Ad Watchdog Says Ad Videos (Viral Or Not) Need To Obey Truth-In-Advertising Rules

from the what-about-satire? dept

A few months ago, you may recall that there was a semi-popular "viral"video going around, showing a group of friends sitting around a table with mobile phones. They put the phones in the middle of a table surrounding a corn kernel, and then dialed the phones and watched the corn pop. This got some buzz, and a quick debate over whether or not it was real. It seemed rather obviously fake (and, in many ways, similar to another fake video from earlier about cooking an egg with mobile phones), but some people were tricked. About a week after the video became popular, a bluetooth headset manufacturer admitted to creating the video to try to sell more handsfree kits.

Now, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has slapped the company on the wrist, noting that even though it was just an online viral video PR stunt, such videos should still live up to various "truth-in-advertising" standards. The LA Times story on this gets the details wrong, suggesting that it was only when this report came out that it was revealed that the video came from a bluetooth handset maker. That's not the case, as the company admitted it was a viral video about a week after it became famous.

Still, while I understand the reasoning for why truth-in-advertising should apply to viral videos, I'm not entirely convinced it makes sense in this case, where the video itself wasn't an actual advertisement -- and the only time people discovered that it was an advertisement was in conjunction with the revelation that it was a hoax. While perhaps some people were fooled initially into believing the video was real, it's difficult to see that video alone (which didn't mention hands free kits) driving people to using hands free kits. If anything, someone who believe the video would probably just use their phone less entirely, rather than switching to a hands-free kit. I definitely believe truth-in-advertising rules make sense, but it's not entirely clear how this was false advertising, rather than a hoax to generate discussion.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    SteveD, 24 Nov 2008 @ 4:18pm

    On the one sense I'd agree the add wasn't that big a deal, but on the other advertising-types are well known for pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with. Give them a loophole such as this and you could create all kinds of problems.

    I think it better there be absolute standards in this case. Companies should have to be truthful in any form of advertising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Slartibartfast, 24 Nov 2008 @ 4:46pm

      Re:

      I agree with SteveD. This particular incident might seem pretty innocuous but it's a tiny opening into a very large loophole for advertisers who, as we know, are right down there with bankers, used car salesmen, spammers and other con artists on the integrity scale. Start out by making it absolutely clear what is acceptable, and what isn't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Joseph Young, 24 Nov 2008 @ 7:04pm

        Re: Re:

        And, you’ve only got to think a little to see where you’re going to run into problems. Let’s take another urban myth: Wind farms cause epileptic fits. So, we have an oil company sending out a viral video. Late evening. Setting sun. The turbine blades start to pass through the beams of light. There’s a mild strobing effect. All the actors in the video pretend to have fits. That should be fine. Nothing’s being advertised, they’re just pretending that alternative energy sources are dangerous.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ima Fish, 24 Nov 2008 @ 4:55pm

    I could understand the debate about whether we need truth in advertising laws in the first place. But I cannot understand the thought process of believing we need them in some mediums but not in others. If advertisers have to tell the truth on television, radio, and in print, then they should have to tell the truth online.

    I think the mistake you're making is claiming it was not an "actual advertisement." It was an actual advertisement in that it was intended to sell a product. Merely because it was very creative and subtle does not change that fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    porster, 24 Nov 2008 @ 5:10pm

    I Agree Too

    I agree with all of the above, it is an atemp to sell product and it was misleading.

    Bring back the rattan I say!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike, 24 Nov 2008 @ 5:23pm

    What about REAL adverts?

    I think they should maybe focus on REAL advertisements, like my ISP who continue to advertise unlimited cable internet, when they cap ALL their tiers. And possibly political adverts talking about what they are going to do if elected, and then totally ignore those statements when elected...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2008 @ 5:32pm

    Gotta say I agree with them, to be honest.

    Firstly, this kind of stuff pisses me off in general. I guarantee that someone, somewhere, has been using that video as "evidence" of how dangerous mobile phones are and spreading it around friends and family. Helping to perpetuate crazy theories like that piss me off immensely.

    Secondly, it was an advert that essentially said "Man, look how bad the competitors are, you should use us!" except the "look how bad they are" part was made up. Ok so it's not a particularly raging example, but still, they're saying "if you put a mobile near your head it'll cook your brain use our product instead". If this was allowed to go on without checks, in a few years we'd be seeing viral ads like a kid home-video'd drinking coke and coming down with some disease or something, put out by pepsi (yes I realise it's an extreme example).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jospeh, 24 Nov 2008 @ 6:05pm

    Generally Agree

    I generally agree with the lot of you.

    Except on your second point, Anonymous Coward.

    At no point did the Viral Video ever say "use our product instead"

    All in all though, it is a coniving prank played by an advertsing company, the dreggs of society - and all actions by such corporations must be regulated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      DS, 25 Nov 2008 @ 7:17am

      Re: Generally Agree

      Humm, I would think that the premise of cooking your brain would be, at the very least, "use our type of products instead". Somewhat of a general advertisement of a class of products, that the sponsor of the viral add, just so happens to sell.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jospeh, 24 Nov 2008 @ 6:39pm

    Re: Re: What about REAL adverts?

    Sounds like a bargain Sos - do you except western union money transfer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2008 @ 11:58pm

    Hard to Imagine

    While perhaps some people were fooled initially into believing the video was real, it's difficult to see that video alone (which didn't mention hands free kits) driving people to using hands free kits. If anything, someone who believe the video would probably just use their phone less entirely, rather than switching to a hands-free kit.
    Disagree. It's hard to imagine people giving up their phones rather than switching to hands-free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark, 25 Nov 2008 @ 7:31am

    Moron in a hurry

    If you are stupid enough to believe you can pop corn with a cell phone you shouldn't be allowed any sharp objects, much less a cell phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yakko Warner, 25 Nov 2008 @ 8:18am

    I'm hungry

    I haven't seen the ad, but suddenly I'm in the mood for popcorn. %>

    I have to wonder about this. So we're saying that ad agencies have to be regulated as to what videos they distribute online.

    But what about the other viral pieces of fake information distributed online? How many emails do we get forwarded from family and friends about some amazing or outrageous "fact" that's debunked with a 5-second search on Snopes.com?

    Did this ad agency even come up with the concept that cell phones can pop popcorn? Or did someone just "hear" that from someone else and decide to write that into an email and forward that to 100 of their closest friends? What if some random person took that email and decided to make a video out of it, and then the ad agency got the whole idea from a pre-existing video? What if they just used the "amateur" video? Where's the line of when it becomes an "ad", if the core message never changed?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Petréa Mitchell, 25 Nov 2008 @ 10:17am

    Two issues

    We have two issues here. The first is being an ad or not.

    "[...] the only time people discovered that it was an advertisement was in conjunction with the revelation that it was a hoax."

    It's still an ad, and more dishonest for not being clear about it.

    The second is the whole issue of the hoax.

    "It seemed rather obviously fake [...] but some people were tricked."

    If people are being tricked, it's not obviously fake. Anyone about to argue that the the hoax is harmless fun (and I can't tell for sure whether Mr. Masnick does or not), please check out What's the Harm?.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.