Publicity Gone Overboard?

September 24th, 2010 by Andrea Bennett

A Spanish ad agency uses scare tactics to get people’s attention.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

How do you promote TV crime dramas to viewers who have already watched enough about crime scene investigations to make them at least a little hard-boiled?

If you’re the new Fox Crime TV channel in Spain, you stage a real crime scene and scare the daylights out of them. As AdAge reported last week, Bungalow 25 -- the Madrid agency responsible for creating the Fox Crime TV ads in Spain -- sank a fake dead body bound with chains and wrapped in a black cloth to the bottom of the ocean at a popular scuba diving spot along the coast of Alicante; the mannequin’s feet had been cemented into a box that read, in Spanish, “New channel. Fox Crime. Discover it.” The agency then planted a camera underwater to record the reactions of horrified scuba divers who thought they had discovered a murder victim, after which it posted the video to YouTube and sent it along to bloggers to spread virally.

Julio Gálvez, the executive creative director at Bungalow 25, told AdAge, “Their reactions were spectacular. The whole situation became so realistic that more than once we had to dissuade people from calling the police.”

The stunt was part of a broader “Crimes of Summer” campaign for the channel, which features programming such as Law and Order, NCIS and Dexter. And for the most part, I can appreciate the novelty of the campaign, including Fox’s sponsorship of this year’s “La Tomatina,” an annual tomato-throwing street party near Valencia where people throw more than 120 tons of tomatoes at each other thereby creating an unmistakably “bloody” image. It’s all in the name of good, gory fun.

But reading the coverage of the mannequin stunt -- and the comments that followed the YouTube video -- made me wonder if anyone at all thinks it could have gone too far? As a recreational scuba diver, I’m just not sure that terrifying people while they’re breathing compressed air underwater is a good idea. What if, in your rush to report the crime, you didn’t properly decompress near the surface? What if you had a heart problem? I haven’t found a single article, blogger or YouTube commenter that questioned whether the agency had thought about safety at all. Am I overreacting?