Toyota and Saatchi in Legal Headlights Over ‘Virtual Lunatics’ Campaign


Toyota and its agency Saatchi & Saatchi are being sued for $10 million for a guerilla marketing campaign run amok. 

The campaign, launched in 2008 to promote sales of the automaker’s 2011 Matrix model, was dubbed “Your Other You” — a name that tipped off that doppelgangers might be heading consumers’ way. Little did consumers know was based on ‘virtual lunatics’ harassing unsuspecting real people.

With a tagline of “Get in touch with your dark side.”, the concept ran as follows: “YourOtherYou is a unique interactive experience enabling consumers to play extravagant pranks. Simply input a little info about a friend (phone, address, etc.) and we’ll then use it, without their knowledge, to freak them out through a series of dynamically personalized phone calls, texts, emails and videos.”

That Toyota and its agency didn’t suspect that “freaking people out” might be construed as “terrifying unwitting victims” will be discussed in marketing and advertising classes for years to come.[more]

Consider how the campaign worked: First, one of five virtual lunatics would contact your friend you nominated. As the agency brief notes, “They will seem to know them intimately, and tell them that they are driving cross-country to visit. It all goes downhill from there.” And how.

One victim, Amanda Duick filed complaint in the Los Angeles Superior Court on September 28, 2008, accusing Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, and fifty individuals associated with the campaign of eight counts including: intentional infliction of emotional distress and unfair, unlawful, and deceptive trade practices.

Duick was contacted March 29 by Sebastian Bowler, a soccer-playing ruffian on the lam from police accompanied by his pet pitbull, Trigger. 

In the following days, Duick received incessant e-mails and requests to visit from Bowler, followed by one from a Coronett Motel saying she was responsible for a television set Bowler had smashed. There was even a MySpace Sebastian Bowler page created (Google-proof).

On April 2, Bowler sent her a video of link of an old man laughing and explaining it was all a prank. Turns out one of Duick’s friends had signed her up for the campaign which Toyota and Saatchi claimed she agreed to by her unwitting participation in what she thought was an online personality test. 

Toyota had researched how to best reach an ad-adverse male twentysomething target demo and Saatchi found an in with pranking. “It’s about empowering the consumer,” Saatchi creative director Dino Spadavecchia says.”We wanted them to be involved and to feel like they were part of the process.”

What if you’re not aware you’re part of a “process”? “Although the campaign’s main (web) page clearly states its fictionality, the initial videos made Gawker and The Examiner question whether the initial mugging videos were real or a hoax,” notes ARGNet.

After two years of legal back and forth the lawsuit was filed in March of 2010 and Duick’s lawyer, Nick Tepper, Esq. details what pursued in an article, “Toyota, ‘Your Other You’ and The Appellate Process” that observes —

“The first words spoken at the oral argument was not from Toyota’s attorney, as one might suspect. Rather, it was from the one of the justices: “Counsel: can you in any way justify this marketing campaign from your client? Can you in any way explain to me how it is they expected to sell cars from doing these things?”

“This Toyota case has been going on for a year and a half,” Tepper adds. “Justice can take years, especially when you are taking on a multinational corporation like Toyota.” 

Other instances of marketing amok include the 2007 Ralph agency launch of Showtime’s viral campaign for Dexter, dubbed The Dexter Treatment, which included to let folks input the name, gender, age, occupation and a personal message for an intended target, who then received a link to a customized news report. 

That same year, CourtTV’s Save My Husband campaign crossed the line of fiction vs. reality and hit too close to home for some of those included. Nestle Butterfinger’s “Dude Where’s My Bar” campaign also posted (faked) footage of Seth Green’s freak out after a mugging.

Duick v. Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. has yet to be adjudicated, but in the court of public opinion, it raises questions of marketing opprobrium v. basic human civility and privacy. And the right to not be freaked out by brands.


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