Posted by: Waern | October 25, 2009

YourOtherYou – How to Win Awards and Get Sued at the Same Time

Recently, ABC news featured a case of a reality game prank ending up in a lawsuit. A Los Angeles woman sues Toyota for being selected a target for their pervasive marketing campaign YourOtherYou. Apparently, a friend of the woman had selected her a suitable victim for a fun ‘prank’. For five days, she received emails from a fictitious man called from England, who said he was on the run from the law, knew her and where she lived, and was coming to her home to hide from the police. Needless to say, the woman was not amused when the last mail exposed the prank and linked to a promo video for Toyota’s new car.

The case is a schoolbook example of unaware participation; a reality game akin to the Vem gråter case in our book, where the participants are kept in the dark as to what is going on until the game is over. From Vem gråter we learned that when you don’t know if what you are experiencing is for real or not, you start to invent very serious interpretations of the experience, and that these interpretations are scarier than what the designers intended. In Vem gråter, a fairly harmless character was interpreted as a potential lunatic. In YourOtherYou, the mails were interpreted not as a nuisance but as threats from a stalker.

(Apparently, the prank victims signed a legal agreement form as part of a fake personality test, that was mailed to them before the prank started.  Whether this will hold in court is an open issue; the agreement was in an unrelated context and rather obscure.)

The blogosphere is flooded with condemning comments, all highlighting the obvious problems with the production: that there was no clear opt-in and no opt-out, and that the theme was scary. Still, this campaign was produced, and it was actually a pretty impressive production, with a huge budget and lot of attention to detail that has received at least one award.  How could a professional designer end up with such a catastrophic design, how come Toyota went with it, and how come it was rewarded?

A MediaPost discussion from July 2008 (long before the lawsuit) shreds some light on the issue. The article points out that the target audience for the campaign were men under 35, a group that hate all forms of advertising. So, in order to reach the group the market company found a possible exploit: the target group loves to play pranks on each other. Thus, they came up with the idea to offer men the opportunity to play pranks on their friends.

The MediaPost article is a discussion between three (male) marketing experts who have tried out the experience by sending pranks to their friends. The discussion is appreciative, in particular of the level of detail in giving all of the prank characters an ‘internet life’, complete with myspace pages. The discussion never questions the tacit assumption behind the campaign: that men under 35 have a homosocial and age-homogeneous network of friends. Neither does it actually ever go into the experience of the friends who were subjected to the pranks; instead the participants evaluate the experience from the perspective of the prankster:

OMMA: I enjoyed being able to keep track of the prank on that dashboard of sorts, which let me know what messages my friend was receiving as the prank progressed through its five-day run.

Brady: That, to me, was the interesting part of this, where it had evolved from other things I’d seen. Really, what’s the fun in a joke if you can’t see the expression on someone’s face or find out what’s happening? I thought that was a nice evolution of the prank.

I think that this discussion reflects also how the design team imagined their campaign: they saw themselves in the role of the prankster and thought it would be fun to play pranks on their friends. And if subjected to a prank; well you just have to face up to it, right? The active, strong and rich man under 35 that can afford their cars can also handle a joke. I’ve only found one blog that foresaw that the campaign would end with a lawsuit: Streetflips.com, a currently passive blog run by women.


Responses

  1. […] YourOtherYou – How to Win Awards and Get Sued at the Same Time « Pervasive Games: Theory and Desi… pervasivegames.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/your-other-you-how-to-win-awards-and-get-sued-at-the-same-time – view page – cached Recently, ABC news featured a case of a reality game prank ending up in a lawsuit. A Los Angeles woman sues Toyota for being selected a target for their pervasive marketing campaign YourOtherYou…. (Read more)Recently, ABC news featured a case of a reality game prank ending up in a lawsuit. A Los Angeles woman sues Toyota for being selected a target for their pervasive marketing campaign YourOtherYou. Apparently, a friend of the woman had selected her a suitable victim for a fun ‘prank’. For five days, she received emails from a fictitious man called from England, who said he was on the run from the law, knew her and where she lived, and was coming to her home to hide from the police. Needless to say, the woman was not amused when the last mail exposed the prank and linked to a promo video for Toyota’s new car. (Read less) — From the page […]

  2. Here’s the money quote (pp. 193-194) from our case study on Vem gråter, which as Annika describes, backfired for precisely same reasons:


    Instead of the students, the maintenance staff of the school became the primary audience of the events. Vem gråter did not attract a bunch of entertained puzzle solvers, but people responsible for the cleanliness and order of the university premises. In their eyes, Vem gråter was not a game or a puzzle — they solved the mystery by interpreting the events as acts of vandalism.

    The second factor was playing with a scary theme. As Michael J. Apter (1991) points out, a tiger in a cage is exciting because it is both dangerous and safe; a tiger without a cage is really scary in a highly unpleasant way. A reality game toying with a believable horror theme is not fun— it is scary.

    The third factor was the lack of understanding of how stories grow from being told and retold. Even though an accurate observer might notice that an installation is a fabricated part of a puzzle, the subtle details are lost when that observer passes the story on to others. The story of Vem gråter was passed on to the principal of the school, a local newspaper, a crisis hotline for frightened women, and the police.

    The fourth factor was creating a game in an area where people could not choose to avoid it. The people who worked in the school still had to go to work every morning and stay there late at night.

    So — erring on target audience, scary theme and unavoidability in both cases. Vem gråter also had larger issues on gossip, but Toyota’s marketing probably also suffers from uncontrollability of stories retold on YourOtherYou.

    Save a lot of money, marketers, by reading our book before you go. Or the works of Jane McGonigal, to which we owe a lot.

    – Markus

  3. I love it when I don’t know if I’m playing or not. The Truth About Marika was that kind of game. Well it started with that I knew it was a game.. But I was in chock for weeks when it was over. Now I just want to go back into that world, but just can’t.. It gives me great angst.

  4. Tomb, if you’d like to write a full guest entry on your experiences on Truth About Marika, I’d be happy to publish one. :-)

    Email me at firstname.lastname@uta.fi, if you are interested!

    – Markus

  5. […] going to start by carrying over a topic from the last weekly round-up: Waern over at Pervasive Games does a great break down of what went wrong with Toyota’s Your Other You campaign, tracking […]

  6. […] Having no idea what was going on, and not finding out it was a prank, it was considered a possible threat from a stalker in the court of law. Toyota got the publicity it desired, unfortunately it was bad […]


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