A recently uploaded YouTube video entitled "Elevator Murder Experiment" currently has 3.6 million views and counting. The video shows the reactions of people who walk in on a staged strangulation homicide.
Interestingly, those responsible for staging the prank are marketers for the upcoming movie Dead Man Down starring Colin Farrell. The "experiment" is part of a promotional campaign that asks "What would you do?" if presented with this situation. It’s an odd publicity stunt that poses an interesting question for strange reasons. Though it’s hard to know what to make of it, deconstructing its various elements should prove enlightening.
Firstly, the reactions on display are intriguing. Some people stop, scream, then run away. Others step in to try and help the "victim": one woman does so by beating the attacker with a bouquet of flowers. Another man sprays him with a fire extinguisher.
The reaction that stands out most is the last shown, where a man pulls out a camera phone and starts recording the "murder." It’s apparently been acknowledged that this was staged, but representatives insist it was a re-enactment of an incident that actually occurred.
These reactions are all to be expected, and likely provide a cross-section of what any random group of people would do in this situation. The video is cut so we can easily point out the good people, the bad ones, and the indifferent. Aside from our shock at the event itself, how it’s dealt with by passersby gives us nothing especially surprising. It’s just how people are.
But then again, it’s not supposed to be educational. This "experiment" has no recognizable scientific basis, and was in fact assembled by Thinkmodo, a "viral video marketing" agency that frequently stages this kind of headline-grabbing event for clients. Unlike scientists, Thinkmodo poses a question without any interest in what the answer is. The bottom line is exposure, not education.
There’s certainly something to be learned from all this. One could argue for hours about the moral implications of staging a murder to promote a film. Another lesson might involve whether the possibility of being filmed at any given moment influences how we conduct ourselves, both privately and publicly.
But the clearest lesson is that advertising methods are changing. The viral video is a phenomenon unique to the Internet age, and Thinkmodo has clearly harnessed it with great success. The exposure generated is exponentially greater than the marketing costs: news stations get involved, people talk about it, and the incident becomes part of a national conversation.
In a way, Thinkmodo has fooled countless so-called "journalists." The likes of Fox and CNN are giving national coverage to this company’s clients without any financial compensation.
And now I've done exactly the same thing. Damn it.