Strategy agency Naked has been keeping its head down all day after being named as the architect of a fake web site featuring a girl supposedly trying to find a man who left his jacket in a cafe.
The Sydney Morning Herald today said that Naked was behind the stunt, which had immediately raised suspicions of being a hoax, despite denials from the woman involved.
It became a news story over the weekend, when the girl – who said her name was Heidi Clarke – went public, claiming the man had left behind his jacket in a cafe and she wanted to give it back to him. There was also a web site, which has since been taken down, Hotmail adddress and YouTube video to go with it. But she spent so much time in the video extolling the virtues of the “really nice” jacket with its “beautiful silk lining” that it raised suspicions of being a publicity stunt inspired by a similar, genuine story a year ago in the US. In that case, a New Yorker created a web site to find a girl he met on the subway.
More suspicions were raised after it emerged that the jacket was from a forthcoming range by the fashion label Witchery. And it unravelled further after ninemsn had a tipoff that the woman has previously modelled for the brand.
However, the idea appears to have backfired, with most mainstream press going out of the way not to name the fashion brand.
The timing of the stunt was also unfortunate, virtually coinciding with a growing backlash against brands that use deceptive conduct, following Tourism Queensland’s video of a girl apparently getting a tattoo in order to win a holiday was shown to be faked.
Naked managing partner Mike Wilson this afternoon denied having any knowledge of the issue when Mumbrella spoke to him, although he claimed that it could have gone on at the agency without his knowledge. Unusually, his fellow managing partners Mat Baxter and Adam Ferrier both had their phones turned off all day. Witchery also did not return calls.
The debacle has drawn strong criticism from other Australian communications practitioners, who claim that along with the reef fake, the rows risk damaging the image of the industry as a whole.
Brendon Sinclair, of Queensland-based Tailored Web Services was among the most critical, saying:
“These clowns are screwing the Australian digital media landscape and giving everyone a bad name with their amateurish attempts at viral campaigns and use of social media. Here’s an idea I want to run past you people. Try, geeeez I don’t know… how about you try a little honesty? How about you actually engage your customers or market? How about you just be authentic? How about you get a clue?”