Panasonic: We were clumsy in how we described the Rommy Gulla project

Panasonic has issued Mumbrella with a detailed response to questions about the authenticity of its The 28 Day Persecution of Rommy Gulla project.

In the Q&A, prepared by Panasonic’s PR agency Blackie McDonald, Panasonic concedes that it was “clumsy” in its execution of the project, which purported to show a member of the public having pranks played upon him with no warning of what was to come.

The Campaign Palace, which created The Persecution of Rommy Gulla,  had initially insisted to Mumbrella that Gulla was not an actor.

The Q&A provided by Panasonic:

Don’t you think brands/companies need to be more authentic/ honest with consumers?

Yes and in this instance we could have done better. Specifically we could have provided more detail on how the program works, Rommy’s background, Rommy’s selection process and more. We’re trying to do this now by adding some background information to the Facebook page and providing publications like Mumbrella with more information.

How can you justify in deceiving the audience that this is real?

It was clumsy on our behalf. We could have been clearer in the way that we described the program and definitely better with our initial responses when asked about it. Essentially Rommy knows he’ll be pranked but not necessarily what that prank is or how it will happen. The occasional exception might be location.

If it’s not real then why are there inconsistencies in the ‘helium’ video, car opening, etc?

Some of the footage has been shot or edited in a way to create this effect before the prank takes place. For example, on day two of the prank you can see the team opening his car without unlocking it first. We actually have copies of all of Rommy’s keys – car, house, etc – so the team opened it beforehand. The same went for with opening the window with the helium prank – the window was unlatched during the day while he was out. Of all the pranks the helium one was the most manufactured – because of health and safety concerns.

Wouldn’t it have injured the participant if you really filled his room with helium?

The actual amount of helium that used was quite small. In the video you see a tank and a hose being poked through the window. The helium was then turned on for a limited time. We received advice from a safety officer beforehand that this wouldn’t cause any health risks.

Why didn’t the participant wake up with all the lights and noise?

All assembling for the prank was done away from his bedroom, and the recorded sounds are a lot louder than in reality. A lot of the production involves a lot of preparation, waiting and hiding. It has been a big production challenge from this perspective.

Why didn’t you just shoot it straight and show the raw footage?

This is the raw footage, enhanced through editorial to tell a better story for the viewer. We wanted it to look good as well as be as authentic as possible within production limitations. I should point out, given the concerns, this is an area that we’re also looking at addressing for upcoming episodes.

Why did you deny that it was staged in the first instance?

We felt the important thing was that the reaction of Rommy to the pranks was genuine. To make it work we needed to control a lot of the parameters. We carefully plan and execute all of the pranks. The fact we are using a real guy and his real name shows our intention of keeping it as close to reality as possible. In retrospect we should have done better.

Why did you initially deny that the participant was an actor?

It was clumsy on our behalf. We should have called this out in the initial release. Rommy was one of about 40 people that we spoke to during the preparation for this campaign. Having a 9-5 job outside of any acting ambitions was in part the reason why he was chosen. In addition to the usual screening process, we also had to see how willing they were to participate for a whole month. It’s a huge call having someone upturn your world like this for a whole month.

What is the purpose of this campaign?

This is a small campaign for Panasonic but we didn’t want that to stop us from trying something new. It’s often difficult to differentiate products such as Blu-ray recorders and we wanted to do something that is fun.

Does Panasonic really think this is going to help them sell more Blu-ray recorders?

Yes, it’s a good creative idea for a product category that is often devoid of good creative ideas. Obviously we initially could have been clearer about the campaign; however response from our social media community has been really good. 1000 Facebook new fans and close to 20000 hits on YouTube in the first few days is not a bad start.

Wouldn’t you have been better simply just running a TVC?

No, the relatively small size of the campaign meant it wouldn’t have been effective as a TVC. A large proportion of the budget was dedicated to online media such as banners. Additionally reaching the target audience through traditional media is becoming increasingly difficult, hence the reason for trying a different approach.

Will the PR agency claim this as positive coverage?

No, we take management of our reputation very seriously and would not be so flippant as to claim “all news is good news”. We’re now working hard to make sure we clear-up any misunderstandings that we may have caused. In any instance, it’s been a good lesson for the company.

Are you worried someone might get hurt?

The agency went through great lengths to make sure the pranks don’t cause any harm. This includes referring to safety experts, testing the pranks and making sure we have adequate precautions in place when carrying out the pranks.

Who is Rommy Gulla?

Rommy is a 26-year-old from the Northern Beaches in Sydney. He is an aspiring actor but has a normal 9-5 job. You can look him up on the web if you’re interested.

Mumbrella then asked a couple of follow up questions:

In the helium video he has a squeaky voice. How was this achieved?

Rommy had consumed helium but the sound was enhanced in the mix to counter ambient noise during the raid scene.

And in the kitchen video did he know something was in the cupboard ?

Rommy knew something was in one cupboard but not what.

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