification.”

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