Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2005]
Origins: The availability of the Internet as a tool to spread information quickly, cheaply, and (mostly) anonymously has enabled the advent of "viral marketing": buzz-generating advertisements whose content is unsuitable for traditional media (such as television), distributed through "unofficial" channels such as web sites and e-mail forwards. Viral ads may not be obvious about what product they're promoting, or even obvious as advertisements at all. (Burger King's
Companies often try to obscure the connections between themselves and their viral ads, sometimes claiming that promotions were "unauthorized" or "accidentally released." Though this technique may be effective in generating publicity, it can also backfire: If someone does indeed produce an unauthorized viral ad that creates negative publicity for the business it supposedly promotes, how can a company prove they weren't behind it? This is the dilemma currently faced by Volkswagen regarding a viral ad seemingly calculated to offend as many human beings as possible.
The spot begins with a motorist leaving his house and hopping into his Volkswagen
So just who produced this offensive spot? The ad doesn't appear to be a spoof put together by some rogue amateur filmmakers, as its production values (e.g., shot on 35mm film, probably at a cost in the tens of thousands of dollars) would indicate. Paul Buckett, a Volkswagen spokesman, has denied that the automobile manufacturer had anything to do with it:
We were horrified. This is not something we would consider using: it is in incredibly bad taste to depict suicide bombers.
It gives the impression we've condoned or supported it, and is potentially very damaging to Volkswagen. Our legal department is planning an
About half the work we do is for our own purpose, it is self-promotional. The ad's a comment on what's happening at the moment. People see this on the news every day.
The car is the hero that protects innocent people from someone with very bad intentions. The ad got out accidentally and spread like wildfire. We're sorry if it has caused any offence.
"My suspicion is that it was made for a very small audience in order to get work. It's such a risky
A spokesman for Volkswagen said the company was considering legal action and blamed the advert on "two young creatives who are trying to make a name for themselves".
"We don't take these sorts of risks with our advertisements. We regard ourselves as honest and respectable."
But in a new development, MediaGuardian.co.uk has tracked down the director of the spoof advert, Stuart Fryer, 35.
Breaking his silence for the first time, he said he was horrified by the reaction to the ad and had only ever meant it to be used on a showreel and never seen by the public.
He disputed Lee and Dan's estimate of its £40,000 cost, saying the cost had been "more like £400".
"If it cost that much I would like to know where the money went," Mr Fryer said. "It was made in my spare time. It's remarkable what you can do for such a low budget.
"I just wanted it for show reel purposes, not seen by millions of people around the world.
"I don't want to offend people, I just want to make advertisements.I wanted to show it to the Saatchis and BBHs of this world.
"Little did I know that the advert that I made would be sent out on the internet and create such a fuss - it's shocked me."
"We are taking legal action but because it's early stages we cannot comment further," a Volkswagen spokesman said.
But the company privately admitted that it cannot locate Lee and Dan, the London based advertising creative partnership who dreamed up the film, which has been seen around the world via the internet.
"We are prepared to pursue the two individuals but need to locate them to ensure the success of our legal claim," the company said in a private memo, details of which have been obtained by MediaGuardian.co.uk.
Brook, Stephen. "Spoof Suicide Bomber Ad Sparks Global Row." The Guardian. 20 January 2005. Brook, Stephen. "VW to Sue Polo Bomb Ad Duo." The Guardian. 26 January 2005. Sanders, Holly M. "VW's Ad Is Spoof on Terror." New York Post. 19 January 2005. Sanders, Holly M. "Riding the Auto-Bomb." New York Post. 20 January 2005. Smith, David. "Suicide Bomber Sells VW Polo." The Guardian. 23 January 2005.