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Viral Marketing Stunt Shuts Down Local School

06-04-2009 03:12 PM CET | Advertising, Media Consulting, Marketing Research

Press release from: Media Shower, Inc.

Mischief Maker's Manual

Mischief Maker's Manual

June 3, 2009, Boston, MA – A viral marketing video designed to promote MISCHIEF MAKER’S MANUAL, the new book of pranks and practical jokes for children ages 8-12, landed some of those same kids in hot water when their school was shut down for the day. On June 2, fifth-grader Troy Hughes of Lansing, MI forwarded the video to every member of his 5th grade class, sparking a panic that resulted in school closure.

The prank video, located at, was designed to look like a fake news segment, cleverly inserting the victim’s name and photo into a local newscast about a massive prank that had shut down the local school. When received via e-mail, the video was customized to look like it had come from a local TV station.

Although the video ended with a clear message that “you’ve been pranked,” that wasn’t enough for some kids—and their parents, who took the message literally. Showing the increasing power of students and parents to self-organize, an e-mail went out to an all-school mailing list maintained by the Parent’s Association, declaring that school was cancelled.

School administrators, away at a staff retreat, did not find out about the message until late Monday morning—but by then it was too late. “It is important to point out that the message did not originate from the school,” said School Administrator Hugh Rank. “The teachers were waiting in their classrooms, on time and ready to teach.”

The Parent’s Association was quick to shift blame to the school. “The internal mailing list was created in response to the poor communication coming from the school district,” said PTA President Jade Myers. “This is a classic case of garbage in, garbage out.”

For their part, the makers of the video were amused. “It’s a tremendous prank,” said John Hargrave, the author of MISCHIEF MAKER’S MANUAL. “And everyone learned something about trusting what you read online. Which is one thing more than they would have learned at school that day.”

The prank does call into question, however, the ethics of confusing real news with fake news, at a time when the integrity of “real news” is being called into question by outrageous political and comedy shows that blur the line between journalism and satire. “It’s a dangerous game they’re playing,” claims media communications professor Joseph King. “It breaks down our trust in authority, and even confuses our own self-identity: ‘Am I real?’”

Such concerns are not stopping the spread of the viral video, however, which has been downloaded “hundreds of thousands of times,” according to the creators. But given their track record, you might think twice before passing that number on to a friend.

The video is located at:

The definitive guide to pranks and practical jokes, MISCHIEF MAKER’S MANUAL is the ultimate reference for aspiring young troublemakers. It will be released in bookstores across America on June 11, 2009.

Media Shower, Inc.
800 Boylston Street
Box 990586
Boston, MA 02199

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