RIGA - What was designed to kick off an advertising campaign by Swedish mobile phone company Tele2 fizzled out as it hit the ground. An elaborate publicity stunt by the telecoms operator involving a faked meteorite strike in the Latvian countryside shows how poor planning, execution or even the idea itself can sink a marketing campaign from the start, with further consequences of attracting negative attention to the company, reports news agency LETA.
Tele2 has promised to reimburse Latvia for the cost of sending military units and scientists to investigate a 10 meter-wide crater that appeared near the Estonian border after locals reported seeing a streak of light cross the sky on Oct. 25 in the town of Mazsalaca in northern Latvia.
Creating a frenzy when first reported, including in the international media, the Stockholm-based company later admitted that it had dug the hole and burned chemicals at the bottom to create the impression of a smoldering meteorite crater. Latvian security forces cordoned off the area to conduct radiation tests.
A spokesman for Tele2's Latvian subsidiary said the stunt had been "intended to distract attention from the country's economic crisis and give people something creative and exciting to talk about." The Latvian government was not amused and said it would cut its contract with the company in protest. "The Interior Ministry doesn't want to do business with a firm that promotes itself at our expense," said Interior Minister Linda Murniece (New Era).
Scientists grew skeptical as they started inspecting the symmetrically shaped, 3-meter-deep hole, clearly dug with shovels, and others questioned why a camera crew had been on hand to video the smoking crater.
Pernilla Oldmark, spokesman for Tele2 in Stockholm, said the stunt had been intended to kick off a forthcoming marketing campaign. "The message will become clear as soon as the concept is launched," she said, while apologizing for the disruption caused.
Latvian Advertising Association President Girts Ozols said that in Latvia's advertising practice there are no similar precedents to this kind of hoax, and that this kind of action could be considered an ethics violation in professional advertising. Ozols, however said that the idea was a good one, but its implementation wasn't.
"If such a prank is pulled, the culprits should not have allowed it to drag on for so long without revealing the truth. The prank became deceit, with all of the consequences that occurred," says Ozols. He adds that the prank made the community feel insecure.
The media agency 'Inspired' worked with Tele2 on the stunt.