Old Man Sullivan Yells at Ad Kids from His Porch, “You Kids Just Git Now!”

Selling stuff is so much more important than people.

Selling stuff is so much more important than people.

Okay, I have the next viral branding stunt all figured. Just nailed it.

We go to a college and randomly pick ten freshmen for an “interview” in some office on campus. Obviously, the room will be wired for video and sound and we’ll record everything that is said. The fun starts when our moderator tells the first student:

MODERATOR: I am sorry to inform you that your father just died.

STUDENT: What?!  Wha…

(Oh, the look on her face is priceless.)

MODERATOR: No seriously,” we’ll say handing her a Kleenex, “your Dad, he’s like totally dead. Takin’ a dirt nap.”

STUDENT: My dad, you mean my…

MODERATOR: Yep. Dude fell out a seventh-story window, landed on a bike rack.  Ouch!  Now that’s gotta hurt. … Sooo, anyhoo…

STUDENT [CRYING]: This can’t be happening, it, it…

(Keep the tape rollin’ fellas, this is golden.)

That’s when our moderator says, “That Kleenex you’re using, to sop up all those blubbery cry-baby tears? That, my friend, that is the new more absorbent Kleenex. Boy howdy!”

STUDENT: What?! You….you fuc….

MODERATOR: Your Dad? He’s not dead, ya big silly. But … don’t you love how soft new improved Kleenex is?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Okay, so how is this stupid idea any different from those pranks we see more and more brands doing on YouTube?

Yes, they are clever but many of these pranks scare the heck out of people. Watch what they do to the poor lady in this video just to sell their stupid deodorant. The set-up of the stunt is very clever, no doubt, but does the lady look like she’s havin’ fun?

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 11.19.41 AM









The latest prank makin’ the rounds is a concept to promote the movie “Carrie.” Again, I love how clever the set-up is, but look carefully at the video. Do the people in the coffee shop look like they are havin’ fun?

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 11.19.29 AMOne could argue that this is experiential advertising; really good experiential stuff. Instead of just telling people that “Carrie” is frightening, they make them feel the product. On that score, this promo delivers.

But what if I staged, say, a terrorist take-over at La Guardia airport for the movie “United 93”?

Is a defense of “Well, come on!, We made people experience the product,” is that really justification?

I’ve told several friends how much I hate these fear-producing stunts, and some of my buddies just tell me to shut up and get over it. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I’ve become the old guy on his porch shakin’ his fist and yellin’ “Now you kids git offa my lawn!”

But I’ll wager I’m not the only one who hates this crap. Am I?



  1. I agree, Luke. I think there is an ethical line that advertising should never, ever cross to sell a movie ticket, a soda, or a tissue. What good have we done the brand, in the entire spectrum of brand equity, if we manipulate people into feeling emotions just to be entertained at their expense? What decent company would want to do that? Which is why I have convinced myself that these types of promotions are scripted. Would a local coffee shop really take the liability risk (not to mention the loss of loyal customers) of someone with an anxiety disorder, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder coming into the shop to get a cup of coffee and then have this event take place? I don’t buy it. It’s cheaper to build a set and hire aspiring actors and fake it all. At least, that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night. If advertising has lost that sense of ethics, the profession is doomed.

  2. Just another fad, cheap and exploitive.
    Shocking ain’t selling. Let’s get it out of our system and move on, please…

  3. I love stunts. I really do. But just as I have been preaching for a few years now, we need creative no-fly zones. Not saying censorship. I’m saying us. We need to acknowledge that there are certain creative spaces that maybe we’d best not stick our nose into, lest we contribute to what I believe is already a society who’s sense of civility is steadily eroding. But of course, good luck with that, Schenck. As the current crop of shockvertising stunts prove, there is nothing some of us will not do to get a chuckle at someone else’s expense.


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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.