Possessed Baby Stroller Prank: Screamingly Good Viral Marketing

viral, marketing, horror, movie, prank, youtube

Hear a baby crying in a stroller in NYC? May want to let that pass. Could be a devil baby that contorts itself and pukes. In this particular case, it may be a robot designed by the folks at Thinkmodo for another horror film promotion (remember the Carrie telekinetic prank in a NYC coffee shop?). This one is to promote “Devil’s Due,” and in about 24 hours it’s past 15 million views (1/16 update: 26 million views in 2 days). That, friends, is viral.

It’s “Devil Baby Attack” and it’s taking YouTube by storm. I’m probably most impressed by the way I learned about this. On a phone call with my mom this evening. I guess I’ll have to call her more often.

Some feedback/thoughts:

  • The prank is beautifully executed from beginning to end. We’re shocked. Then we see behind-scenes. No wasted shot.
  • Excellent job on “seeding” it. There’s no way it would have been seen this many times — so quickly — without a smart promotion of the clip itself (bloggers, journalists, etc).
  • Given the 22K comments, I’d say the majority of the views are real views. When videos are “gamed,” you see a really low number of comments. Rough math: 22K comments divided by 15 million views is .0015 percent of viewers commented. With more programatic  stuff, you see a slightly better ratio. For instance a recent RWJ video got 200K views and 1,700 comments (.0085 percent).
  • I would love to see a bit more of the off camera laughs and the team behind it — It helps when the viewer has a chance to connect more with the creators. But it’s a horror film promo so I suppose you have to keep it somewhat dark and mysterious.
  • I’m glad we’re no longer concerned about making these appear non sponsored. The video’s end reveals it’s a promo. And if you’re gonna have a logo at the end, there’s no shame in providing a link to the movie site for Devil’s Due (www.devilsduemovie.com). This would drive traffic to the film site’s real trailers and almost invariably help convert more of these 15 million views into ticket-paying customers. Even better: give us a reason to hit the horror site. As long at the viral stunt is this good, we’ll forgive the plug at the end.

Finally, a note to Thinkmodo team: for the love of God people, I missed my invite to these productions. I’ll consult for free to see you guys pull the next one off. I’m one of YouTube’s most-viewed pranksters, an author of a book on viral video marketing, an advertising executive and a horror fan. And I can keep a secret. What else do you need? 

Thinkmodo created the robotic possessed baby to promote the film "Devil's Due."
Thinkmodo created the robotic possessed baby to promote the film “Devil’s Due.” Who’s missing from this shot, friends?

Tollbooth Collector from “Penny Prank” Video Dies

In 2006 I paid this tollbooth guy in pennies and posted a video that's been seen a half million times on YouTube alone. The tollbooth collector died this week.
In 2006 I paid this tollbooth guy in pennies and posted a video that’s been seen a half million times on YouTube alone. The tollbooth collector died this week.

Today I received an e-mail from a man named Rick Anthes who asked for a copy of “Penny Prank for Tollbooth Guy,” a prank video I made in 2006. Rick also wanted to let me know that the tollbooth collector in that prank video recently died of colon cancer. He sent me a link to the obituary of Brian C. Kintzel dated today (Jan. 11, 2014).

Rick said Brian liked the  video, and that he was known for the patience he displayed in it. Rick added “he was my best friend, my confessor, a confident and a mentor. The little brother I never had, the big brother I wish I had.”

Then Rick shared some backstory I hadn’t known until now…

“At the time you made this clip, Brian was a regular Toll Collector, but he had already or was about to take a test for the Bridge Commission that might get him promoted to a Toll Corporal overseeing other  collectors and assume the responsibility for the Bridge he worked on. This video was viewed by the Senior Staff of the Bridge Commission and brought before the board reviewing the candidates for the Corporal’s position. Senior Staff told the board this is the kind of individual you want representing the Bridge Commission and showed the clip. Without question, Brian was promoted. Your actions that day did what you had hoped for and quite a bit more that you may not have even considered at the time. You have to believe that we all have an influence over other people even when we don’t mean it nor when it isn’t contemplated.”

So… this is one of the nicest and most memorable e-mails about one of my videos. I’m sure Brian would have been promoted without the video, but I love that he got credit for it.

I also lost a dear friend over the holidays to colon cancer, so it also made me sad. Get your colonoscopy folks. 


How to Fix iCloud Message Problems Between iPhone, iPad and iTouch (Dec. 2013)

The lifeless corpse of Steve Jobs has risen to resolve iCloud message synching problems between iPhones, iPads and iPods.
The lifeless corpse of Steve Jobs has risen to resolve iCloud message synching problems between iPhones, iPads and iPods.

For the past month, adults everywhere have found their text messages going to their children’s iPads. And the kids, if they’re old enough, are sending messages to their friends, which in turn go to the parents’ iPhones. So guys like me are at the office getting bombarded with texts from kids, and our own texts aren’t going through.

These are the symptoms of Apple’s changes to iCloud synching, and I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs is turning in his grave. The tech folks at Cupertino should be glad he’s dead, but still fear his wrath in the afterlife.

Here’s how to fix your iCloud problem:

  1. This is not caused by the fact that your kids are using your me.com or mac.com account to buy apps on their iPads. Giving them their own account for the iTunes and App stores will not solve your problem.
  2. The beginning of both the problem and solution lies in the settings > iCloud menu. Your iPad and iPod devices are probably logged on to the same iCloud account you use for your iPhone. That means all your text messages go to them. And vice versa. This is something that changed in mid November 2013.
  3. Once you’ve deleted your iCloud account from the iPod/iPad, you will need to set up another if they still plan to message other devices. This requires a credit card.
  4. Next you need to grab their iPad/iPod and go to settings > message. Turn that off iMessage off. Good, now turn it on again. And off.
  5. Theoretically you should be fine. But the bug makes iCloud link these devices even when you delete the account on them. The iPods, iPads and iPhones remember the iCloud account even after you delete them entirely… So you need to delete it. Turn it off. Turn it on.
  6. Do you see the insanity? There’s no pattern here. You just need to keep turning iCloud and iMessage off and on and eventually you will get lucky. It’s a bug. Eventually you’ll do things in the correct sequence and it will resolve.
  7. Once it seems to work, test it by sending a message from each device to a different phone. Then start shopping for a Samsung. This isn’t the beginning or end of Apple’s decline.
i hate apple
i hate apple

While you’re experiencing this, it’s best to scream like a maniac. Threaten never to buy another Apple device again. Tell your kids if they ever login to your iCloud account you’ll take away their pad. Belt out that you will not spend an entire Sunday being the damned tech support desk for the entire family. Tell your wife and kids that if they have another problem with their iPhone, iPad or iPod that they are forbidden from even TELLING you about the problem much less asking for your help.

And here’s the dirty little secret. Apple knows damned well that families share many Apple devices. And families were getting by quite fine without needing synchronized messaging between devices. Apple has allowed this bug to exist, primarily to irritate us into establishing separate iCloud accounts for each device. When we’ve set up separate accounts, we’re more likely to buy songs more than once. We’ll likely buy apps more than once. It’s a conspiracy, man. This is a deliberate attempt to squeeze out “lazy money” from loyal Apple customers, and I’m sure it’s working. This reminds me of when Apple decided to make it impossible for me to shop Audible from my phone. Really, you greedy dick?

I was on the fence about jumping to Android, and the past few weeks have knocked me right over. Apple has been “pulling a Blackberry” in the past few years — it’s been absolutely lazy about feature upgrades since iPhone 3 and 4. Siri? A fingerprint reader? Please. Meanwhile, the Samsung has overtaken iPhone in 2013… it’s awkwardly large, but that’s a sacrifice I’ll need to make.

Who’s up for an Apple exodus? Did the company ever make you feel like it gives a shit if you switch?

apple eats bloody apple

Yes the Amtrak Chicago “Magic Piano” Video is FAKE

Amtrak "magic piano" in Chicago train station is fake candid camera viral video.
Amtrak “magic piano” in Chicago train station is fake candid camera viral video.

It’s a cute idea. A magic piano in a Chicago Amtrak station. As strangers walk by, a player-less piano starts changing its music to match the moment.

The idea, well executed, would have made for a wonderful viral clip. Unfortunately the reactions were not those of innocent bystanders in a candid-camera style viral video. They’re painfully fake reactions by actors who were cast for the production. I’ll take you through some moments that tip us off, but here’s an article that plunges into the Reddit conversations challenging the legitimacy of the clip. Amtrak and its producer, Rob Bliss creative, made this deception obvious by forgetting to remove its casting call for a video in Chicago’s Union Station with a “magical piano around Christmastime that seems to be truly alive.” One example provided in the notice was that an actor might “play ‘Chopsticks’ … and we turn it into a duet,” which is precisely what happens to a young girl as the video opens.

So I proclaim the Amtrak Magic Piano video the worst “viral” video attempt of 2013. The problem, of course, isn’t the fake piano. We kinda figured there wasn’t a magic piano. The problem is that the video itself is a fake candid-camera style clip. And instead of admitting it, Bliss and Amtrak are further burying evidence of the stunt by removing the casting information.

People love pranks for the wonderfully innocent reactions from strangers. It’s the basis of a lot of my most-viewed videos, and the basis of prank channels like Improv Everywhere. But people do not like to see fake reactions in a video that masquerades as a viral prank. And Reddit users don’t much it when companies get busted and then try to erase their tracks.

So what tips us off in the first place? Let’s do the scene by scene:

  1. Girl playing chopsticks has almost no reaction at :28 seconds when the magical duet that occurs. Her “mother” at :37 seconds realizes her reaction is just as disingenuous so she covers her face.
  2. At 1:00 a business man gets frustrated in convenience proximity of the piano. As the music becomes tense, his hand stays up in a token gesture of frustration. People don’t hold their hand up like that when they’re frustrated, and if they do it’s for a brief moment. He somewhat convincingly barks at the piano at 1:07, but that’s a much more severe reaction that would have occurred naturally. In real life, the guy would have almost subconsciously walked away from the noise to keep focused on his call.
  3. At 1:25 a fat man approaches and almost convinces us he’s amused. But when he kicks into a manic blues dance at 1:44 we’re painfully aware that the moment is staged.
  4. By the time two other musicians stumble upon the piano (a trumpet player and a harmonica player) I could no longer continue watching.
  5. I scanned toward the end, and shouldn’t have been surprised to see Santa shooshing the piano at 3:33. I think that was actually the real Santa, though… not an actor.
Amtrak "magic piano" in Chicago train station is fake candid camera viral video.
Amtrak “magic piano” in Chicago train station is fake candid camera viral video.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t fake a candid-camera style video.
  2. If you decide to ignore lesson one, don’t post auditions publicly.
  3. If you get busted for faking it, admit it. Don’t try to bury the evidence from Reddit folks. They’re smarter than that.
  4. Don’t pretend it’s not sponsored… acknowledge Amtrak in the video itself.


Bank of America is Your Sweet But Senile Grandmother on Twitter

momDigiday writer Saya Weissman lists Bank of America in the top-5 brand fails on Twitter, and I just had my own amusing experience with the bank. Today’s lesson for brands is simple: while it can’t hurt to integrate your customer service help desk with your social media efforts, you probably shouldn’t have customer service reps manning the Twitter voice.

I’d characterize Bank of America’s Twitter voice as “well intentioned but lacking mental clarity.” But we can’t judge or condemn the bank! It’s kinda like an aging grandmother who may not be completely lucid, but she certainly means no harm.

Weissman’s gave BOA a “fail” because the bank provided a human but robotic response (“we’d be happy to review your account“) to tweets by activist Mark Hamilton (@darthmarkh). Hamilton, of course, wasn’t exactly keen to discuss an account. He had been tweeting about being chased away from a Bank of America by cops… it seems Hamilton had been drawing an anti-foreclosure message on the sidewalk.

My recent experience with the bank was almost as strange. Yesterday I saw that Bank of America television commercial (“Flowers“) featuring a dude bringing his gal a bouquet of flowers. Inexplicably the dude decides just one flower will do, so he leaves the rest in his cab.

My reaction to the ad wasn’t quite “I need to open a Bank of America account.” I was more thinking “I wonder what the next cab passenger thought when he found a bouquet of flowers in an otherwise empty cab?” So I tweeted: “I found the rest of the dude’s flowers in a cab. Can I keep them?” I didn’t expect a response, and frankly I was pleased to have one.

Naturally, my Tweet made absolutely no sense to anyone but me. That’s quite often my MO on Twitter. So we can’t blame Bank of America for asking for account details for clarity, right (“I’m not sure I understand the question… please send me a DM with more detail.” It’s just an odd response that sounds more SIRI than human. The logic appears to be: “when in doubt, a comment about our bank is probably an inquiry to discuss an account.” Hey that’s cool, though. The next time I have a problem with my account… I’ll just tweet something like: “increase my credit by $5K.”

Bank of America on Twitter: Your confused but sweet grandmother
Bank of America on Twitter: Your confused but sweet grandmother




Poor Man’s SONOS: How To Make a Badass Bluetooth Audio System from Amo Box and Old Radio Shack Speakers

My badass, poor-man's semi-portable bluetooth amplified speaker system
My badass, poor-man’s semi-portable bluetooth amplified speaker system has sound that compares to the Sonos system.

Who needs the fancy Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth wireless rechargeable speakers? Or your fancy SONOS systems?

Here’s my morning project… a do-it-yourself semi-portable amplified Bluetooth speaker system made out of my grandfather’s amo box. If you already have a pair of decent speakers, this system will set you back exactly $44.84 and give you sound that competes with a $300 SONOS (although the Sonos software is really cool and Wifi range is much better than 20-25 feet of Bluetooth).

If you don’t have the fortitude for this, here’s the link to buy the Sonos for the best price I could find online ($199 on Amazon).

Parts include:

  1. A pair of speakers. I used a pair of Radio Shack Minimus 7 speakers. They don’t make them like this anymore, kids. Before there were websites, the audio mags used to rate these as the best. Again- you can bring whatever nice speakers you already have.
  2. A Bluetooth receiverBelkin F8Z492TTP Bluetooth Music Receiver (1K plus four star rating on Amazon, and can’t beat the $24.99 price). *** Update- the Homespot NFC Bluetooth is $27.99 and worth the extra $3 because the range is better and it beeps when it’s paired. According to Amazon reviewers, it sounds better too.
  3. An amplifier. You probably already have one, but I LOVE the sound of this puppy and it’s dirt cheap: “Lepai” LP-2020A Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier with Power Supply (awesome sound for $16.85, and we’re talking 1,500 almost 5-star ratings). I think this is the best tech bargain I’ve seen in my life.
  4. Accessories: The bluetooth receiver and amplifier come with power cords and audio connectors. So all you need is some speaker wire, glue, and an extension cord.

Wish you could hear it. It’s pretty bold. Nice whoop-ass Redneck acoustical system for the pool or home. Another update Jan. 11, 2014: I just cranked it and asked a buddy and his kids to close their eyes. They picked this rig over the Sonos playing the exact same song!

The instructions are simple and, of course, you don’t need the amo box. But it’s nice if you want to move it around.

  1. Plug the speakers into the Lepai amp speaker inputs. Plug the Lepai amp in the wall. You can handle that, right?
  2. Plug the Homespot (or Belkin) Bluetooth receiver into the amplifier photo/audio input. Plug the power in the wall.
  3. Get your iPhone, iPod or laptop and “find” the Homespot or Belkin, then pair them.
  4. Turn on the sound of your device (no special app required) and it comes booming out the speakers like audible love!

Let me know if it works for ya? I can’t believe more people don’t do this!

Do You Need a Google Chrome Cast? Yes if You’re a YouTube Binger.

google chromecast wiresIt looks like a thumb drive and it has the Google Chrome logo on it. What is that thing called the Google Chromecast, and do you need one? If you already have a Roku or AppleTV, does the Chromecast get you anything new?

Well if you’re a YouTube binger, the answer is a certain yes.

This device launched in July, but is probably the least understood product Google has ever made. It’s basically a $35 easy-to-install dongle that plugs into a television’s HDMI input and allows you to stream video and audio via Wifi. The catch is that it only works with select apps like YouTube, Netflix and Google play. By contrast, Roku, TiVo and AppleTV are more full-serviced tools/services for grazing video via select services.

Unlike  other streaming-video gadgets (Roku, TiVo, AppleTV), Google Chromecast has a fairly defined use. If you’re watching a YouTube or Netflix video on a computer, phone or pad, you can easily “fling” it to an HDTV to share with others. This is a handy feature if you’d prefer to use a device to control an experience, rather than a remote.

To set it up, you:

  1. Plug in the Chromecast into the back of your television via HDMI input (the packaging is a bit deceptive, because you also need to power it with an additional cord that goes into a wall).
  2. “Find” the Chromecast via your device’s blue tooth, then you connect the Chromecast  with your device’s app.
  3. The next time you’re snacking on a video on your device, you can choose to play it on your TV via the Chromecast.

I still like Roku because it gives me easy access to Netflix and Amazon Prime, and the remote makes life fairly simple. But I can see Google Chrome as more than a  poor-man’s Roku. If you watch a lot of YouTube, it’s a no-brainer. You get all the benefits of your “lean forward” binging (searching, subscribing, related videos) but via a large-screen “lean back” experience.

I can think of another use that would alone justify its $35 price… if you travel a lot, it’s a nice way to watch Netflix from a hotel room without crowding a laptop. Of course you’ll need wifi.



Black Poisonous Snake on Windshield in Australia

G'day, mate. It's hot out here. Mind if I step in for a cold one?
G’day, mate. It’s hot out here. Mind if I step in for a cold one?

So these Australian mates found a red belly black snake on their windshield.

Bloke named Ben Lehmann turned on his windshield wipers on the viper, but that didn’t work. The snake manages to slither along the driver’s side window, and holds tight even as the car begins to pick up speed.

The video is titled “Red Belly Black vs. Leemon in the UTE part one…” and part two. And here’s the coverage in the Telegraph. The UK’s DailyMail has the best coverage here.Just love this crap. Just love it. Watch the language… it bites.

So that reminds me… a guy was at a movie theater last week to see the Catching Fire debut. He notices what looks like a snake sitting next to him. “Are you a snake?” asked the man, surprised. “Yes.” “What are you doing at the movies?” The snake replied, “Well, mate, I liked the book.”


Blip.tv Deleted Me

Blip.tv closed me accountI didn’t care much when some of the online video sites retired “consumer generated” accounts, and killed my Nalts channels. Metacafe, Revver, Yahoo video, Google video. But I’ve been rooting for the Blip.tv underdog since its infancy. So when I learned today they deleted my account, I felt totally betrayed.

Blip.tv is now owned by Internet studio, Maker. They’ve never much liked me, unfortunately.

Here’s one of my early articles of Blip sharing ad revenue. An article about how it paid better than other ad-sharing properties. And one of my favorite blog posts ever… my experience with Blip.tv’s awesome customer service in 2006 when founder Mike Hudack actually answered my call during dinner.

Unfortunately many of my Blip.tv videos are gone for good… not uploaded to other video-sharing sites and not backed up. Whey they began killing some accounts I wasn’t surprised. I expected some of my secondary “staging” accounts at Blip.tv to go away, so I backed them up. But didn’t expect they’d kill my Nalts one. 🙁

Part of my Internet youth died today. Not since Revver closed shop has the internet made me so sad.

Et, tu, Blip? Et tu?

Blip.tv killed me after 7 loyal years
Blip.tv killed me after 7 loyal years


Best Guerilla Campaign of 2013: Walhub Sneaks Into Ikea

The creators of the Walkhub snuck batches of the devices into Ikea and captured hidden camera responses of intrigued customers... who of course couldn't purchase them but got them free.
The creators of the Walkhub snuck batches of the devices into Ikea and captured hidden camera responses of intrigued customers… who of course couldn’t purchase them but got them free.

The creators of Walhub, an electrical switch cover that has storage features, snuck a batch of products into Ikea to demonstrate demand. It’s a clever way to put a new product on a radar, and connect it with an existing brand (Ikea) without, of course, permission. I proclaim “Hacking Ikea,” featured in Adage, the best guerilla campaign of 2013. If you know of something more clever, let me know!

I can only suggest 3 things to improve it:

  • I wanted to know the people behind the stunt. Text overlay in introductions are cold, people. How about hearing briefly from the creators? Make us care about their plight. Make us believe they’re creative artists who built something cool but don’t have the retail muscle of the big boys. And be sure that the average video grazer knows that many of the “victims” got free products (which is only obvious when watching most of the video).
  • Team should focus viral-video seeding on the YouTube version not the Vimeo one. The latter may be for groovy artists, but YouTube views beget views. In general, if you can get people viewing a YouTube video, it will produce more downstream views for two reasons: first, it will SEO optimize. Second, it will show up as a “related” video when YouTube’s algorithm senses it’s being shared. I’m still perplexed as why anyone would ever seed a video that’s not on YouTube.
  • Laughter behind the camera. This is something I discovered accidentally when creating Farting in Public because I didn’t have hidden mics and fancy equipment. We want to hear the crew laughing. It’s an authentic laugh track.