Kingston area swimmers are breathing a sigh of relief after it was revealed last week that a viral video – showing what appears to be a shark in Lake Ontario – was a hoax.
The video, purported to have been taken on the shore of nearby Wolfe Island, was actually a marketing ploy by the Discovery Channel (Discovery.ca) to promote its upcoming “Shark Week” series, according to a (interestingly formatted) media release by Bell Media.
Fans and followers of Shark Week – first broadcast on July 17, 1987 – probably weren’t overly surprised by this guerrilla marketing ad.
The network has a lengthy history of creating viral videos and other prank advertising over the years, although – unlike the Lake Ontario shark video – it’s usually been apparent that those ads were a hoax…
Last year, the network produced another viral video that featured coverage of “Snuffy the Seal” being released back in the wild… with things end up going very badly for Snuffy. But, unlike the Wolfe Island shark prank, the 2013 promotion concluded with mention of the network’s upcoming Shark Week.
The network opted for a more dramatic series of short videos to promote Shark Week in 2009.
Harkening back to the iconic film “Jaws”, the ads begin with serene scenes of people enjoying the water when their day comes to a very abrupt end. The below video was posted on the Discovery Channel’s Youtube page (and other ads can be viewed here)
Also in 2009, and more resembling this year’s Lake Ontario shark prank, Discovery created the legitimate looking website “Australian Coastal Watch” that claimed to show Google Map images of sharks prowling the waters of Sydney, Australia’s Bondie Beach with seemingly unaware people swimming nearby.
Although offline now, archived pictures from the website show mocked up Google satellite photos photos, with one close up showing a surfer only meters away from a large shark.
Using social media to promote the fake website – including “piggybacking” on the 3 KM Bondi Beach ocean swim event that people were discussing online – the network likewise courted the concern and curiousity of netizens to promote that year’s Shark Week series.
Offline promotions can also be found back in 2003, when the network planted underwater shark billboards at the bottom of pools at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort Hotel.
Discovery also produced some “shark bite media,” where a variety of objects – including cars, surfboards and trashcans – were made to appears as if a large (shark) bite had been taken out of them.
They located those items in high-traffic areas, like Times Square and Grand Central Station in New York and Santa Monica Pier and Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, with the message “Shark Week Is Back” prominently displayed.
These few examples of Discovery Channels long history of guerrilla promotions reveal their willingness to advertise Shark Week with both clearly labelled advertising, as well as promotions that were just believable enough to fool some people.
But when it comes to sharks, fooling people can sometimes lead to concern or even fear.
The Lake Ontario shark prank did get a lot of attention, including from a number of politicians such as Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn, as well as Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen and Wolfe Island Mayor Denis Doyle.