8 of the most convincing online hoaxes

Massive Slip ‘N Slides, flying penguins and hacking screens in Times Square—did you fall for these acts of online, promotional trickery?

If there’s one way to get people talking about your product, it’s to create a viral video. While it’s far easier said than done, it isn’t stopping companies, brands, groups and people from creating campaigns or stories in an attempt to be the next big viral hit.

Creating something that people will talk about or share is the aim of every viral campaign. However, a strategy that many people use is to manifest a situation or event to catch people’s attention and later associate it with the product or subject you’re promoting.

Sometimes we can immediately spot a fake campaign, and other times arguments erupt about whether or not it’s real. Some campaigns are so unbelievable that we just play along, either because they’re so impressive or because we want to believe they’re actually true.

Below are examples of viral hoaxes that became incredibly popular due to their content—before they were revealed for their true purposes.

1. Liquid mountaineers Last year, a documentary-style video was uploaded to YouTube that tackled the subject of liquid mountaineering. The principle behind the sport was that, provided you got the technique right, you could run on water for a brief period of time. To do this, you needed waterproof footwear so you won’t immediately sink. This conveniently came from Hi-Tec waterproof shoes, which were briefly shown in the video.

The video gained 10,000,000 views, and Hi-Tec denied having anything to do with its making. A month later, the company admitted it was a hoax and that it was a viral campaign for the company. The company released a “making of” video to show everyone how it was made.

2. Internet Explorer IQ test

This is the exception of the list because it doesn’t promote a company, but it is a lesson not to believe everything you see or hear without question.

A fake company called AptiQuant mailed a press release with the headline, “Is Internet Explorer for the dumb? A new study suggests exactly that.” The release claimed that extensive research was carried out on the topic, where 100,000 people took an online IQ test to match their intelligence scores with the browser they used.

Many news outlets quickly picked up the story including, deep breath now: CNN, NPR, CNET, London’s Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Forbes, Mashable, GlobalPost, Business Insider and BBC News.

The people responsible for the survey confirmed it was a lighthearted joke and released a statement saying, “There is no company called AptiQuant, and [no] such survey was ever done.” They did it “to create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6 and how it is pulling back innovation.”

3. HPOA girl

In August 2010, a girl named Jenny decided to quit her job and send her colleagues a series of photos where she used a whiteboard to insult her former boss and expose his addiction to Farmville.

The story originated on theChive.com, a site that uploads viral photos and videos daily. The story received 238,000 Facebook shares and 31,000 retweets, and the number of unique visits to the site jumped from 15,000 to 440,000 in one hour. Two days later, the website unveiled the hoax in the exact same way, revealing “Jenny” to be Elyse Porterfield, an actress.

The Chive was also responsible for other hoaxes, such as the teenage girl who accidentally texted her father that she lost her virginity on the beach, and that Donald Trump left a $10,000 tip for an $82.27 bill.

4. MegaWoosh

After sliding down one of the largest waterslides, a man lands perfectly in a children’s pool. The video claimed more than 5.5 million views.

The video was revealed to be a promotion of Microsoft Office Project 2007 in Germany. Its production involved, among other things, a stuntman, a lot of editing, and a long piece of rope. People are still arguing about its authenticity.

5. Hacking video screens in Times Square

With an iPhone, a special transmitter and a video repeater, two men transmitted a video they recorded earlier onto numerous screens across Times Square before hacking one of the main screens. The video received three million views—1.2 million were from its first four days online—and many technology sites picked it up.

The video was later revealed to be part of a marketing campaign for the movie “Limitless” starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The only clue that it was linked to the film was the trailer playing before the men hacked the last screen. Like any successful viral video makers, they uploaded another video to show everyone how they did it.

6. Flying penguins

To promote its new show, “Miracles of Evolution,” the BBC sent a camera crew along with ex-Monty Python member Terry Jones to King George Island where Jones uncovered a colony of penguins that could fly.

The video was an April Fool’s Day prank by the BBC to help promote the BBC iPlayer, although the Telegraph didn’t quite catch this. It wrote that “BBC1 viewers will see the penguins not only take flight from the Antarctic wastes, but fly thousands of miles to the Amazonian rainforests to find winter sun.”

Since it’s the thing to do, the BBC also created a “making of” video.

7. Extreme LED sheep

A group of sheep dog trainers, The Baa-Studs, used sheep and border collies to create a large number of LED displays. Showing the sheep in action both during the day and night, their range of tricks included herding the sheep to become large black and white sheep, a game of pong, the Mona Lisa painting, and a fireworks display.

The video amassed 15 million views and was designed to promote Samsung’s LED TVs.

8. Harrods in London

During a Christmas season, Lloyd Hudson was fired from his job at Harrods as Santa for drinking too much. Angry, and after having a few drinks, he decided to take revenge on the store. He took control of the LED lights displayed outside the shop and used them to spell festive messages before store security guards removed him from the premises.

This never happened—Hudson doesn’t exist and the image was Photoshopped—but that didn’t stop news outlets from reporting it as genuine news. It didn’t harm Harrods, who confirmed that the story was a lighthearted joke and that its lights would stay the same as previous years.

Quinton O’Reilly is a regular contributor to Simply Zesty, where a version of this article originally ran.

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