App Pranksters Dupe Media, Mock Tech, Teach All

livr App Pranksters Dupe Media, Mock Tech, Teach All

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to LIVR’s “founders.”

There’s nothing like a good PR hoax to showcase the rewards and potential pitfalls involved in launching a new product. After all, if you can generate considerable buzz with a fake, imagine what you can do with the real thing. And last week’s prank, from a faux app start-up called LIVRwas pitch perfect.

Foisted on an overeager and unsuspecting SXSW media, LIVR purported to be a social network one could only join when drunk, accessed via a phone attachment – a “biometric bouncer” – that measured one’s blood alcohol content. The higher one’s BAC, the more features available. If sufficiently tanked, users could “Drunk Dial™” another user at random (trademark designation a nice touch) or play “Truth or Dare,” along with more conventional features like finding nearby hot bars or those with drink specials. A morning-after “Blackout” button promised to erase all incriminating evidence of judgment-impaired behavior, including photos and calls.

The elaborate ruse featured cold-calls to reporters and a website and video with actors posing convincingly as CEO and chief developer. A number of news outlets were duped, including this one.  Hoodwinking the media and holding up a mirror to the overhyped, self-involved world of tech start-ups was the point of the gag, the prankster-in-chief said later, coming clean after a few media outlets did some digging basic reporting. A resounding success.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to LIVR’s pranksters, for an object lesson in how to generate buzz – and screen fakes.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know your advantage and when to exercise it. Exceedingly well planned and executed, the LIVR gag succeeded also on timing and placement. The perpetrators sprang their ruse at the start of  tech-heavy event thick with story-chasing media. Their premise was entirely plausible given the anything-goes world of start-ups. They knew exactly what to sell and how to sell it. If their comedy careers don’t pan out, they have bright futures in marketing.

Uber Overboard, Underhanded In Its Marketing?

ubersea Uber Overboard, Underhanded In Its Marketing?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for ride-request app Uber in Seattle.

Uber has upended the car-for-hire and ridesharing business with its location-aware ride-requesting app and cashless transactions. Naturally, some people have a problem with this – among them, the owners of traditional taxi companies, and government officials seeking to regulate a brand new category of transportation business.

Bogged down by business and bureaucratic traffic, Uber has managed to keep the wheels rolling, sometimes by racing red lights. At a current crossroads in Seattle, the company has mounted an Astroturf campaign – that is, a fake grass-roots effort – to lobby the City Council against curtailing its business. A “Save Uber in Seattle” effort features a company-sponsored petition website (with a non-profit conjuring .org domain), robo-calls from the local general manager, roving billboard trucks and a citywide blanket of (apparently illegal) posters.

This being Seattle, not everyone is down with a guerilla marketing effort masquerading as a popular groundswell, no matter how hip the company is. Sure, Uber may have Macklemore on its side, but recorded calls offering to forward you directly to the mayor’s office are perhaps a tad too proactive for such a laid back city, and residents are tweeting their disdain. Uber might reach its destination, but how many ride-needy Seattleites will it turn off along the route?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Uber’s slightly sneaky Seattle marketing strategy.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Handle trendiness with care. A marketing effort that is too clever by half can stir up bad PR, not to mention bad blood. In a place like Seattle, where residents have finely calibrated B.S. detectors, Uber’s effort might backfire for being impersonal, duplicitous and cynical, not to mention visually polluting and slightly illegal. A more solicitous and sincere overture to its local fans might have been a safer, more direct route.