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Mortein Louie The Fly death ‘hoax’ sparks media backlash

louie_the_flyMortein is facing a growing media backlash over what is now being portrayed as a cynical stunt to pretend to kill off brand icon Louie The Fly before bringing him back “by public demand”.

The move, which appears to have been masterminded by Euro RSCG, began a fortnight ago with a news story placed in Fairfax Media’s Sun Herald – bylined to Rachel Browne – announcing the death of Louie, who has been the face of the Reckitt Benckiser brand for more than half a century.

Euro’s sister PR arm Red Agency followed up the next day with a press release. It quoted Chris Tedesco, marketing director at Reckitt Benckiser, as saying: “It was a hard decision, but Mortein has decided to kill off Louie The Fly once and for all.”

At the time, Mumbrella predicted that the move was a PR stunt.

However, the axing – and apparent rapid decision to reverse the move – did generate some mainstream media coverage.

As Mumbrella reported on Friday, Mortein’s Louie the Fly Facebook page was also used to contribute to what began to look increasingly like a hoax. The page posted an update telling followers: “The boss who wants to kill me might be listening”.

But this weekend saw the mainstream media turn against the stunt.  

The Sun-Herald, where the original death of Louie story was planted, carried a column from former Euro RSCG creative director Rowan Dean – who worked on the brand in the past –  saying the stunt had been faked. Dean warned: “Some will not enjoy having been deliberately duped.”

The Sunday Telegraph – Sydney’s highest circulating newspaper – today carried its own piece warning of “a consumer backlash and said that the brand had “duped” other media.

In the article, HotHouse Digital founder Simon van Wyk said: It will backfire on them because people don’t like to be manipulated and the cornerstone of social media is to be honest and upfront.”

The article compares the Mortein hoax to the infamous Witchery hoax which saw the clothing brand create a fake lonely hearts video featuring an actress pretending to be looking for a man who had left his jacket.

Euro RSCG and Red Agency are also the agencies behind another PR stunt for a Reckitt Benckiser brand. In July, NapiSan offered $25m to sponsor The White House. However, the only Australian news coverage Mumbrella was able to find was an item in the Southern Courier. (Update: Red Agency says coverage included The Australian, mX, Canberra Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Courier Mail.)

Update: Reckitt Benckiser has issued Mumbrella with the following comment from Tedesco:

“We understand why there would be speculation and why some would express cynicism about the campaign but the fact is we made a decision to change course. Due to the level of consumer reaction, we are now enabling people the opportunity to change our decision. They can help decide whether or not Louie the Fly should continue to appear in Mortein TV ads by voting online to kill or save him. We also want to be clear. From the outset we always said that Louie was going to continue to live on Facebook and that he would appear in the TV ads this coming pest season.”

11.30am Monday update: Luckily, after the decision to “change course”, Mortein happened to have an ad ready to go asking the public to vote to save Louie.

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