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I talked about the Godsend Institute (the website of a cloning lab that's really a promo for an upcoming movie of the same name) a few days ago. I said that I really didn't think the site was that convincing. But maybe others have been fooled by it because someone started an online petition to ban the Godsend Institute. Of course, I'm not above suspecting that the petition was started by the movie studio itself as a way to generate faux controversy. This was a favorite ploy of P.T. Barnum. Back in 1835 he was exhibiting Joice Heth, an elderly black woman whom he claimed was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington. When attendance at the exhibit began to decrease, he sent an anonymous letter to a local paper angrily declaring that Heth was a fake, a "curiously constructed automaton, made up of whalebone, India-rubber, and numberless springs." Sure enough, attendance immediately picked up again as visitors returned to see if Heth really was an old woman or a mechanical automaton.
A few people have written to me about the Godsend Institute, which is supposedly a Massachusetts fertility clinic that offers human cloning as an option for its patients. Its website is quite slick and well produced, but the Godsend Institute is, of course, not real. The site is part of the advertising campaign for the upcoming movie Godsend starring Robert De Niro. Wired published an article about this yesterday. Ever since the Blair Witch Project succeeded in creating such a buzz five years ago with its companion website, movie studios have sought to repeat this trick by creating sites that try to convince websurfers that their fictional characters or companies are real. The site for the upcoming I, Robot, starring Will Smith, is a recent example. As is Lacuna, Inc., which is a fictitious company featured in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I would say the strategy is wearing a bit thin now because a) the sites usually aren't that believable (for instance, you can kind of recognize Robert De Niro on the Godsend Institute site, which blows the whole cover), and b) they're not that interesting even if you do believe they're real. They give surfers little to do or explore. The Blair Witch site worked not only because it suggested the witch was real, but also because it gave people lots of interesting background material on her to browse through. One recent studio-created site that did understand this was Kingdom Hospital (from the ABC miniseries). It didn't simply try to convince you that Kingdom Hospital was real. Creepy things also started to happen as you navigated around the site, which made it fun to explore.
Bimpco offers a variety of ingenious products that will help you to keep your cellphone bills under control. The site is really a front for Cricket Wireless, but it's amusing.
Colin Mayhew, an engineer at a British division of BMW, decided to convert a mini cooper r50 into an autonomous biped robot. The results are quite impressive. In particular, check out this video. The no-frills design of the page makes it seem quite believable. But sleuths on Slashdot have determined that it's a hoax. The url is registered to an ad agency working for BMW. (via Things Magazine)
Back in January I posted an entry about what I called the Almost Great Dragon Hoax. It described a tiny dragon that had been found in a jar of formaldehyde in a garage in Oxfordshire. Supposedly the dragon had been created in the nineteenth century by German scientists trying to hoax their British counterparts, but the joke had been spotted by the British and placed in the trash... only to be recovered from there and end up years later in the Oxfordshire garage. Now it turns out that the dragon is actually of a much more modern origin. BBC News is reporting that author Allistair Mitchell created the story about the dragon as a publicity stunt in order to convince a publisher to publish his book, Unearthly History. It worked, because he just signed a deal with Waterstone. The dragon itself was built by Crawley Creatures, professional model makers. (Thanks to everyone who sent me links about this story).
In 2001 Sony Pictures got caught promoting its movies by using glowing quotations from a non-existent movie critic named David Manning to hype them. When the non-existence of Manning was pointed out, Sony pulled the ads, but to this day it has maintained its right to have printed the quotations, claiming they were protected as free speech. Yesterday Los Angeles Justice Reuben Ortega disallowed that defense. His remarks were notable: [if the case against Sony succeeds] "no longer will people be seen lurching like mindless zombies toward the movie theatre, compelled by a puff piece. What a noble and overwhelming undertaking."
The advertising agency Yarnbird is trying to make a name for itself as a creator of viral content. It invents odd sites that appear to be the creations of weird, eccentric people. The hope is that the popularity of the sites will provide publicity for Yarnbird. One of its previous sites, that I've linked to before, was My Son Peter. Another site that people have been linking to recently is I can still tell your wife, Bill. It appears to be created by a woman who's mad at Bill, a married guy she had an affair with. But like I said, it's really created by Yarnbird. I guess their strategy works because people like me link to them.
Sitting here watching the Superbowl, and out of the blue a hoax website is featured in one of the ads: ShardsO'Glass.com. This company supposedly sells freeze pops embedded with shards of glass. It's a satire of how cigarette companies sell products that they also know are bad for people's health.
Need to make a little extra money? Would you be willing to slap an advertisement on your forehead and parade around all day displaying it? The management team at Headvertise.com is hoping that you would, especially if you're a college student. Headvertise seems to be the creation of some students at Johnson & Wales University, and I'm betting it's either a joke, or some kind of bizarre class project. But who knows! I have seen stupider business plans in my day. (Link via J-Walk).
A tiny dragon, pickled in formaldehyde, has been found in a garage in Oxfordshire. Its origins trace back to the 1890s when it was given to the British Natural History Museum by German scientists. Evidently the Germans were trying to play a joke on their British counterparts by getting them to believe that this tiny dragon was real. But the British didn't fall for it and threw the dragon away. Luckily someone saved it, and somehow, years later, it ended up in the Oxfordshire garage. Someone must have put a lot of work into creating the dragon, because it looks incredibly lifelike.
Bob and Denise are caravaners. In other words, they live in a caravan as they drive around the country. But they resent the way non-caravanners treat them. For instance, the way people in flashy sports cars sometimes make rude gestures as they speed by their caravan on the road. So Bob and Denise are organizing a campaign "to secure equality and respect for caravanners." They're hoping to mastermind a 'ring of aluminum' that will circle London on June 5th, created by thousands of caravanners going slow as they drive along the M25 that circles London. That's all well and good, but something smells fishy about Bob and Denise. They're just a little too offbeat and cutesy for their own good. Could they possibly be the creation of an advertising agency, along the lines of the recently seen Travelocity Gnome?
A lot of people have been emailing me to let me know that the Where Is My Gnome site is part of a viral web campaign by Travelocity, but I've been too busy and never got around to updating that entry. But here's an article that explains the Gnome campaign.