You've probably seen the viral video by now: NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon disguises himself as a suburban dweeb and takes a local car salesman for a terrifying test drive. The prank generated 30 million page views, so far, and a surprising amount of debate over whether it was real or staged.
"To anyone who has even had a remote association with video or TV production knows it's a fake," says Joe Glennon, an associate professor of advertising at Temple University's School of Media and Communication. There's a CLOSED COURSE disclaimer on the bottom of the screen. And no lawyer on the planet would let a Pepsi film crew put people in danger like that for a commercial prank.
So why do people respond to tricks and pranks in advertising? Why do companies find such success with this approach?
The dubious authenticity of such videos are precisely why they're so successful, says Abhijit Biswas, clinical professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Dallas. If 50 percent of the audience believes the ad to be real, and 50 percent believes it to be staged, that's a perfect scenario from a marketing point of view. "It's the debate itself that drives the ad, that causes it to be forwarded and passed around," Biswas says.