Publicity Stunts and Fall TV Premieres

September 13th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Is it right to use scare tactics to get viewers’ attention?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

As networks clamor to generate buzz around the slate of new TV series premiering this fall, should there be boundaries to the tactics they use?

Last year around this time, the Fox Crime TV channel in Spain notoriously staged a real crime scene to promote its programming. According to AdAge, Bungalow 25 – the Madrid agency responsible for creating the Fox Crime TV ads in Spain – sank a fake dead body wrapped in a black cloth and bound with chains 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 at the time, “Their reactions were spectacular. The whole situation became so realistic that more than once we had to dissuade people from calling the police.”

For the most part, I could appreciate the novelty of the campaign, including Fox’s sponsorship of “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? Have you seen any similarly questionable publicity stunts surrounding this fall’s new crop of television shows?