Fake Fiat ads and the coming of realitificadvertising
The news desk at the Guardian were reportedly wringing their hands today. They’d just come across a video of a driver trying (and failing) to pull a U-turn in a narrow Italian street. On the one hand, it could be a fake: a subtle promotional video for Fiat’s new model. On the other hand, the clicks … OK, they weren’t wringing their hands at all.
The arrival in the crowded, shouty street of a motorcycle gang, and then a religious procession, are definitely ticks in the “fake” column, which Guardian writer John Hooper delicately pointed out, presumably as a way of making it OK to run a funny video without checking whether or not it actually happened. What’s really interesting about the video, however, is that we don’t know, and may never know, whether or not it was real.
I call this phenomenon REALITIFICADVERTISING*, and it’s a bold new step in reality-based entertainment. And I’ll tell you why.
Until now, what we’ve had are essentially hoaxes: stunts or events that looked pretty real but turned out to be an ad. The list is endless, probably starting with Edward Bernays and the famous “smoking suffragettes” parade that was paid for by a tobacco company. Twenty-first century examples include the video of a man apparently projecting his image from a rigged iPhone on to the giant video screens in Times Square, a feat he attributes to the drug NZT (which turned out to be the name of the drug in the Bradley Cooper film Limitless). Or the “Liquid Mountaineering” video, which despite being contrary to the laws of physics, and despite being outed as ad for the Hi-Tec outdoor equipment company, many people on the internet still believe to be true footage of people running on water.
Most of these hoaxes, however, shoot themselves in the foot. How? They declare that the video wasn’t (or was) real. The worst thing about the Joaquin Phoenix film I’m Still Here is that director Casey Affleck eventually caved to pressure and admitted the project had been staged – thus defanging what was until then a film that was making Hollywood, not to mention critics and viewers, very uncomfortable indeed.
Just as weird, to my mind, was this recent security-camera video:
It shows people caught on CCTV doing things like hugging, saving old ladies from themselves and buying Coke. At the time of its release a couple of months ago, it appeared to be the genuine article, and was being promoted by Love Everybody, a weird site with a red-and-white colour scheme that showed inspirational videos about saving African children and resembled the Kony 2012 site (which was famously outed by Charlie Brooker, God love the man, as a Christian evangelical shill). The CCTV video, however, was soon claimed by Coke, and clearly branded in the way you see now. (I’m assuming, as a result, that all the inspirational moments from the CCTV footage were staged – though I suppose some of them might have been real.) But for a while, Coke was getting a lot of tongues wagging – and that’s good for business. Temporarily.
The freakiest ads, though, are the ones that NEVER ADMIT to being ads. In theory, you have no idea what these might be. This article could be an ad for Fiat. Or for one of its competitors. In fact, a company recently offered me $150 to put in a link to a particular client in an article. Maybe I took them up on it, eh? You’ll never know! Similarly, if Fiat never spills the beans – either because it has balls, or because there are no beans to spill – then we’ll probably never know whether or not this video was sneaked into the news media as a clever bit of free publicity.
But I have the solution: whenever a news organisation is unsure whether the shaky footage they’ve got is really a bit of covert PR, they should only run it with the logo blurred out. All logos, in fact, should be treated by the press the same way they’d treat vaginas: pixellation. Personally, I find them offensive.
Give me a vagina any day.**
* I don’t really call it realitificadvertising. Or do I?
** Thanks to Henry Barnes for the concluding joke. He’s at the Bellagio until Friday.