"Storytelling" is a buzzword that has blazed across countless PowerPoint presentations in recent years. But it can be an unpredictable and dangerous game in practice, particularly when the campaign in question is done well. Amber Duick is a case in point—literally, as her case against Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi for $10 million has just received the go-ahead from the courts. She claims she was terrorized by a guerrilla marketing campaign in 2008 that hyped the Toyota Matrix. The premise boiled down to "punking" people. Duick says she received unwanted and upsetting emails from one "Sebastian Bowler" (seen above), a fictitious English soccer hooligan, heavy drinker, and all-round troublemaker who appeared to have lots of personal information about her and at one point claimed to be on his way to her house. The campaign was driven by an elaborate and detailed web of multimedia paraphernalia—here's Bowler's MySpace page—and Duick even received a bill from a hotel manager for a TV he had supposedly smashed. Saatchi creative director Alex Flint bragged at the time: "Even when you get several stages in, it's still looking pretty real." A tad too real, perhaps. Duick claims that for about a week she struggled to eat, sleep, or go to work. When she filed her lawsuit in Los Angeles in 2009, Toyota insisted that she had agreed to take part, but a judge has now ruled that she was enticed under false pretenses. Regardless of the complaint's merits or the outcome in court, the episode brings a larger issue to the fore. Our online and offline lives blend and blur more each day, and the overlap gives electronic interactions a palpable presence and veracity they lacked just a few years ago. Immersion's great, but some consumers become submerged, and inspired storytelling can become a costly cautionary tale. Why take such a convoluted route anyway? Next time, just show the car, perhaps. Driving down a sun-drenched mountain road or a moonlit beach? With some ladies on the hood? Such stories always have happy endings.
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