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Create a Fake Ad, Boost Product Interest

Fake ads are funny, but when they're done right, the increase in Web traffic and product sales is no joke.

And you thought April Fool's Day came around only once per year.

A new strategy is to create a completely fictitious YouTube ad, one that includes a heavy dose of humor--or at least creates some befuddlement with the online minions. In the age of the Internet, getting people confused but talking is a pretty good gambit.

One of my favorite recent fake ads is by Blue Jeans Network, a company that makes online video-conferencing tools. The ad shows a hapless office worker who creates a "portable" background for a video chat. It's laugh-out-loud funny. And, importantly, it ran nowhere near April 1.

Blue Jeans, which already has a hip and smart company name (as in, wear your blue jeans when you have a conference call), is likely laughing all the way to the bank. They did not disclose actual sales figures, but so far their Web site has enjoyed a 60% boost in unique visitors and well over 100,000 views on YouTube (and growing).

As I've covered before, even though the ad is mostly fun, it also ties into the company's messaging. No, you don't need to use a silly backdrop and run around like a lunatic. The important point: a fake ad should at least provide an entry point to a real product.

This ad for the Sphero Peacekeeper isn't a laugh riot, but it is entirely fake. A huge weaponized ball zaps enemies--and serves as a play toy for lions. But there's an in-joke because the real Sphero is actually about the size of your fist. You control the ball with your phone to roll it around the room and surprise unsuspecting co-workers. (The company decided to take the joke a bit further--you can crowdfund the project on Indiegogo. Who knows? Maybe if they raise $1M they will deploy these in a military excursion someday.)

The ad has worked wonders. Sphero noticed a huge bump in Web traffic--about double the norm. But I think there's something else going on here. We live in a world of digital clutter. When you see this massive black ball rolling around, you think: that's different. I would not be surprised if people who watched the fake ad went on to buy the real product.

What's your favorite fake ad? Post in comments about why you like it and why it's effective.

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Last updated: Aug 1, 2013

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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