Toyota marketing stalks and terrorizes woman, claims she consented by doing an online personality test

Toyota marketing created some kind of ill-conceived alternate reality game whose premise was that you were being stalked by an unhinged criminal who sent you threatening emails saying that he was coming to your house, backstopped by things like MySpace profiles and even angry bills from hotels he trashed on the way, having given your name as the payment contact. A woman didn't realize that these were a marketing prank and thought she was being stalked, got scared, lived her life in fear, and then sued.

Toyota's defense? The woman had taken some online survey in which the fine print gave them permission to send her "marketing and other communications."

Duick's attorney said the marketing company went so far as to send Duick a bill for damages the fictitious man supposedly made to a hotel room...

The alleged harassment lasted five days, according to the suit, and frightened Duick so much she contacted neighbors, friends and family, and the occupant of her former home about the man she feared was coming to visit. Her attorney declined to comment as to whether or not she called the police. She even made her longtime boyfriend sleep with a club and mace next to the bed for protection...

It turns out the prank was actually part of a marketing effort executed by the Los Angeles division of global marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the campaign to promote the Toyota Matrix, a new model launched in 2008...

Tepper, Duick's attorney, said he discussed the campaign with Toyota's attorneys earlier this year, and they said the "opting in" Harp referred to was done when Duick's friend e-mailed her a "personality test" that contained a link to an "indecipherable" written statement that Toyota used as a form of consent from Duick.

Tepper, said that during those legal negotiations, Toyota's lawyers claimed Duick signed the written legal agreement, which they said amounts to "informed written consent."

Woman Sues Toyota Over 'Terrifying' Prank (via /.)


  1. Why would Toyota do this? How is fake stalking people ever going to sell cars? What the hell am I missing here?

  2. Not quite as bad, but Nielsen Ratings has called me ten times this week. I keep explaining that I haven’t watched television in years and hanging up. They keep calling back. Finally, I let the woman conduct her survey, which consisted of determining my age group. She kept reassuring me that “It’s important that they have information on all different types of households, even those who don’t watch television.”

    Important to whom?

  3. Apparently William Gibson is going to have to work on making his imaginary crazy-on-the-edge marketing gurus substantially creepier and more bizarre to keep a step ahead of reality. My long habit of never responding to any sort of quiz, test or survey is vindicated!

  4. 1. Treat stupid surveys like legally binding contracts

    2. Stalk, harrass, and threaten people foolish enough to fill them in.

    3. ???

    4. Profit!!

  5. There was an incident here in Belgium a few years back where a marketing company sent out envelopes with a bullet and a ransom note reading ‘we have your daughter, we’re coming after you’ to the editors of various magazines. The campaign was for some action adventure computer game.
    Of course, one of the editors they sent this envelope to was the father of a young girl. He -rightly- completely freaked out. The marketing company was all smug about it, saying ‘their message was misunderstood’ and that ‘it was obviously fake’.
    They got their precious five minutes of fame in the headlines, of course, and I suspect that’s all they really cared about: creating a media storm. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were secretly hoping that one of their addressees would be a worried father.

  6. W.

    Sometimes, when you think outside of the box too far, you end up falling off the cliff… several somebody’s need to be fired, both at Toyota, and at Saatchi & Saatchi. Sheesh!

    This could have ended rather badly under other circumstances – imagine what if she got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, and got clubbed by her boyfriend who thought the lumpy-shadow (no matter how shapely she might be during daylight hours, nightfall makes *everybody* look like a lumpy shadow) entering the bedroom was a homicidal lunatic bent on making the Mansion crew look like choir boys? I do hope that she gets some recompense.

  7. Ugh…these ARGs are just getting stupid now. Every game, movie, car etc has one. They’re not ‘hip’ or revolutionary, they’re just childish and annoying, like every other marketing strategy.

  8. Thanks for the G K Chesterton link. This goes back a ways. One of my favorite versions is Bill Murray in “The Man Who Knew Too Little”.

  9. Is there some brain virus that infects marketing people after a while, and makes them think Incredibly Stupid Things are a good idea? Whatever it is, it’s clearly extremely contagious, because when the first person proposed this particular scheme, he wasn’t greeted with a chorus of “Ha ha, no, let’s not do that.”

    From the article, it sounds like Toyota is still in the Denial phase, but I suspect there’s going to be a bit of Anger going on in the boardroom over this, probably followed by some Bargaining on the courthouse steps.

  10. Sure, you take the personality test, then they browbeat you into buying a camera, and the nex thing you know you’re all full of the souls of space aliens murdered 75 million years ago and to achieve spiritual benefits you must pay to have them removed.

    I’m not falling for that again.

  11. I submit that marketing is not the only forum for bad ideas somehow making it to a finalised form. Think song with lyrics that would make an Elementary School teacher shudder, or movie costumes where they decide the mask for the guy who can’t talk should have lips… Not only did someone have the initial idea- scary- but the idea was seen by many many others with nobody saying “that’s an awful idea”

  12. “the campaign to promote the Toyota Matrix, a new model launched in 2008…”

    Wow, I wonder what my 2005 Toyota Matrix thinks about that…

  13. Maybe Toyota was filming all of this for next week’s episode of Panic Face King Super Fun Terror Show

  14. Not only was this a poorly thought out marketing effort, it wasn’t even that well executed. The profile is just enough to convince someone who knew nothing about English football that it belongs to a violent “En-ger-land” supporter. In this day an age, an Arsenal scarf is the last thing I’d expect a rabid, nationalistic, football hooligan to wear.

  15. Wow, what a terrible, terrible idea for a marketing campaign. What the hell does a virtual stalking have to do with marketing a car?

    Sounds to me like someone just got their first bit account out of marketing school, thought they’d make something edgy and cool.

  16. “The prank campaign, Saatchi creative director Alex Flint told the magazine, should gain the appreciation from “even the most cynical, anti-advertising guy.” ”

    Double Wow! I would call myself an anti-advertising guy, but I’m afraid if I got this kind of treatment as an advertising campaign, I sure as hell wouldn’t “appreciate” it! It would garner a response more like, “Intercourse you, Toyota!”. This would be so many times more irritating than a telemarketer calling at dinner.

  17. Little did she know she’d entered The Matrix. Good thing she finally took the red pill and woke up. If only Toyota and their marketing stooges would do the same. Whoa-o-o-o-ah what a feeling!

  18. He also seems to be wearing a Livorno jersey along with the Arsenal scarf, so there seems to be some general confusion about the sport he professes to love so much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the marketing dumbass who came up with this stupid idea in the first place used his own pictures on the myspace page.

    Working in advertising, I see worthless communications grads like this all the time. It’s a wonder they’re able to keep breathing on their own.

  19. Immediately below this article, under the heading “More items,” is the headline, “Sympathy for the Lamprey.”

    I think that sums-up what marketing people are to the rest of us. They serve no purpose, preferring instead to siphon away resources and produce only feces.

    Imagine how much nicer our lives would be without the constant sea of advertising and marketing gimmicks.

  20. Clicking though to the artical, I couldn’t help but notice that the friend who sent her the personality test in the first place may have been privy to the whole idea, as the concept was to allow people to “punk” their friends. If this is true, I hope she’s also re-evaluated her friendships. I know anyone who signed me up to get stocked by a fictional football hooligan would be off my Christmas list in a heartbeat.

  21. I remember at an old job, a friend of mine was attracted to a female co-worker who was not interested in him, and he told me “well, I’m gonna pretend to stalk her.”

    Sure, she’ll know you’re just “pretending”, good idea.

  22. This stupid Toyota campaign reminds me a bit of Discovery’s FRENZIED WATERS campaign for their Shark Week. They used social media imaginatively — pulling your personal info from Facebook, etc. in order to make your final thoughts while dying from a chomped off limb from a shark bite more realistic. While the intriguing use of social media tools and technologies was admirable, ultimately the whole shebang was CREEPY.

  23. That’s wild. I can’t even imagine what the hell kind of message this “advertising campaign” was supposed to convey, and to who. At the very least, if you’re gonna mess with someone for an extended period, they deserve to be compensated in the end. Hope she wins.

    Oh, and did anyone else read that her boyfriend slept with “a club and [b]a[/b] mace?” Luckily for her safety she was dating a Renaissance reinacter.

    And finally, I think I decided this week that advertising/marketing is one of the greatest evils of our time. It’s psychologically irresponsible.

  24. I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi (Who were responsible for this campaign). Everyone under 30 was too busy screwing to do their job, everyone over 30 were coke addicts.

    So yeah, I could see how this stupid idea happened.

    (I got out when I hit 30.)

  25. I am the attorney for the Plaintiff in this case. I really enjoyed reading all of these comments, which wereboth entertaining and helpful.
    The underlying idea behind this campaign was to terrorize women in the hope Toyota could sell cars to men under the age of 30. Almost all of their “Maniacs” (their label) were men. Their campaign to get people to give Toyota their “friend’s” personal information to prank them is very, very telling. This was not about trying to sell anything to the person receiving the emails. Rather, she was just a lost leader. The subject of the campaign was the prankster not the victim. That’s what makes it so scary and so wrong. The underlying rationale for the campaign was to intentionally create a victim who would be both scared and then humiliated so that the person who “set them up” would buy a car because they thought Toyota was so “cool”.
    There are other interesting aspects to this case as well as this kind of new social media advertising. I think all of this has the potential to be the new subliminal advertising. Instead of flashing pictures of hot dogs every fourth frame, advertisers can set up alternative realities convincing whomever they want of whatever they want. What if, for example, my client was never informed of the fact these emails were fictitious. What if they just stopped. Or what if the last email was something showing the guy who had been stalking her was killed in a gun battle or drove off a cliff or whatever. What ethical imperative is there to “reveal” the truth of the lie of your advertising campaign to the victim? That is one of the ultimate frightening things about this kind of advertising. And that is one of the reasons this lawsuit has been filed.

  26. @Antinous, re: “I keep explaining that I haven’t watched television in years and hanging up.”

    That’s not an explicit ‘No’. Market researchers are paid peanuts and not allowed to stray from script and especially not allowed to interpret your statements in any way. If they were to take what you said as a ‘No’ and the supervisor were listening in, they would be fired, just to make sure that nobody is being employed who likes to make even obvious logical leaps.

    So whatever you say, even it’s a terrible insult, if it is not ‘No’ or ‘Not interested’ then you will likely be marked for a callback.

    Next time, just say, ‘No, not interested.’ *Then* you can hang up in their ear. 8)

  27. I can’t believe that Toyota would resort to such tatics to sell a car. I totally love the Toyota cars that i’ve bought over the years. I hope this is an one off incident

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