Toyota’s Cyberstalking Ad Stunt Leads to Lawsuit

Posted By Debbie on September 13, 2011

Categories: Marketing

Tags: ads, cyberstalking

I just read this article about a lawsuit against Toyota and their ad agency for a cyberstalking campaign they did in 2009. Read the article. It’s INSANE.

In case you only have time to read my blog, then the summary is this. Toyota and their ad agency cooked up a campaign for the Matrix car in 2009. The idea was to “punk” people. You’d enter some personal details for your friend, and a very elaborately-created (but fake) person would cyberstalk that person for 5 days before revealing it was all a prank. The ad agency blew lots of money on creating these fake people to make them look real, down to recording a REAL album for the heavy metal band one of your cyberstalkers was supposed to be in.

The whole thing sounded terrifying. The person stalking you knows your home address and number (because your friend put it in). They’re texting and emailing. They’re letting you know they’re coming to your house after some trouble with the law. This is a stranger to you!

Most interestingly, the ad agency tried to claim that all the recipients of this prank opted in. How? When their friend entered their details, they’re sent an email asking if they want to take an online personality test. The T&C of the test imply that they might be a part of an “online experience,” but don’t really tell you what you’re agreeing to. That is what this article was about. A judge decided that the opting in was deceptive enough to be thrown out, and the lawsuit can continue.

Who is suing? A woman who thought she was being stalked by a scary guy who had her home address, and she had no idea how. Special thanks to whatever friend signed her up for that since remember, this campaign only worked if one of your friends was willing to “play a prank” on you by giving all this info up. I hope I have no such friends! I hope I have actual friends.

I say this a lot in this blog and real life, but I am NOT for fear in advertising. I don’t think you get people to do much by fear, and if you get them to do something, 1) it’s normally not a permanent behaviour change, and 2) they won’t think of you fondly for the experience. What does the woman suing now think of Toyota, who put her through a terrifying cyberstalking incident in the name of a prank? And how does this bring ANY positive attention to the Toyota Matrix, which I hear is a great car? Can’t a great car just be a great car?

A terrible speaker I saw at a terrible Chamber of Commerce terrible event in 1996 said something I’ll never forget. He said to send people your “pitch” via certified mail. I told him (and the audience) that that was a horrible idea. Only lawyers and the IRS send certified letters… you’ll give someone a heart attack! His reply was, “And won’t they be thrilled the letter is from YOU!” My thought was that they would NOT be thrilled to receive certified mail, and would probably not think of me or my pitch with positive vibes.

What campaign can you create that makes people feel accepted? Liked? Part of a group? Heard? Important? Admired? Let’s not build campaigns that make people afraid. I don’t believe in pranks anyway. I don’t think they’re funny. I don’t think something at anybody’s expense is funny, and certainly not past age 16. Consider how to connect with past, current, and potential customers. Shame on Toyota and their agency.